They are neither migrants nor considered indigenous enough. Somewhere in between, the Assamese Sikhs are seeking reservation and a development council as recognition of their contribution to Assam.
But they are too small a voting force to attract political attention and too scattered across three assembly constituencies in central Assam’s Nagaon district to matter during elections.
The population of Assamese Sikhs is estimated to be 12,000, of whom 7,000 are voters. Barkola, 125km east of Guwahati, has the majority of them sharing space with nine indigenous communities. “Assam has development councils for many communities, even for those who settled down in Assam after us. We hope the new government has us in mind for such a council for economic uplift,” Pratap Singh, secretary of Assamese Sikh Association, said.
The Assam government allocates Rs 100 crore to each development council annually. The state has 20 such councils for as many indigenous and settler communities besides six tribal councils.
The Assamese Sikhs, mostly farmers in a floodprone area, could also do with reservation in higher education institutions for job security, Singh said. “At 0.87% of Assam’s total population, we are a minority among minorities, but do not figure in schemes for minorities.” What saddens the Assamese Sikhs is the “political neglect” that has added to years of identity crisis – they haven’t blended in while being considered too Assamese to be “real Sikhs”. “Our forefathers were among 500 Sikh commandos Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab had sent to help Ahom king Chandrakanta Singh fight invaders in 1822. Very few survivors settled down, married local women and with time our link with Punjab was cut off,” Barkoka village headman Jagya Singh, 78, said.
Durlav Samua, seeking re-election from Nagaon, has assured attention to the community this time. So has prime rival Rupak Sarmah, who hopes to cash on the BJP’s bid to provide citizenship to non-Muslims, including Sikhs, facing persecution in neighbouring countries.