The massive rally on anti-conversion and delisting of Schedule Tribe (ST) status possessed by converted individuals, which surfaced on 26 March 2023 in Guwahati, maintains potential to influence the socio-cultural and political scenario of northeast India in the days to come.
Organised by Janajati Dharma-Sanskriti Suraksha Manch (JDSSM-Assam), the unique rally witnessed the participation of over 55,000 tribal people from 30 districts of Assam. Wearing traditional attire, the participants also carried folk musical instruments in the rally titled ‘Chalo Dispur’ and raised voices against the religious conversion among the tribals in the region and
insisted on removing those ST individuals, who had undergone a religious conversion, from the list of beneficiaries under various relevant government facilities.
Picture Source – Internet
On various occasions, Janajati Suraksa Manch (JSM) leaders claim that the ST status is given to them to protect their traditional, cultural and linguistic identities. But a large number of tribal families have adopted foreign religions like Christianity and Islam in recent decades. Maintaining the movement for over 18 years across the country, the national body remains clear in mind that the families, who convert into Christianity and Islam, should not enjoy the benefits of reservation and other government endorsed facilities meant for the ST people.
They expressed concern that the relentless religious conversion among the ST families has been ruining the tribal people. They highlighted that the religious conversion continues to increase alarmingly in Assam where the tribals emerge as vulnerable to the process. The 2011 census indicated that 87.93% of Nagaland’s population were practicing Christians.
Their population accounts 87.16% (of total populace) in Mizoram, 74.59% in Meghalaya, 41.29% in Manipur, 30.26% in Arunachal Pradesh and 3.74% in Assam. Advocating to prevent unethical religious conversion, the forum also urges both the Union and concerned State governments for amending Article 342 A of the Constitution (where the matter of benefits to socially and educationally backward classes is highlighted) and equalize with Article 341 for Scheduled Caste (if any SC person is converted to any other religion, he/she should be automatically delisted from the reservation parameter).
“We are not against any religion or anybody getting converted by their own wishes as it is permitted by the Constitution. We are only concerned about protecting our culture, custom, ritual and languages,” said Binud Kumbang, co-convener of JDSSM-Assam. Speaking to this writer recently, Kumbang also added that many converted ST families gradually change their religious, cultural and other customary traditional practices, but they continue taking benefits meant for the
A major objective of the rally was to insist on delisting the converted ST families, who have completely given up their tribal culture, customs, rituals, traditions and their original way of life
in due course of time after conversion, said Manturam Kohram, convener of JDSSM-Assam, adding that the organisation has been sending separate memorandums to President Droupadi Murmu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi via Assam Governor Gulab Chand Kataria highlighting their core
The splendid rally was also graced by a number of nationally acclaimed personalities like Surya Narayan Suri (Akhil Bharatiya Sangathan Mantri- JSM), Satyendra Singh (JSM central observer), Prakash Singh Uikeji and Ravindra Uike (executive members of JSM) with others. They unanimously called concerned authorities to prevent those converted individuals from contesting in various local, regional and national elections in constituencies reserved for the ST candidates.
At the beginning, tribal rituals were performed by Boro, Karbi, Tiwa, Dimasha, Rabha and Mising people, following which JDSSM-Assam president Bogiram Boro hoisted the official flag. More than ten tribal folk-dance troupes performed in the program. Community speakers like Babita Brahma, Pratap Terang, Tarun Chandra Rabha, Kameswar Pator, etc also delivered speeches on the menace of conversion that is engulfing the tribal communities.
Should not it be the time to ponder about the pertinent issue, which is extremely relevant to north-eastern States, and have a pragmatic discussion and resolution so that the beneficiaries for a particular government provision can be selected logically and legally across the vast country in its Amrit Kal !
-By NJ Thakuria