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Assam’s Khilonjiya Muslims – Terming mainstream communities as “indigenous” is perversion of the term “indigenous peoples”, says Suhas Chakma

New Delhi: On the eve of the meeting being convened by the State Government of Assam regarding a socio-economic census of indigenous Muslims of Assam today i.e. 11 February 2020, Mr Suhas Chakma, Director of the Rights and Risks Analysis Group (RRAG) stated that every original inhabitant or Bhumiputra (sons of the soil) cannot be termed as “indigenous peoples”. 

“Under international law, tribal peoples whose social, cultural and economic conditions distinguish them from other sections of the national community, and whose status is regulated wholly or partially by their own customs or traditions or by special laws or regulations are identified as indigenous peoples. It is on this legal premise that the Government of India had ratified the International Labour Organisation’s  Convention No.107 relating to Indigenous and Tribal Populations on 29 September 1958.”- stated Mr Suhas Chakma, Director of the RRAG.

“To term every original inhabitant group or Bhumiputras of an area as “indigenous” is nothing but the perversion of the term indigenous peoples. By this logic, Englishmen would be indigenous peoples of England and Germans would be indigenous peoples of Germany. This is not what is the meaning and purpose of defining the indigenous peoples including under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as well as the ILO Conventions No.107 and  No. 169 relating to indigenous and tribal peoples.” – further stated Mr Chakma.

“If the mainstream and non-tribal communities are identified as indigenous peoples, all the protections for the indigenous and tribal peoples of the North East under the Constitution of India, the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation of 1873 and international human rights laws shall be gradually lost.  If there is no difference between a tribal Bodo and mainstream Muslim or mainstream Assamese, there are serious legal implications for the genuine indigenous peoples of the region who are recognised as such under national and international law. The identification of mainstream and non-tribals as indigenous peoples shall be the most serious threat to the real indigenous peoples of the North East in the coming years”. – also stated Mr Chakma.

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