Darjeeling hill communities meet Union Tribal Minister to plead for Scheduled Tribe Status

Scheduled Tribe Status
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A delegation from the picturesque Darjeeling hills arrived in Delhi last week, carrying a heavy burden of unfulfilled promises and a desperate plea. Their mission: to convince the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to grant Scheduled Tribe status to 11 hill communities, a promise made by the party before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The delegation led by Gorkha Bharatiya Janjati Mahasangh, representing Bhujel, Gurung, Mangar, Newar, Jogi, Khas, Rai, Sunuwar, Thami, Dewan and Dhimal communities met Union tribal minister Arjun Munda to address their demand before the 2024 elections.

The BJP’s 2019 commitment to a Permanent Political Solution for Darjeeling and the grant of ST status to 11 hill communities played a crucial role in securing their votes. However, with the 2024 elections looming, frustration is mounting over the lack of progress made on both these pledges outlined in their manifesto.

The demand for ST status stems from the belief that it would uplift these communities and address their social and economic marginalization. This would address historical inequalities and provide them with better access to educational opportunities, healthcare and reservation in government jobs.

Gorkha Bharatiya Janjati Mahasangh is hopeful that the demand would be fulfilled soon. However, the road to ST status is fraught with complexities.

Concerns have been raised earlier by the Office of the Registrar General of India that granting ST status to all 11 communities could adversely affect existing Scheduled Tribes like the Lepcha and Bhutia in Sikkim. The ORGI had also stated that stated that “inflow of Nepalese immigrants will further increase if the said communities are granted ST status.”

While addressing the concerns raised by the ORGI, the delegation cited census data of the Tamang and Limbu communities, who were granted ST status in 2003, showing no inflow at all. On the matter of adhering to the Hindu religion by these communities, the team stated that while they follow Hinduism, they have not given up their animistic tradition of nature worship and animal sacrifice.

The BJP government, meanwhile, appears to be caught between its pre-election promise and the potential political and social ramifications of granting ST status. While acknowledging the demands of the Darjeeling communities, the party has not yet committed to a concrete timeline for action.

The delegation also met Sikkim Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang (Golay) on the sidelines of the meeting. Golay, who is in support of the tribal status for the communities, said that the demand must be pursued in unity.

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