RSS-affiliate demands removal of Christians from ST list, amendment of Article 342A

Guwahati: Ahead of the assembly elections in Christian-majority Meghalaya and Nagaland, an RSS-backed organisation called Janajati Dharma- Sanskriti Suraksha Manch (JDSSM) has decided to intensify its agitation demanding to delist tribals who have undergone a religious conversion from the Schedule Tribe (ST) status that entitles them for reservation in jobs.

Over 1 lakh members of the JDSSM will be staging a demonstration at Janata Bhawan on February 12 under its “Challo Dispur” programme, demanding both the Central and the State governments to amend Article 342A of the Constitution of India.

The organisation will also submit separate memorandums to President Droupadi Murmu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in support of its demand. 

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.

“The people who have adopted foreign religions like Christianity and Islam are getting double benefits. They put their children in Christian schools taking benefits as a minority but take up scholarships, jobs, promotion meant for STs,” said Binud Kumbang, co-convenor, JDSSM, Assam Pranta.

“In addition to this, they also take part in democratic exercises by contesting elections to be ministers, MPs, MLAs, and members of autonomous bodies. They are taking away the rights of tribals who are working hard to keep their tradition alive,” Kumbang said.

He said the organisation has already held various rallies in tribal-dominated districts and reached out to a cross-section of tribal leaders, including ministers, MPs, MLAs and CEMs of Autonomous Councils to garner support.

Meghalaya and Nagaland are two Christian majorities that will go for assembly elections on February 27.

In March, the organisation is also planning to storm the Parliament in New Delhi in support of its demand.

The criteria set out by the Lokur Committee for defining a community as a tribe are indications of primitive traits, distinctive culture, geographical isolation, shyness of contact with the community at large, and backwardness.

“People who convert to Christianity and Islam should not be eligible to get the reservation and other benefits given to the STs. But, even after getting converted, they are availing both types of benefits,” he said.

In the case of Kerala vs. Mohan, the Supreme Court had made it clear that if a person of a tribe renounces his original religion and adopts another religion and leaves his traditions, customs, rituals, and rites, then he will not be considered a tribe. 

“Tribals who convert to any other religion should not be given reservation mandated for genuine ST,” he said.

“Of approximately 40 lakh tribal population in the state, 7-10 people adopted Christianity in Assam. Many tribal people from Dhemaji, Majuli, Sadiya, Golaghat, Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao adopt Christianity for a number of reasons. The conversion rate is going higher and higher,” the co-convenor of JDSSM said.

“We are not against any religion. But we want the protection of our language, tradition and culture,” he added. 

The JDSSM has been generating public awareness rallies in each block, ward and district of the state and the rallies are getting the support of the STs who have not received benefits. 

“Religious conversion is continually posing a great threat to the ST people of the country since pre-independence. The conversion of tribals into Christianity and Islam is not a new event but in the last few decades the conversion rate has increased drastically,” said Bagiram Boro, president JDSSM, Assam Pranta.

“This PAN-India organization was formed to prevent the conversion of tribals to foreign religions like Christianity, Islam etc. Our objective is to protect and preserve the original culture, customs, rituals and languages of tribals of India, prevent the conversion of ST people to foreign religions, create janajagaran in the ST population at the grass root level through various workshops, rally gaon sabhas and samparka abhijan,” Boro said.

“Our Challo Dispur will be a grand rally in Guwahati of one lakh participants,” he added. 

However, Lawrence Islary, an MLA from United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL) and former general secretary of the influential All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) said this demand will weaken the tribal people in Assam and Northeast.

“There are a few groups in the ST list. If the government accepts this demand, the tribals will be weakened. Moreover, there are five criteria for getting ST status. Religion is not considered as criteria for recognition,” Islary said.

“A section of the people are raising this demand in the country. But I found no justification behind it. Many assembly constituencies will be deserved. The tribals will lose representation in Parliament and assemblies. It is a big conspiracy. They should rethink their demand,” Islary added.

Reacting to the issue, Assam Christian Forum (ACF) secretary Chowaram Daimary said ST status is based on ethnicity as per the Constitution of India and has nothing to do with religion.

“As for the conversion allegations, it is to be noted that the Bodos traditionally practised Bathouism, which is the worshipping of the supreme God, known as Obonglaoree. However, Bodo’s have also been converted to Hinduism, especially Hoom Jaygya apart from the two religions by their own free will as the provisions enshrined in the Constitution,” Daimary said.

“As such, mentioning only two religions is viewed as an effort by vested and instigated groups to create confusion and disharmony among the Bodo people especially when the Bodo Accord is in the process of being implemented,” he added. 

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  1. People just don’t convert cause it’s a must but in fact people convert cause God has touch their soul and spirit.. To conclude ST has nothing to do with religion

  2. Isn’t India was a versatile country, just like a varieties of culture, it has varies of religion, an ST has nothing to do with religion. Iam sorry for the people who started this. And why is it reflecting on the ST’ why not SC or OBC. .

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