Syllabus subtopic: Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India.
Prelims and Mains focus: About the ethnic tribes in Assam; Assam Accord and its significance
News: Non-tribal communities living in Assam can never claim to be ‘khilonjia’ or indigenous, said the All Assam Kochari Samaj (AAKS) that represents the earliest ethnic communities inhabiting the State.
Significane of the statements.
The samaj’s statement assumes significance ahead of a report to be submitted by a 15member panel enlisting the communities that qualify to be called ‘khilonjia’ for implementing Clause 6 of the Assam Accord of 1985.
What is Assam Accord?
- The Assam Accord (1985) was a Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) signed between representatives of the Government of India and the leaders of the Assam Movement in New Delhi on 15 August 1985.
- The accord brought an end to the Assam Agitation and paved the way for the leaders of the agitation to form a political party and form a government in the state of Assam soon after.
- As per the Accord, those Bangladeshis who came between 1966 and 1971 will be barred from voting for ten years. The Accord also mentions that the international borders will be sealed and all persons who crossed over from Bangladesh after 1971 are to be deported.
- Though the accord brought an end to the agitation, some of the key clauses are yet to be implemented, which has kept some of the issues festering.
What does Clause 6 state?
Clause 6 of the Assam Accord “envisaged that appropriate constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.”
- The 1881 census recorded 19 groups within the Kochari classification but some got isolated from the parental stock. Today, it comprises communities such as Bodo, the largest plains tribe in the northeast, Deuri, Dimasa, Rabha, Sonowal Kachari, Thengal Kachari and Tiwa.
- Large swathes of Assam are under autonomous or development councils specifically for these communities.
- Kochari kings began ruling areas under presentday Assam and beyond 1,500 years before the Mahabharata era. But the nontribal have pushed the tribal history aside despite the United Nations specifying that only the aborigines can be called indigenous.
- The samaj claimed many traits representative of mainstream Assamese culture today were appropriated from the tribes. These include the floral ‘gamosa’, or clothtowel, that has become a symbol of the anti-CAA protest.
- The Kochari group also pointed out that the Ahoms, who came from Thailand some 800 years ago, were nonindigenous. The Ahoms are one of six communities demanding Scheduled Tribe status, which the Kocharis enjoying ST status are opposed to.
Ethnic groups in Assam
- Assam is acknowledged as the settling land for a lot of cultures. A number of tribal grouping have landed in the soils of Assam in the course of diverse directions as the territory was linked to a number of states and many different countries.
- Austro-Asiatic, Mongoloids, and Indo-Aryans had been the most important traditional groups that arrived at the site and lived in the very old Assam. They were well thought-out as the ‘aborigines’ of Assam and yet at the moment they are essential elements of the “Assamese Diaspora”.
- The greater Bodo-kachari group encompasses the 18 major tribes of Assam, both plain and hills, viz., Boro, Dimasa, Chutia, Sonowal, Mech, Tiwa, Garo, Rabha, Sarania, Hajong, Tripuri, Deori, Thengal, Hojai, Koch, and others.
- The ancient land of 'Kirat' is also referred to the land of the Kachari. Bodo Kacharis were historically the dominant group of Assam, who were later dominated in the 1500s by the Tai Ahoms, the ethnic group who along with the Upper Assam Bodo-Kachari groups like Chutias, Morans and Borahis were associated with the term "Assamese".
- Along with Tai Ahoms, they were other prominent groups that ruled Assam valley during the medieval period, those belonging to the Chutiya, Koch, and Dimasa communities. The first group ruled from 1187 to 1673 in the eastern part of the state, the second group ruled Lower Assam from 1515 to 1949, while the third group ruled southern part of Assam from the 13th century to 1854.
- Bodos are the dominant group in BTAD (Bodoland Territorial Council). They speak the Bodo language among themselves along with using Assamese to communicate with other indigenous Assamese communities as the lingua-franca.
- Most of the indigenous Assamese communities today have actually been historically tribal and even the now considered non-tribal population of Assam were actually tribes which have slowly been converted into castes through Sanskritisation.
- Actually, more than 70-75% or more of the now considered non-tribal population of Assam actually have Mongoloid roots and origin and thus were historically tribal. Some of the tribal groups were able to enter into the Hindu upper caste society while some of them remained in the tribal or lower caste society. Thus, Assam has always been a historically tribal state.
- Ahoms along with Chutiya, Moran, Motok, and Koch are still regarded as semi-tribal groups who have nominally converted to Ekasarana Dharma even though keeping alive their own tribal traditions and customs. Various indigenous Assamese communities in Assam like Chutiya, Koch-Rajbongshi, Moran, Motok, Ahoms etc (all having tribal origin) have slowly been converted into a caste through Sanskritisation.
As per latest development Moran, Chutiya, Motok, Tea tribes, Tai Ahoms and Koch have realised the above-mentioned points and have applied for ST status. This will make Assam a predominantly tribal state having wider geo-political ramifications.