Updated: Apr 20, 2021
What is it and what does it mean for the indigenous people?
Tripura is a curious case of humanity and oppression. It was once a princely state led by indigenous kings whose dominion was not only over Tripura but also extended over many parts of what is now Bangladesh. Following colonial conquests and India’s partition, the politics and demography changed drastically due to the humanitarian crisis that shadowed the area till the Indo-Pak war of 1971. The people of Tripura showed magnanimity during this phase and welcomed the refugees of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) to the state and gave them shelter. However, soon, the population of immigrants began to outnumber that of the locals and the tribes became a minority in their own state.
The sudden shift in demography led to grave issues of land rights, minority rights, and a cycle of oppression where the indigenous population began to feel exploited. They began to fear further alienation and in the 1970s demanded an Autonomous District Council to safeguard their rights. The demand was granted in 1982 and Tripura got its own 7,132.56 sq. kms District Council with the headquarters at Khumulung. Tripura Tribal Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) gave them the rights to exert their governance and implement separate policies over this particular area under the jurisdiction.
Three decades after the formation of ADC, it is felt that the council has been unable to solve many problems of indigenous identity conservation, intellectual growth, and access to health and educational infrastructure. Indeed whereas ADC was formed to include areas where the indigenous people reside in big numbers, many places were left out of the boundaries. The people in these places such as parts of Manu and Udaipur do not have access to the funds and welfare programmes under ADC. Due to this, over the past many years, there has been a steady rise in demands for a separate state altogether where the indigenous population can live without the fear of immigration. This state shall be called Greater Tipraland.
While the seeds of this vision were planted by the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) who started with “Tipraland”, the demand gained momentum as “Greater Tipraland” under the Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance also known as TIPRA. The party was created less than a year ago under the leadership of the royal scion of Tripura, Pradyot DebBarma. A clarion call for the creation of a separate state supported by the indigenous population of Tripura was made to safeguard the existence, identity, culture, history and language of all indigenous tribes of Tripura. The party won the closely-contested TTAADC election in April.
Proposed jurisdiction of Greater Tipraland: Firstly, the Greater Tipraland will consist of the existing area under Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council Or TTAADC and also the areas which lie outside the purview of TTAADC which are inhabited by the indigenous population. Secondly, it will include all the historical monuments and landmarks which are outside the purview of TTAADC such as Neermahal, Ujjayanta Palace etc. The plan also envisions including parts of other places such as those in Bangladesh and bordering states of Mizoram and Assam where Tripuri people reside in big numbers. It is not clear whether the party seeks a redrawing of state boundary lines but it has suggested that it would like to assist Tiprasa people living in those areas.
The need for Greater Tipraland: According to N.C. Debbarma, president of the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), Tripuris feel that they have been let down by successive governments who have come to power in the last seven decades. Their aspirations and hope have not yet been fulfilled; instead they have been subjugated and kept away from development. There is also the fear of delimitation that threatens their existence. For those who are not aware, the delimitation commission or boundary commission of India is in charge of redrawing the boundaries of the various assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies based on a recent census. The representation from each state is not changed during this exercise. However, the number of SC and ST seats in a state are changed in accordance with the census. Considering that the ST population in the state is low compared to the population of immigrants, there is a valid fear that many ST seats will be converted to general in 2026 when the delimitation commission makes its decision. The commission is a powerful and Independent body whose orders cannot be challenged in any court of law. The orders are laid before the Lok Sabha and the respective state legislative sssemblies. However, modifications are not permitted.
Greater Tipraland’s connection with CAB: The Tripuris have been asking for a National Register of Citizens to determine the level of immigration has occurred. But after the passing of CAB which gives citizenship to immigrants who are Hindu, sikh, Jain, Parsi, Buddhist and Christian from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan who entered India before 2014, the indigenous people have been disappointed. There were many protests following the declaration of CAA. Tripuris fear that the existing minority population will become microscopic in their own land which they have been inhabiting for centuries. In a democracy, the majority population rules the political sphere so to safeguard themselves, the demand for Greater Tipraland is being raised. According to Anthony Debbarma, spokesperson of TIPRA, many reserved land which was reserved by Maharaja Bik Bikram Kishore Manikya when Tripura was an independent kingdom for the Tripuris have been dereserved and thousands of non indigenous families have been settled there which have angered the Tripuris.
For decades Tripuris have been asking for the Roman script for writing in Kokborok but every successive government has kept it in hanging, playing with the sentiments and emotions of Tripuris. The preservation and protection of languages is an important element of community identity.
Everyday problems faced by Tripuris: Today, Tripuris inhabiting rural areas have no proper road connectivity, electricity, and basic drinking water supply. In 2019, things reached a breaking point and the residents were forced to block the National Highway to demand drinking water. TTAADC which was given to look after the Indigenous people of Tripura have no direct funding and the fund which comes from the centre is given by the state government which is not enough to meet the necessities and demands of the indigenous population.
A people without the knowledge of their past, history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots - Marcus Garvey.
In this regard, Maharaja Pradyot has called on every Tripuri indigenous person to unite and demand a Greater Tipraland to protect the history and culture of the people. At a gathering in February he said that this is one way in which Tripuri people can reclaim their glory. However, as we have witnessed with other movements of separate statehood such as the case of Gorkhaland, there would be many factions that would oppose the move citing the problems of land management and communalism that could result from it. As the demand gains momentum in the coming days, watch this space for updates.
This article has been created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.