GUWAHATI, Sept 20 - The development of middle class among the castes and tribes may significantly diminish the importance of the caste and tribes in the social milieu of NE India, said renowned anthropologist and former Vice Chancellor of Arunachal Pradesh University (now Rajiv Gandhi University) Prof AC Bhagabati. He was speaking to this correspondent.
Observing that the process of economic modernisation and development in the educational arena have together led to the rise of the middle class among all castes and tribes of the region, Prof Bhagabati said that to a significant extent, this will diminish the importance of castes and tribes in the region.
In Assam, he said, till the early 20th century, there was a regular upward mobility from the tribes and lower castes to the higher castes through a process called Sanaskritisation. The Assam of those days has now been known as the NE region of India.
These days, the above process of upward mobility of the tribes and castes to the higher castes has stopped. Because, it pays dividend if one remains a Scheduled caste (SC) or a Scheduled Tribe (ST). One can accrue benefits from the reservation of jobs, seats in the educational institutions etc against the SC or the ST quota as has been provided by the legal provisions.
This is a positive development towards retention of identities and rich diversity of the heritage of different communities, said Prof Bhagabati.
It needs mention here that till the early 20th century, there was a social movement among the tribes and lower caste people in Assam, along with the rest of the country, to climb up the caste hierarchy for uplift of their social status.
This movement led to the birth of Saru Koch, Bar Koch etc communities and in some parts of the State, the Keots also climbed up the caste ladder to claim themselves to be the Kalitas. This way, many other castes engaged themselves in the process of such upward mobility and there was a social tension too arising out of the conflict among the upper castes and the lower castes generated by this process.
In the early fifties of the 20th century, there was a popular movement launched by a section of the leaders of the upper castes to bring the tribal people to the fold of �Sanatan Dharma,� by declaring them as �Sarania.�
However, the growing self-assertion movements of the SC and ST communities gradually weakened the above movement and today this has taken a reverse turn with the Saranias demanding space for them in the ST arena and benefits of reservation.
On top of this, six ethnic groups � Ahoms, Chutiyas, Adivasis, Koch-Rajbongshis, Morans and Mataks � have been agitating on the demand for ST status to them for the past about two decades. And now, even the upper caste Kalitas have also started demanding ST status for themselves!