“The ball of granting ST status to us is in the President’s court. We have made him our deity since only god can give us our due,” said Bimal Kumar Barman, president of the Koch-Rajbongshi National Forum from Bongaigaon town, 210km from Guwahati, on Tuesday.
Once a ruling community, the Koch-Rajbongshis are spread across Assam and West Bengal. They were granted ST status briefly between January 1996 and April 1997. But the ordinance promulgated by then President Shankar Dayal Sharma was not passed by Parliament.
The Assam government is wary of the demand being accepted. Officials said it will create complications as it the government will then have to address the same demand for ST status from five other communities, including tea plantation workers.
“Tea workers, whom we know as the ‘tea tribe’, comprising 87 ethnic groups including Santhals, Kols, Bhils and Mundas, enjoy ST status in central India. Granting them ST status in Assam will lead to an avalanche of demands from several tribes in the Northeast,” a state government spokesperson said.