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Who are the Indigenous People of Assam?

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Guwahati, September 15, 2019:

After the publication of the Assam National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the coming the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, the people of Northeast find themselves asking meaning of the word ‘indigenous’. Who exactly is native to these lands?

Speaking about Clause 6 of Assam Accord, the Assam Indigenous People Protection Committee (AIPPC) stated that the indigenous people of Barak Valley fully support the government’s stand to implement Clause 6. However, the indigenous organizations will be in for a surprise if they come to know about a Supreme Court Judgment from 2011.

According to a 2011 Judgment of the Supreme Court, the only people who might be able to call themselves ‘indigenous’ to these lands are the bhils or adivasis.

A Supreme Court vide Judgment dated 05.01.2011 in Criminal Appeal no. 11/2011, held that the Bhils are ‘probaly’ the descendants of some of the original inhabitants of India known as ‘aborigines’ or Scheduled Tribes (ST) or adivasis, who presently comprise of only about 8% of the population.

The rest 92% of the population of India consists of descendants of immigrants. Thus, India is a country of immigrants.

The Supreme Court further contended that the indigenous of India were the pre-Dravidian munda aborigines, whose descendants live in parts of Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Odisha, etc. It has been further contended that the rest 92% are the descendants of immigrants.

Thus, if only Bhils are the indigenous citizens of the land, does it not mean that all of the rest are foreigners? Moreover, this Judgment comes from the Supreme Court, the main monitoring body of the Assam NRC. What happens now to the legal procedures for the protection of the ‘indigenous people’, such as Clause 6 of the historic Assam Accord, for instance?

All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) leader Lurinjyoti Gogoi weighing in on the situation, said that the Clause 6 will be implemented after looking at many factors. Anthropological, historical, all facets will be evaluated. It shall be determined by the committee formulated to implement the Accord. These are still early days”.

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