Janajati Dharma Sanskriti Suraksha Manch (JDSSM) sent a memorandum to the President of India, Draupadi Murmu, through the Governor of Assam, requesting “delisting of persons converted to Christianity and Islam from the list of schedule tribes and stopping of constitutional and legal benefits given to them.”
On March 26, JDSSM organised a rally ‘Chalo Dispur’, which witnessed participation from about 55,000 tribal people from 30 districts of Assam. The leaders argued that the tribals who converted to other religions should not be given facilities meant for tribal groups. Thousands of tribals from across the districts conducted foot-march, members of these communities then staged a huge rally seeking appropriate amendments to Article 342 of the Constitution to prevent tribals from converting to other religions and at the same time enjoying the rights given to STs.
JDSSM’s memorandum “wishes to highlight the injustices done to the genuine Scheduled Tribes who have been following their tribal faith/faiths. So far, the constitutional and legal benefits guaranteed for the genuine tribals, are enjoyed by persons who have given up their tribal faith/faiths and have embraced Christianity or Islam and who are educationally and economically well off in comparison to the genuine scheduled tribes.
JDSSM cited the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Orders (Amendment) Bill, 1967 wherein the Joint Committee said, “The Committee also considered the question as to whether member of the Scheduled Tribes should continue to be treated as a Scheduled Tribe after conversion to another religion other than a tribal religion. The Committee are of the opinion that no person who has given up the tribal faith or faiths and has embraced Christianity or Islam should be deemed to be a member of Scheduled Tribe. Amendments to the Scheduled Tribes Orders have been made accordingly.”
JDSSM also noted that a similar amendment was done for Scheduled Caste (SCs) in 1956 which read “Notwithstanding anything contained in Paragraph 2, no person who professes a religion different from the Hindu or Sikh religion shall be deemed to be a member of Scheduled Castes.”
JDSSM submits that “as per the Government of India Act, 1935, an Indian Christian is defined as a person who professes any form of Christian religion and who is not a European or an Anglo Indian. Accordingly, when a person has given up tribal faith or faiths and embraced Christianity then naturally he/she falls under the category of Indian Christians and is not entitled to get the constitutional benefits under scheduled tribe category. Availing such benefits was entirely unconstitutional.”
JDSSM stated that it participated in a national signature campaign in 2009 wherein the organisation collected over 27.67 lakh signatures from tribal people. Thereafter, a delegation under the “leadership of Late Jagdeo Ram Uraon, Late Dilip Singh Bhuriya and Smt Anusuiya Uike, the present Governor of Manipur, had met Smt. Pratibha Devi Singh Patil, the then Honourable President of India on 18th January, 2010 to appraise the strong and unequivocal demand of tribal people of the country to amend the President’s Order on Scheduled Tribes, 1950 to exclude such tribal persons from the list of scheduled tribes and to stop constitutional and legal benefits being provided to the persons of scheduled tribes who have given up their tribal faith/faiths.”
JDSSM claimed that “these genuine aspirations of the tribal people across the country have been continuously ignored since 1970 thereby perpetuating the unjust and unfair treatment to the persons of tribes who are proud believer of traditional faith/faiths.” Furthermore, JDSSM submitted that “Shri Dr. Nishikant Dubey, honorable member of Lok Sabha from Godda, Jharkhand had raised this issue on 22nd September, 2020 in the Lok Sabha during the debate. The issue that he has raised is of paramount significance and relevance.”
“We appeal to Government of India when the nation is celebrating its Amrit Mahotsav, to consider the legitimate demand on priority basis and undo the injustices being done to Scheduled Tribes since independence and bring in the social change without any prejudice against any citizen but in the larger interest of the nation and tribal people reflecting the genuine demand to stand by the poor, downtrodden, helpless and needy tribal people of the country,” JDSSM pleaded in the memorandum.
“Madam, the dark days should end and rays of hope have to be dawned on the horizon of genuine tribes by delisting the converted STs. This is utmost need of the hour. Hon’ble Madam, we request your kind authority to give necessary instructions with regard to our demand to Government of Bharatvarsh with favorable and suitable recommendations at an early date. For this act of kindness we shall remain ever grateful to you,” JDSSM prayed to the President of India.
It is pertinent to note that similar protests against the inclusion of persons converted to other religions for receiving benefits meant for tribal people were also witnessed in Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand recently.