After the Lok Sabha passed the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order (Amendment) Bill, 2022, the Darlongs tribe, a small community of around 11,000 people in Tripura, was officially added to the list of Scheduled Tribes.
Despite their small size, the tribe has made a name for itself in a variety of fields, including education, public service, music, art, and culture.
Moreover, they are proud of Thanga Darlong, a veteran tribal musicologist and traditional music maestro who received the Padma Shri award.
Darlongs were never issued an ST certificate
Despite being Scheduled Tribes, Darlongs were never issued ST certificates. They were given tribal certificates as members of the ‘Kuki’ community because they were considered a generic tribe under the Kuki community.
The ensuing identity crisis among them, particularly among Darlong youths who had received modern education, culminated in the demand for a separate statutory identity in 1995.
The tribe is a small one, but it has produced a large number of educated people in relation to its size in the state.
People from the Darlong community, like many other tribal communities, now hold high-ranking positions in state government, academia, and the public sector.
Thanga Darlong, a tribal musicologist and Rosem (tribal instrument) maestro, received the prestigious Padma Shri award for his contribution to culture a few years ago.
Darlong Community demand to honour the identity
L Darlong, a veteran of the tribe community in Tripura said, “We were never given our separate identity as Darlongs in official documents. We used to get ST certificates but as Kuki tribes. So, the demand arose for giving us recognition and granting honour to our identity. Our demand was fulfilled through the persuasion of Tripura CM Biplab Kumar Deb. We are grateful”.
He explained that the inclusion of Darlongs as an official sub-tribe rather than a generic one within the Kuki community was a matter of recognition of the clan’s identity, which had caused some confusion about the benefits that would now be available to Darlongs as a result of the constitutional amendment in Parliament. “No additional benefit is going to be given to us.”
While people in the community were already receiving ST benefits, SK Darlong, president of Darlong Hnam Inzom (DHI), a major Darlong body in Tripura, said that his community’s inclusion in the ST list as a Kuki sub-tribe is a matter of identity, recognition, and pride.
Following a push from CM Biplab Kumar Deb, they were added to the ST list. However, in December 2016, then-tribal affairs minister Jual Oram introduced a bill in Parliament to add Darlongs to the list of STs as a sub-tribe of the Kuki community.
Jitendra Chaudhury, Tripura CPIM secretary, said the previous Left Front government had passed the proposal to include Darlongs in the ST list in the state assembly and had sent it to Parliament for approval.
Tribal Identity is a big issue in Tripura
Nearly 30% of Tripura’s 37 lakh residents are tribals, who live mostly in areas under the jurisdiction of the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC), which is spread across all eight districts and covers 70% of the state’s geographical area.
Due to the arrival of East Pakistani refugees fleeing their country, the state, which had been ruled by tribal kings for over 500 years until 1949 when it merged into the Indian Union, saw tribals become a minority in their own state.
In Tripura, tribal identity is a major issue, and it is also one of the major topics currently dominating state politics.
Since 2009, the Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT), which is allied with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state, has called for Tipraland, a proposed separate state for tribals.
TIPRA Motha, led by royal scion Pradyot Kishore Manikya Debbarma, swept tribal council elections last year with the demand for Greater Tipraland, a proposed separate state for Tiprasa or Tripuris (tribal and non-tribal) who live in the state.
Pradyot’s party, on the other hand, wants to govern Tripuris in parts of Manipur, Assam, and other Northeastern states, as well as parts of Bangladesh.
While most national parties, such as the BJP, Congress, and CPIM, oppose these ethnic statehood demands, tribal voters have paid attention to the issues because tribal identity still resonates with them.
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