New Delhi - Amidst the rich tapestry of various tribal communities, each with their distinct cultures and languages, Assam stands as a diverse hub. Despite their cultural significance, these communities often operate on the fringes of mainstream attention.
Recently, Kirit Premjibhai Solanki, the Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on the Welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, led a three-day expedition in Assam alongside 14 committee members on November 6th. Their mission was to assess the prevailing social conditions of the marginalized communities in the state. While Solanki expressed contentment with what he witnessed, a contrasting narrative seems to emerge from the actual experiences on the ground.
The Mooknayak spoke to Bondita Mrina, a grassroots activist from Assam. She opened up about the condition of the scheduled communities in the state. The activist said, “The SC/ST Atrocities Act lacks implementation in the state. There is no sensitivity among the police as well. I do not understand how the status has been termed ‘satisfactory’ if there is no proper implementation of the acts meant to safeguard the population.”
“During the pandemic, a heinous crime took place with a tribal woman from the district of Karbi-Anglong. The woman used to be a house help to a Thakur family but she ended up being raped and murdered. The case was not registered under the SC/ST atrocities act even after a lot of protests by the community people. The communities face a lot of violence and harassment, but these cases go unreported.”
Mrina continued, “We had also filed an RTI asking about the number of State and District Monitoring Committee meetings that were held in the state. We found out that no such meetings were conducted in the state since 2018. Even the commission apparently does not receive any complaints. If there are no cases being registered, this points towards the fact that the public lacks awareness. No work is being done to aware the communities.”
“The most spoken languages in the state are Assamese, Bodo, and Bangla. The act needs to be translated into these languages for Dalits and Adivasis to understand the intricacies of the act, which has been put into place to safeguard them,” the activist suggested.
In August of 2023, a violent scenario took place in Magurmari, Kokrajhar, Assam. A mob targeted two men on the suspicion of cow theft, subjecting them to a brutal assault. The victims, one being a Muslim and the other a tribal man, were tied up, severely beaten, and left with severe injuries. This disturbing incident was recorded in a video shared on social media on August 6, 2023, highlighting a troubling pattern of violence driven by hate.
More than 50 Karbi and Adivasi families residing in the Mikir Bamuni Grant cluster of villages within Assam's Nagaon district are engaged in continuous protests against land acquisition by the solar power company, Azure Power Forty Private Limited.
The local farmers argue that Azure Power informed them about the land acquisition without prior consent, contending that the land had not been cultivated for the past decade. However, the villagers dispute this claim made by the state-owned Assam Power Development Corporation Ltd (APDCL) and assert that the allocation of this agricultural land, which they have been farming for many years, violates their land rights.
In 2021, during the late hours of the night, the police conducted an operation in the village and apprehended multiple active farmers, including Lakhiram Mardi, Sikari Rongpi, and Bhaity Timung. In the course of the operation, law enforcement officers confronted and assaulted both men and women, resulting in severe injuries to many individuals. Allegedly, a male police officer reportedly kicked Sikari Rongpi's pregnant wife in the stomach, causing her to suffer a miscarriage.
During his visit, Solanki emphasized the need for improvement in various key areas, such as education and employment opportunities, and the eradication of practices like manual scavenging, which primarily affect individuals from the Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) communities.
In his interactions with reporters, Solanki pointed out that Assam and the entire north eastern region show relatively lower levels of caste-based discrimination compared to many other parts of the country. He noted that the instances of atrocities committed against SC/ST individuals are also comparatively fewer in Assam.
During their visit, Solanki and his committee members engaged in discussions with representatives from the state government, including the Chief Secretary, as well as with various public sector undertakings (PSUs) such as LIC, ONGC, OIL, Northeast Frontier Railways, and IIT-Guwahati. These discussions likely revolved around identifying areas where government agencies and PSUs can contribute to the welfare and upliftment of the SC and ST communities in Assam. This may include initiatives related to education, job opportunities, and the elimination of harmful practices that disproportionately affect these marginalized groups.
Overall, Solanki's visit and his observations indicate a positive assessment of the social conditions in Assam for SC and ST communities, but it also underscores the importance of addressing remaining challenges, such as education and employment disparities, and ensuring the eradication of practices that perpetuate inequality.