Assam Speaker Hitendra Nath Goswami must be particularly congratulated for having dedicated one full day’s proceedings of the Legislative Assembly to discuss the various problems faced by those communities which are marked as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. In fact Goswami’s entire effort – which has been christened as Speaker’s Initiative – launched soon after he assumed office in 2017, should be a role model for all other State Assemblies across the country. While one full day is being dedicated to a particular subject or issue or community for discussion in the Assam Legislative Assembly, this process has not only compelled the legislators to do a lot of study and homework, but have also made them in the process understand various issues of the State better.
It is very important that our legislators know the basics of various issues pertaining to every nook and corner of the State. This is because, though every legislator is primarily a representative of the people of his or her respective constituency, inside the Legislative Assembly they are all equally responsible for enacting laws for the common good of the State and finding solutions to various issues afflicting the entire State. The day-long discussion that Speaker Goswami initiated in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday dealt with a wide array of issues, starting from issue of fake SC/ST certificates by a section of unscrupulous government officials as well as office-bearers of different organisations related to the various SC and ST communities, the backlog in filling up vacancies in government departments, to empowering women fish vendors in protection of land that have been traditionally the homeland of numerous SC and ST communities of the State.
Taking a close look, one finds that though Srimanta Sankaradeva had immensely contributed towards pulling down the typical caste barriers – a concept that had entered Assam from mainland India in the ancient times – some people, though less in number, continue to live with such mental barriers. This is despite the fact that the larger Assamese society had emerged through a long historical process in which various tribal and ethnic communities had contributed in their own way to shape and enrich a common identity. There are numerous examples to illustrate that the tribal and non-tribal communities of Assam are culturally, linguistically and even mentally inseparable from one another. One simple example is the names of rivers in the State; almost every river in Assam has a tribal prefix – whether starting with Di (from the Bodo dwi/twi, like Dihing, Disang, Dikhow, Difalu, Dibang, Diroi, Timon, Timuk, Teok, etc) to the Nam (from the Tai, like Namsang, Namchik, Namdang, Namrook, Nambor, etc). The festivals – whether those related to harvest or to the advent of spring – also have a fusion of elements from various ethnic communities, and so does the Assamese language. Assam also has a rich legacy of the Ahom kings practicing an inclusive policy where people from various communities were so well accommodated that many individuals with quality in the specific profession had even reached the level of Hazarikas and Baruas despite being not a member of the Ahom community.
Despite that, however, one must admit and put on record that the SC and ST communities have largely remained neglected especially in respect of overall socio-economic development in the post-Independence era. Not that members of the SC and ST communities had not occupied senior positions in the various ministries beginning from the Gopinath Bardoloi days. But then, when it came to socio-economic development, Assam indeed suffers from regional imbalance and disparity within its geographical boundary. Not to speak of setting up medical colleges and engineering colleges and good hospitals, most of the tribal-inhabited districts did not even have a good science college till the other day. Likewise, roads and other modes of connectivity to the river-bank areas, which historically have major concentration of SC communities, have remained in the primitive stage for long. About the encroachment of land that were demarcated as Tribal Belts and Blocks, and those where the SC communities had traditionally lived since ages – by hordes of land-hungry immigrants having roots in erstwhile East Bengal/Pakistan and present-day Bangladesh, the less said the better. That exactly was one major focus of Thursday’s day-long discussion in the Assam Legislative Assembly, with a number of legislators very rightly demanding protection of the right over land of the Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste communities of the State.