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Protecting tribal culture and identity

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Friday very rightfully called upon the people to play a crucial role in the preservation and promotion of tribal identity, art and culture.

Himanta

Sentinel Digital Desk

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Friday very rightfully called upon the people to play a crucial role in the preservation and promotion of tribal identity, art and culture. He was speaking at the inauguration of a three-day conference of tribal leaders of the Northeast near Guwahati. It is a very timely appeal, especially because tribal and indigenous communities of the Northeast are facing a serious crisis as far as their tradition, customs, rituals and faiths are concerned. While Christian missionaries, who arrived almost together with the British in the early 19th century, have already converted majority of the region's tribal communities, Muslim infiltrators having roots in erstwhile East Bengal/Pakistan and present-day Bangladesh have started pushing the indigenous tribal communities to the brink. Rapid globalization too is posing a major threat. As tribal communities were converted, they have not only lost their original indigenous faiths, but have also lost their folklore, rituals, traditions, customs, and their rich music. Folklore, tradition and custom together constitute the culture of a population. Thus, when these elements are lost, a community's culture is also lost, and only the name of the community remains. Similarly, when a community is pushed out or evicted from their land, they get uprooted. Losing roots makes a tree weak and leads to decay and death. The same happens to a community when it is uprooted or overwhelmed by immigrants who profess a different religion and alien culture (if at all they have any culture), reduced to a minority in their own land and gradually pushed out. While Tripura is the biggest example of how indigenous tribal communities have been pushed, squeezed and reduced to a minority, Assam too has numerous such instances to offer, particularly in the present-day districts of Dhubri, Mankachar, Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baska, Goalpara, Bongaigaon, Barpeta, Nagaon, Morigaon and Darrang. What used to be 100 per cent tribal areas in many places in these districts 60 years ago, today either do not have any indigenous population, or have only a microscopic presence. Most indigenous communities in the hill states of the Northeast do enjoy numerical majority in their respective states. But when it comes to indigenous culture, heritage, tradition, customs and faith – almost everything has vanished into thin air. Culture, heritage, tradition, customs and faith are all interrelated and interdependent. When one is lost, the others also suffer irreparable and irreversible damage. The present government in Assam had come to power first in 2016 with the solemn promise of protecting the 'jaati, maati and bheti' of the indigenous communities. Thus, this government headed by Himanta Biswa Sarma has a very crucial role to play in protecting the language, culture, faith, tradition and customs of the indigenous and tribal communities of Assam. The Assam Chief Minister being also the convener of NEDA, has an additional responsibility of guiding his counterparts in the other Northeastern states in this respect.

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