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Assam : Tribal Land Alienation:Government's Role

The large-scale influx of infiltrators from the south and the north-west has compounded fears of insecurity and large-scale land alienation. Infiltration has been a fall-out of not merely recent government policies, but once formed a part of the colonial government's moves to resettle and develop the region.

With the burgeoning volume of tribal ethnic movements inIndia in recent years, a queer belief seems to be gaining strong currency among the common people. This belief holds that the government is taking all initiatives to ameliorate the socio-economic plight of our tribal populace. But due to the detrimental effects of the above-mentioned movements these initiatives have not yielded the expected results. We intend to argue that this view is largely a product of government propaganda aimed at discrediting the very raison d’etre of the tribal movements and also at finding an alibi for its own failure and non- performance in the sphere of tribal development. What is most disturbing is the fact that even a large section of the intelligentsia also seems to be susceptible to this obnoxious view. However, no serious observer of tribal affairs can afford to be indulgent to this kind of campaign. This in turn requires us to find out the actual character of the much-vouched government initiatives toward tribal development.

Verrier Elwin in his A Philosophy for NEFA (1949) observed “…the first cause of their (tribals) depression was the loss of their land and forests. This had the effect so enervating the tribal organism that it had no interior resistance against infection by a score of other serious evils” (p 62). “To the tribal mind, government’s attitude about land and forests is as important as any scheme for development or education” (ibid). Leading experts on tribal development also have echoed Elwin’s concern. This sets apart land as the most crucial issue in any scheme for tribal development. Ergo, the attitude of any government toward tribal development can best be assessed through its attitude toward tribal land. In this paper, an attempt has been made to examine the role of the Assam government in preserving tribal interest on land from a historical perspective. Assam, plagued by a series of tribal ethnic movements in recent times, represents an ideal case to examine the nature of government attitude toward its tribal populace.

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