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: Beyond the debates……………………. >>> Priyanku Narayan Baruah. PhD research scholar, CMJ university.08822797237 Following the ethnic Assamese model of identity movement, even the Adivasi are also organizing themselves either to establish or to protect their own respective identities. All these have resulted into the creation of numerous “identity boxes” increasingly posing greater challenge towards social stability and polity management in post-Accord Assam. As the constituency of the political parties cut across the ethnic boundaries, it is difficult for them to take up the cause of a particular ethnic group for redress particularly when the demands of the groups are conflicting in nature. As a result, intense feeling of deprivation looms large within the group and it is left to itself to protect the interest of the members of the group. Moreover, in a multi-ethnic setting the smaller groups could hardly influence the political decision making through democratic conflict resolution mechanism as their respective political representation in the legislature is too meager vis-à-vis others (Das:2005) . This results in the adoption of violence as a strategy to reach out to the authorities that matter. Since the 1980’s Assam has been witnessing a series of movements where people have been fighting for their rights over land, language, civil liberties rights and special reservation status for development. The tea garden labourers also, who mostly live in the tea garden cooli line, which has been more or less isolated from the mainstream political and economic development process in the state, have gradually started participation by creating several types of organisations for establishing their demand for the development of the community. Many debates have been raised on the struggle and the identity of the tea garden labourers in Assam as an aftermath of the incident at Guwahati on November 24th, 2007. In the media it was portrayed as an age old enmity between the Assamese and the labourers. The incident is also seen as an ultimate expression of the inbuilt prejudice and class hatred which marked the approach of a sizable section of Assamese middle class towards the tea garden labourers (Gohain December 8, 2007). The civil society in the state acted with alacrity and condemned the incident with one voice while at the same time asserted that the November 24 incident should not be viewed as an Assamese-Adivasi clash (Misra, December 22, 2007). Although, the incident of 24th of November, 2007 was condemnable in every sense and every news paper, electronic media and civil society organization expressed deep concern about the community but the larger debate over the issues of the socio-economic development of the tea garden community in Assam has not come out in the context of the rise of Adivasi identity politics. Demographically, Tea garden labour community of Assam represents around 20% of the total population of the state accounting more than 45 lakh tea garden labour population in the state and is one of the biggest contributors to the organised workforce as well to the economy of Assam both directly and indirectly. About 17 percent of the workers of Assam are engaged in tea industry. Among them, around 50% of the total workforces in the tea gardens in Assam are women. Since the 1860s, when the first batch of indentured labourers were brought into Assam from present day Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh, Orissa, West Bengal, and Andhra Pradesh, there were occasional clashes between the management and the tea garden labourers in Assam (Sanjay Barboa, July, 1999). Although issues of clash between the management and the labourers were mainly regarding the wage and bonus, in the 90’s it shifted to other developmental issues among the tea garden labourers in the state.With
growing dissonance with the trade unions of the tea garden labourer, the newly growing student organisations among the labour community is taking over the vital issue of welfare of the tea garden community in Assam. Since the 90’s the Assam Tea Tribes Students’ Association (ATTSA) and very recently the Assam Adivasi Student Association (AASA), are raising their concerns. These two organisations are demanding a Schedule Tribes (ST) status to the tea garden labour community as their community members in the back home states (e.g. Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh, Orissa, west Bengal, and Andhra Pradesh) are receiving the same status. The incident at Guwahati is a final blow to their grievances to the state and management of the tea gardens whom they identified as being responsible for the underdevelopment of the tea garden labour community. The apathy of the mainstream Assamese society towards the development of the tea garden labourers put the community at the war path. Reluctant attitudes towards the tea garden labour community to include cultural assimilation of greater Assamese nationality building process made them the worst victim of underdevelopment in the 21st century. The larger debate is that the tea garden labourer still exists as an indentured labourer in the 21st century raises the larger question of identity in recent times. During the last 150 years, the tea community in Assam never received proper attention in the development process. If the community has raised their voice during the last decade by changing their approach, it is not only due to the lack of place among the greater Assamese nationalization process but also due to their own need to develop themselves. Living in enclave habitats with distinct cultural identity, is preventing the community to identify them as part of the greater Assamese society. Counter to that identity emerges the Adivasi identity, particularly among those who have left the tea garden and are emerging as a section of tea garden youth who have received higher education and realised the need to develop the community and want to come out from this century long indentured practice. Subsequently, intra-community clashes with the Bodo community during the last 10 years in lower Assam forced them to consider their existence as an Adivasi and demanding special provisions to designate them as their community back home. It is seen that Bodo somaj along with opposes the latest government proposal to discuss on the issue of Adivasi people’s ST status. Recent news forwarded the message that, The Dularai Boro Somaj (DBS) has opposed the move of the Assam government and the Centre to accord ST status to some of the non-Assamese origin contractual Adivasi workers of tea estates in Assam and warned that the Somaj and the tribal people will be compelled to launch a democratic movement if the government goes ahead with its plans. The matter was seriously discussed at a special meeting of the DBS at Dotma in Kokrajhar district recently. The DBS said it was a diabolic political move of the state government and an unconstitutional act against the indigenous tribal groups of Assam as it will pose a threat to the overall interests, privileges, economic and political rights of the indigenous scheduled tribes of Assam. Such story indicates of a complex political perplexity. Mean while”The All Assam Tribal Sangha” opposed the State and the Union governments’ move to give Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the Adivasi people, who were brought to Assam as labourers to work in tea gardens by the British.It is reminding that recently Aditya Khaklari, general secretary of the Sangha said that such decision would have crucial implications on the socio-cultural and political future of Assam. “The unchecked and continued migration of the Adivasi population from other States of the country, and their illegal encroachments upon the reserved forests is not just gradually changing the social fabric of Assam; it is also posing a threat to the overall interest of indigenous tribal people of the State. If the government accords them ST status, the entire forest areas and tribal blocks and belts would be encroached upon by them and migration from other States would definitely increase, “he added. Considering with a sensitive perspective The representatives of the tribal organisations also said that they are ready to fight legal battles on the issue if required. Taking an opposite stand to the govt. policy of giving ST status to the
Adivasi in Assam; several indigenous ethnic groups viewed that people working in the tea gardens of Assam might enjoy ST status in the States of their origin, but there is no Constitutional provision, which grants them the right to enjoy the same status in other States. All that is same as usual, the repetition of mutual disturbance among the Assamese inhabitants, shame to state the reality…but who can escape from the fact? It is still a difficult question, how Adivasi will move to progress in reality, getting ST status. Frequently, it is seen that receiving the special provision of ST status will not be of help to such deprived section to uplift their socio economic status in a practical format. Suppose if it would happen, that the Adivasi population gets ST status and outcome will provide that few more seats in the Lok Sabha and Assembly as well a few hundred would receive jobs and education but by this action, it will create an elite section of the community itself who could get benefits in the long run and make the rest remaining poor and under developed as earlier, unless basic amenities are not provided in the tea garden cooli lines. In a sense thinking over such nude truth some political analysists are remarking critically asking the reasonableness to provide the ST status to the community at present. It is in dilemma, what would be the possible fortune of them if Adivasi will get the ST recognition? Probably, beyond any doubt it is an urgent necessity to amend Plantation Labour Act for the well configured economic development of Adivasi people. While the struggle for ST status may provide new impetus to the struggle of the identity politics in Assam to the tea garden community, which would also help in the vote bank politics in the coming elections, but utmost urgency at present is to take in hand the policy towards socio economic development of the community as a whole. References: Gohain, Hiren, December 8, 2007. “A question of identity: Adivasi militancy in Assam”, Economic and Political Weekly, Bombay. pp.13-16 Saikia, Biswajeet. (2006), “Ways and Means: Improving the Socio- Economic Status of Tea Garden Labourer in Assam”, An Interim report to Ministry of Labour, Government of India, New Delhi Barbora, Now” Sanjoy, July, (1999), “Struggle in the Tea Planataion of Assam: Then and
Das, Gurudas, 1996, "Migration, Ethnicity and Competition for State Resources : Cause of Social Tension in the North East", in Mehtabuddin Ahmed and Prosenjit Chowdhury, (eds), The Turbulent North- East ,Akshar Publications, New Delhi ………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
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