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Restore Our Identity & Livelihoods

Nirupama Sekhri

@ Listener of Small Voices | | News-Current-Topics

Tripura’s Farmer Philosopher


“When Arjuna faced a problem, he called upon Krishna to guide him. Today, we Indians have the Constitution that plays the same role as the Gita did for Arjuna, so we are here to invoke that right of ours,” says Ravi Jamata, a farmer from Teliamura in the heart of Tripura, who camped in Delhi with about 400 others from his state, “I hope we will be heard.”


protest-at-jantar-mantar-letsdiskuss (Ravi Jamata)


The close-knit community members, resplendent in their traditional clothing, have two major grouse – unchecked, unconstitutional naturalization of Bangladeshi immigrants into their state, and the ignoring of their ethnic language and culture.


“I look different from you,” says Ravi to me, “Does that not make me Indian still? If we are celebrating unity in diversity, then unite us by implementing the constitutional laws in our state too.”


It was in 1949 that a formal transition from monarchy to democracy was finally made of the small state that shares a lengthy, uneasy border with Bangladesh. After the Instrument of Accession was signed between the Maharani Regent of Tripura and the Governor-General of India in 1947, it was a long journey to full statehood in 1972, which along the way has engendered a long cycle of violence.


Mostly, Patal Kanya Jamatia insists, because of the Indian government’s proclivity to allow in Bangladeshi immigrants in order to pump up their vote-bank.


protest-at-jantar-mantar-letsdiskuss (Patal Kanya Jamatia, President, Tripura People's ront)


Patal Jamatia is a former teacher, who registered the Tripura People’s Front – a socio-political non-governmental organization - in 2014 to work on this issue full-time.


 “In which another part of the country are migrants so quickly issued ration cards, aadhar cards and a right to vote?” she demands, “Why is it that Tripura government so independently and lavishly issues citizen certificates, and has government facilities open to them?”


They say that their population of 92% at India’s independence has dwindled down to 26% with their own culture and identity being marginalized and stamped over by Bengali.


They want an effective mechanism to detect National Register of Citizens Rules 3 & 4 implemented under the Registration of Citizens & Issue of National Identity Cards Rules 2003, taking 19. 07. 1948 provided for in Article 6 of Constitution of India as the cut-off date for citizenship.


“All others Bangladeshi migrants should be deleted from the voter list and deported back under the Foreigners Tribunals Orders of 1964,” asserts Jamatia.


The problem is also closely related to that of culture and identity. They feel that they are the original “aboriginal” dwellers of Tripura and the “sons of the soil”, whose own way of life and history has been consistently undercut by the influx of foreigners into their land since the Indian independence.


A list of their ten chief ministers – starting from the Congress Sachindra Lal Singha – shows a clear dominance of Bengali leaders and a sympathy for Bangladeshi immigrants. Last year saw Biplab Dev - the first BJP chief minister assuming power in the state – “on the back of votes by illegal Bangladeshi immigrants,” insists Sabita, a homemaker at the demonstration, “we are being ignored, we are being dominated and exploited,” she says.


protest-at-jantar-mantar-letsdiskuss(Sabita)


Biplab Dev also happens to be the son of Bangladeshi refugees to Tripura.


They want greater visibility of their own Borok culture and their Kokborok language to be one of the mediums of instructions with Hindi and English – like in other states – they want Bengali removed as a state language.


They want immediate and effective steps for the conservation and preservation of their indigenous culture and tradition provided under UN covenants. They want indigenous names to be given to their blocks, streets, division, districts, villages towns – and Bengali ones removed – and their sites to be put under the Indian Archeological Department.


protest-at-jantar-mantar-letsdiskuss (Participants) 


“We want to see more history of Tripura kings and heroes in our state,” says Jamatia.


“You want us to say ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai,” says Ravi, “then give us the feeling that we too belong to a free part of the country and are not dominated and ruled by others.”