DALIT & TRIBES, FROM THE MARGINS

THE AUTONOMY QUESTION

(ABSTRACT: The states in the North-eastern part of India are known for it’s anti Indian movements. Most of them are against the forced blanket concept of Indian Nationalism and are rising against the Pan-Indian state. And again there are smaller ethnic communities who are again fighting against their own states creating a multi-layered identity movements. Here, the author traces, in fact questions the autonomy movement of the Mising tribe of Assam. The Misings are the second largest tribe in Assam. This 1.2 million strong riparian  community has been fighting for Sixth shedule status since long and the struggle is still on. The Mising Autonomous Council was dissolved last year on charges of corruption and malpractices. It was reported that the officials of the MAC had accumulated a lots of illegal property by misutilisation of funds. The leaders of the TMPK claimed it to be a political conspiracy and that it was dissolved because the so called political party Asom Ganashakti which is considered the guardian of the mising interests had broken its ties with the congress (read Bharat Narah and Rani Narah). Whatever be the charges this gives us an opportunity to question the institution of MAC and rather the autonomy movement itself. This paper critical looks into the autonomy movement of the Misings and raises certain questions that emerge today.)

It has been observed in the history of the north east India, that the students’ organisations play a very active role in the socio-political movements of the state, region or community. The Assam students union, the Bodo students unions etc find mention in this regard. The Misings are also no exception. The Asom Miri Chatra Sanmilon was formed as early as 1933 AD. It was renamed as North bank Mising Students Union (north bank implies the north bank of the river Brahmaputra in Assam) during post independent period. In the year 1951, the organization was again renamed as Murkongchelek Transferred Area Mishing Student Union. The Southerbank Mising Student Union was formed in 1959. Collaborating with the NEFA (present day Arunachal) the Assam-NEFA Mising Student Union was formed in 1971. Clubbing all these organization the All Assam Mising Student Union was formed in 1978. The contribution of the organization during this period was significant in the sense that it could give recognition to the Mising nationality by allocating a fixed date every year for celebration of their main festival Ali-Aye-Lvgang. The organization in consultation with several other Mising entities fixed the first Wednesday of the Assamese month Phagun as the day for celebration of the festival. Prior to this, the festival was celebrated at different time depending on the onset of rain, condition of cultivable land etc. After they fixed the date the organizations insisted and facilitated the community to perform the festival in an extensive manner with huge community participation at different levels. Likewise, another festival Dobur puja was also treated with same spirit. This act of revivalism had great impact on Mising solidarity formation as the people of different places and regions came into contact with each other and it also created the feeling of oneness among them. Along with this act, the organization also used the electronic media like audio and video facilities to record and propagate the traditional Mising oral traditions and performing arts, dance forms, and other traditional ritualistic practices to a great extent. In association with the Mising Agom Ke’bang (Mising Sahitya Sabha), the student organization also tried to spread Mising language in a refined and scientific way. They also demanded Roman script as the script for Mising language.

The demand for inclusion of Mising community under 6th Schedule of the Indian constitution was raised in 1982 in the conference of student union on 14 and 15 September. The organization handed over a Memorandum to the Chief Minister of Assam demanding Mising language to be recognized as one of the state language and make it the medium of instruction in primary schools in Mising dominated area of the state. In 1985 in the meet on 22 to 24 February, the name of student union was renamed as Takam Mising Porin Ke’bang (TMPK).

Likewise, May 5 was designed as the Demand day for the community. After a lot of agitation and passing of demands and memorandum, the govt. of Assam allowed Mising language to be taught in primary schools among the Misings. Prior to that, a new organization was formed named Agom Miming Ke’bang at the behest of student union and other organization of the community. The organization also demanded the broadcasting of news in Mising language in AIR and to increase the time slot for Mising program in AIR. Takam Mising Mime Ke’bang, a Mising women’s organization was also formed to propagate and to take care of cultural part of the Mising nationality.

By 1990 the Mising organizations experienced internal conflict due to vested political interest. But they overcome many such problems in due course of time and demand for autonomous council was made intense. Ultimately in 1995 the community got their autonomous status within the state of Assam. Nevertheless, the council was formed by the government aiming at political gain and the some opportunist political leaders were made office bearer of the council. The organizations had to fight again for the justice and the council’s MoU was redesigned in 2002.

The Autonomy movement and the development Question

Quite a few days ago, I was interacting with one of the leaders of the TMPK about the reasons behind the demand for autonomy. He opined, “It is a well known fact that the areas where the Misings reside are very underdeveloped and the question of development is one of the very important reasons behind the demand for the Sixth schedule status”. But here the kind of development that we are looking for assumes great significance. The mising dominated areas, though underdeveloped receives huge amount of grants and aid from the state just because of the fact that they are tribal dominated areas. The huge amounts of funds rarely reach the deserving population as most of it is pocketed by the so called politicians and leaders.

There also emerges a middle class who pockets a huge share of the money. For instance, while acquiring of land for the Bogibeel project in Sissi Tongani, there was compensation given in return of land taken for the project but the actual landowners received very less amount than stipulated as most of it was pocketed by the ‘educated middlemen’ who carried out the legal formalities required to receive the compensation. It is also seen that the so called fighters and the crusaders of the cause of sixth schedule (read the student union leaders) involve themselves in getting lustrous contracts to earn money on their own. Very few of the projects that they have received contract for are completed resulting into more underdevelopment. Also ironically various new development projects are coming up in the north east with a few in the mising dominated areas also. Thus, how long can the development question continue to be the cause behind the demand for the sixth schedule is to be seen.

The development initiatives can also serve as an appeasement process to the movement. As seen in the current scenario, many of the leaders have turned contractors and are busy in their own projects. Thus, the fight for the autonomy gets weakened with most of the leaders dividing their attention between the cause and their contracts.

The Demand for sixth schedule status has clearly been adopted as the issue of the entire mising community. Here, the community is taken as entirely homogenous identity negating the class differences in the tribe. This might have been done with a fear that it might weaken the movement but this negation of class structures within the community can prove to be dangerous, as the identity question might be used by elite section of the community to maintain the existing status quo wherein the rich remain rich and the poor remain poor. This shall defeat the entire objective behind the demand which looks for control of resources for local people so that equitable development can be ensured in the tribe.

The question of ‘The Other’

All the nationalistic struggles have always been tormented by the question of ‘the other’. Many have retorted to activities like ethnic cleansing and other violent means to silence the other communities. The ethnic cleansing movement undertaken by the Bodos in 1993 killed many thousands of Bangladeshi immigrants residing in hitherto BTC area can be mentioned in this regard. It is evident that other communities are also residing in the mising dominated areas and they definitely will create counter forces. It has been evident from the Bandhs and other counter activities taken by the non-mising communities.

The Misings till yet have confined themselves to democratic means like protests, rallies, Bandhs etc to demand for their inclusion in the sixth schedule. This efforts need to be appreciated but not much have been done to incorporate the other communities in the movement. It of course will be a herculean task to do so but still it should make us shy away from doing that. A movement to succeed needs political awareness and also solidarity efforts from various quarters especially from non-members of the community.

The fight for sixth schedule status in the mising community is not a demand for complete autonomy but just a demand for territorial jurisdiction with considerable amount of autonomy in the administrative and development affairs of the community. Rather than ignoring the interests of the other communities, we can due cognizance of them and try and incorporate them in the movement. This shall give strength to the movement. One may also criticize this with a stand that it might have the possibility of hampering the entire demand as most of the energy will be focused on solving the differences between the communities. But of course, we won’t be able to make any progress in the macro issues (demand for autonomy) until we deal with the micro issues.

Is it that the Misings don’t know How to fight?

“Misings believe in number 5. So do politicians. To woo Misings (read voiceless tribals), it is more than enough to drive through their road-less villages raising dust like in a cyclonic storm once every five years, to show one’s power. Misings are easily duped. Political bigwigs are absolutely sure of their game. A small favour, the promises of an abounding future, a few hundred rupees and a smile win over simple villagers to tilt the electronic voting machines to their advantage. An hour at their cultural presentation and a few encouraging words are sufficient to please the rural rustics. Misings love big people connected to large offices. How is it that when the nation is progressing by leaps and bounds, there is hardly any change in Mising dominated areas? How is that a larger number from their group fail to walk through the corridors of power? How is that those who get elected promising the skies to the masses, forget them after they occupy the chair? .When in the whole of Assam ,road rollers and bulldozers are busy maintaining the communication system, the people of Sadiya are jumping from pothole to pothole. Is it that Misings do not know how to demand? Their peaceful nature keeps them wound to the plough and the yoke. Their voice of peace is hardly audible amidst the din of surrounding explosives. Or have they been bought off by lobbies, both from among Misings and outside, that are more interested in fattening their pocket than public welfare?”

I came across the above article which is written by Prof. Nahendra Padun in misingonline.com. It of course was reproduced and posted in the website by a blogger. In the above article Prof. Padun raises a very pertinent question. The autonomy movement of the Misings has till yet been led by the intellectuals and the leaders. It of course has been made as a mass question but how far the mass is aware is a question that needs serious consideration. The issue of course has gained a lot of mass appeal, evident from the large number of people present in rallies and Dharnas which are called for to carry forth the movement. But many of the masses are brought in trucks and buses with a motive of showing a huge gathering. Needless to say, there are huge gatherings where the youth shout slogans which they have very less idea about as this gives them an adrenaline rush.
If enquired the reason behind the presence and also the future they visualize, if the demand for sixth schedule succeeds they tend to give vague ideas. Most of the mobilisation has not happened political and a huge number of the mass still remain uneducated. Thus the description of Prof Padun holds true. As long as the mass is made critically aware and are active decision makers and not mere participants the movement shall not gain the required momentum.

In the modern world, spaces for dissenting voices are shrinking. For instance, in the olden times when people protested in India, it was generally done in Vijay chowk and in the parliament street. But today we see that a small space around the Jantar Mantar being designated as an area for protests. Thus, more than half of the protests go unheard. And again, there are contractors, who you have to contact when there is a need to put up a tent if the protest has last for more than days. And also, with the coming of capitalism, the sense of revolt among the people is seen to be on the decrease.

The fight for inclusion of the Misings in the sixth schedule of the Indian constitution is of great importance and the fight needs to continue. What the Misings need to do is to devise new ways and strategies to fight and give visibilities to carry forth the movement. It shall have to take cognizance of the certain relevant questions that are posed on it today.

(N:B: This article was written and published in the Annual Magazine of Mising Students Association, Delhi. It is hereby reproduced as a blog. If any one wants to reproduce the contents of the article, it should be duly referenced in the name of the blogger and the site)

3 thoughts on “THE AUTONOMY QUESTION

  1. Your web site has totally surpassed my expectations. Since I begun browsing your internet site I have uncovered new data and had old info reinforced. I will direct quite a few folks that i know.

  2. Along with education it is also observe able that the population control system is not at all prevailing in the interior villages which creates a barrier in development

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