Claiming that converted individuals no longer adhere to tribal customs, the JSM called for a constitutional amendment to delist them from the ST category. In an ambitious move, the Janajati Suraksha Manch (JSM) announced that it would hold a rally in Agartala, demanding the withdrawal of benefits enjoyed by Scheduled Tribe (ST) individuals who have converted to Christianity. The rally, scheduled for December 25, Christmas Day, aims to press for an amendment to the Constitution, delisting those converted individuals from the ST community.
Speaking at a press conference, Santi Bikash Chakma, the convener of JSM’s Tripura unit, emphasised the organisation’s position, stating, “We will organise a massive rally at the Swami Vivekananda Ground on December 25, demanding the delisting of converted people from ST status by amending constitutional provisions.” Chakma clarified that the JSM is not against any religion but argues that the benefits accorded to ST individuals should be reserved for those who adhere to the traditional customs and culture.
Chakma contended that Christianity did not witness substantial growth in Tripura during the British era due to conversion. He pointed out the significant rise in the number of people practising Christianity, citing statistics from the 1911 Census to 2011. According to him, the population practising Christianity increased from 138 in 1911 to 46,472 in 1991 and further to 1,59,582 in 2011.
The crux of the JSM’s argument lies in the claim that a section of tribal people, originally Hindus, embraced Christianity but continues to receive benefits designated for ST individuals. Chakma asserted, “The Indigenous tribes were listed as ST because of their own tradition, culture, and customs. The ST status must be withdrawn from converted people as they no longer practise old culture, tradition, and custom.” He emphasised that the objective is to protect and preserve indigenous culture, tradition, and custom, advocating for the delisting of converted people from the ST category.
The demand for the amendment of constitutional provisions to withdraw ST benefits from converted individuals has sparked a heated debate, with critics arguing that such a move could be a violation of the right to freedom of religion as enshrined in the Indian Constitution. Advocates for minority rights express concern that the rally, held on Christmas Day, a significant religious occasion for Christians, might further contribute to religious tensions in the region.
The JSM’s affiliation with the RSS, the ideological parent body of Tripura’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), adds a political dimension to the controversy. The rally is expected to draw attention not only from the local population but also from national and international observers monitoring religious and tribal issues.
As the date of the rally approaches, the region is bracing for potential tensions and protests, with various stakeholders expressing their views on the delicate balance between preserving cultural heritage and respecting individual religious freedoms—a discussion that goes beyond the boundaries of Tripura and engages with broader questions of identity and rights in the diverse tapestry of India.