As many as one lakh tribal people from 30 Assam districts will take out a “Chalo Dispur” programme under the banner of RSS-affiliate Janajati Dharma Sanskriti Suraksha Manch (JDSSM) in Guwahati on March 26 against the religious conversion of the tribal people in various parts of the state.
The main demand of the RSS-affiliate organisation is to delist tribals, who have undergone religious conversion, as Scheduled Tribes (ST) that entitles them to reservation of jobs and other government benefits.
The organisation also demanded an amendment to Article 342A of the Constitution of India.
“Religious conversion in India is continuously posing great threats to the ST people of India since pre-independence. The conversions of tribals of Assam by foreign religions are not a new event but in the last few decades, the rate has increased drastically. Particularly the ST people are the easiest prey or victim of conversions in India mainly targeted by the highly communal theocratic foreign religious groups,” JDSSM co-convenor and working president Binud Kumbang said while addressing a press conference at Dispur Press Club here on Thursday.
He said that conversion was like slow poison killing the tribals’ original beliefs and faiths, culture, customs and rituals.
He said it is because of conversion that the North East has emerged as a major region of Christian concentration in India. Of 2.78 crore Christians counted in India in the 2011 Census, 78 lakh are from the region, including Assam.
“The share of Christians in Meghalaya has continued to rise robustly from decade to decade and reached nearly 75 per cent in 2011. It seems some of the tribes in Meghalaya are still resisting conversion,” he said.
As for Assam, he said the number of Christians has risen by 85 times since 1901.
According to 2011 census data, 87.93 per cent of the total population in Nagaland are Christians, 87.16 per cent in Mizoram, 74.59 per cent in Meghalaya, 41.29 per cent in Manipur, 30.26 per cent in Arunachal Pradesh 3.74 per cent of the total population in Assam are Christians.
“The purpose of reservation provisions in the Indian Constitution for ST in Article 342 is to protect and preserve tribal way of life, culture, customs, rituals etc as a whole and to uplift the listed STs’ socio-economic conditions by giving them reservations in education, jobs, elections etc. Article 371 of our Constitution prevents even the Parliament from making Acts and laws which affect the way of life and culture of certain tribal areas,” Kumbang also said.
“The fundamental purpose of the tribal reservation becomes meaningless when the tribes reject their original faiths, culture, customs etc. and converts to another religion. A basic question that rises here is, when a person changes his faith and is converted to another religion, how he could maintain the original- culture, traditions and way of life followed by the community,” Kumbang further said.
“Double benefits (ST& minority) taken by many converted ST people are unconstitutional and immoral. “85 per cent of MLAs and administrative officers are getting double benefits from the government as ST and minorities in the country,” he said
Therefore to secure the ST community’s existence with their original culture, customs, rituals and languages, Assam Pradesh JDSSM is organising a massive rally “Chalo Dispur” on March 26 at Khanapara Field at 10 am,” he also said.
“More than one lakh tribal people will participate from 30 districts of Assam wearing their traditional attires. We are not against any religion or caste, but to protect our “identity with dignity and originality”,” Kumbang said.
“We are demanding the delisting of converted STs names from ST lists, who are not following the prescribed tribe’s culture customs, rituals etc by amending Article 342 and equalising with Article 341 for Scheduled Caste (if any SC person being converted to any other religion, automatically the person get de-listed from SC reservation),” he said.
The organisation is pushing a demand that was first raised by Congress MP Karthik Oraon in the sixties, who had flagged the issue claiming that ST converts were getting a major chunk of reservation benefits. In 1968, a joint parliamentary committee was formed to examine the issue.