Assam bandh over ST status delay

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GUWAHATI: Life in the state was paralyzed on the first day of the 36-hour Assam bandh, called against BJP’s delay in granting the promised tribal status of six OBC communities in the state. The communities form almost 50% of the state’s population.

Supporters of the six communities – Tai Ahom, Moran, Motok, Chutia, Koch Rajbongshi and the adivasi tea workers’ community of Chotanagpur-origin – forced a total bandh in upper and lower Assam, barring Guwahati. The supporters resorted to stone-pelting on government public transport vehicles, stopping people from travelling in private vehicles and blocking national highways with burning tyres. There was no report of police action against protesters anywhere.

While campaigning for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Narendra Modi had promised ST status to the six communities. The promise had been reiterated during the state assembly elections as well. The previous Congress government in the state had also proposed the granting of ST status to these communities. Former chief minister Tarun Gogoi is a member of the Tai Ahom community.

Hiteswar Barman, president of the All Koch Rajbongshi Students’ Union (AKRSU), said BJP in the state as well as the Centre has been dragging its feet on the demand.

“The Centre had announced that the expert committee will submit its report on the framework of modalities for granting ST status to the six communities by October 15. It appears that the government has taken us for a ride,” he said.

The communities, under the banner of Soi Janagosthiya Aikya Mancha, will hold a special convention in Guwahati on October 31 and a mass dharna at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on November 10.

On the opposing side are the communities currently enjoying tribal status. They fear that the inclusion of more communities in the ST list will nullify the benefits they are currently enjoying, particularly job reservation.

Currently, there are 14 tribes in plains and 17 in the autonomous hills districts of Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao in the state. The Bodo community is the biggest group, accounting for more than 40% of the tribal population.

The granting of ST status to the six communities would make the state a tribal-dominated one and alter the assembly constituencies from open constituencies to tribal-reserved constituencies. At present 15 of the 126 constituencies are reserved for STs. The number of reserved seats is likely to increase to 80 once ribal status is granted to the six communities.

Source: Times of India

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