Non-tribal communities living in Assam can never claim to be ‘khilonjia’ or indigenous, said the All-Assam Kochari Samaj that represents the earliest ethnic communities inhabiting the State.
Leaders of the samaj, in a statement on Friday evening, also slammed the Assam government and non-tribal people for destroying tribal history and cultures.
The Assam Sahitya Sabha and All-Assam Students’ Union (AASU) have panned the statement as “immature” and “politically-motivated” to undermine the ongoing movement against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA).
The samaj’s statement assumes significance ahead of a report to be submitted by a 15-member panel enlisting the communities that qualify to be called ‘khilonjia’ for implementing Clause 6 of the Assam Accord of 1985. This clause prescribes land and constitutional rights only for the indigenous in Assam.
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 present-day Assam and beyond 1,500 years before the Mahabharata era. But the non-tribal have pushed the tribal history aside despite the United Nations specifying that only the aborigines can be called indigenous,” said the statement signed by the organisation’s working president Manas Rabha, general secretary Pradip Sonowal and four others representing as may tribes.
The samaj claimed many traits representative of mainstream Assamese culture today were appropriated from the tribes. These include the floral ‘gamosa’, or cloth-towel, 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 non-indigenous. The Ahoms are one of six communities demanding Scheduled Tribe status, which the Kocharis enjoying ST status are opposed to.
Advising the Assamese to stop making the “baseless claim” of being indigenous or ‘bhumiputra’ (son-of-the-soil), the Kochari Samaj said they would otherwise seek justice from the Supreme Court and approach the U.N. besides the Centre.
“The views of the organisation are utterly immature. I appeal to their leaders to come to our office with facts and discuss for establishing their claims and specify the communities they consider non-tribal. We should refrain from comments that divide the indigenous communities,” said Paramanda Rajbongshi, former president of Assam Sahitya Sabha.
“This seems to be a political move. Such organisations should exercise restraint and refrain from making communally sensitive statements when the Assamese are agitating for their existence,” AASU general secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi said.