The primary objective behind the provisions of the Sixth Schedule, when it was drafted, was to see that the aspirations of the people of the area are met and simultaneously these get areas assimilated in the mainstream of the country. A Sub-Committee was created on 27th February 1947 to report on the North East Frontier (Assam) Tribal and Excluded Areas. Its chairman was Mr Gopinath Bordoloi who was then the Premier of Assam.
The Sub-Committee extensively toured the Assam Province (as the region was known then); it visited Lushai Hills District, North Cachar Sub-Sivision, Mikir Hills and the Naga Hills District. The Garo Hills District and the Jowai Sub-Division of Khasi Hills District could not be visited due to bad weather. The idea behind the visits was to have a first-hand idea of local people’s opinion and feeling. It found that they were concerned about their land and fear exploitation by more advanced persons, particularly the money lenders, whose movements must be checked. The Sub-Committee also felt that the “normal” laws were unsuitable for the very simple tribal folks. It submitted its report on July 28, 1949 to the Chairman, Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights, Shri Ballabhbhai Patel. The report extensively dealt with important local issues such as land, forest, jhumming (shifting cultivation), courts, finance, immigration control, mining, legislation, representation, and so on. The draft was debated in the Constituent Assembly in the first week of September 1949 and passed.
It must be noted that the nature of the proposed autonomy was seriously debated which threw out some important viewpoints. One was that the provincial government or the Governor should have nothing to do with the administration of these areas; and they must be directly ruled by the Central government. It was because of the bordering location with several foreign countries and also at time a large scale conflict was going on, involving Ahoms, Assamese, Bengalees, Muslims and the Mongoloid race.
Another viewpoint was to give greater power to the provincial government than proposed in the draft because too much autonomy might convert the region into a separate “tribalistan” on the line Pakistan emerged. It wanted measures to assimilate the tribal people with the non-tribals rather than keeping them separate and isolated. These members were also wary of the provision that the Acts of Parliament would not be applicable unless approved by the tribals. They strongly felt that the Schedule is dangerous and would ultimately lead to creation of a “tribalistan” ruled by the Communists.
Mr Bordoloi was sympathetic to the hill-tribes and explained the rationale behind the draft proposals. He mentioned that these areas have been remained isolated and the tribals have great mistrust of the people from the plains. He also mentioned that over the recent years the administrators had created a sense of separation and isolation among the people and given them the assurances that they would have their independent States when the British were gone. Thus, the people of the region were already living with the mindset of separation. His Committee was therefore faced with the question as to find the best way to integrate them with the Indian State and came to the conclusion that rather than “use of force” it would be better to win over their trust and cooperation by allowing a suitable self-administration which respected their local traditions and took care of their fears of non-tribals.
Mr Bordoloi also stressed that among the hill tribals there were good institutions of governance for village administration and dispute settlements, which were worthy of preserving; allowing these systems to prevail would win over the tribal people.
Another member, Nichols Roy, also echoed a similar viewpoint and felt that the proposed measures would make the tribals feel that the Indian government was concerned about them and nothing would be forced on them to destroy their culture and lifestyle and saw no reason why the tribals could not be allowed to develop in their own ways. He also reminded that keeping the people of the frontier area happy and satisfied would be in the best interest of the Indian Union.
According to the Drafting Committee Chairman, Dr Ambedkar, the tribal people of Assam differed from the tribals of other areas. In his opinion, the tribals in the frontier region were still deeply rooted in their traditional culture compared with the tribals in rest of India who lived in somewhat closer contact with the majority non-tribal population surrounding them. He felt that the tribals of Assam were in the similar situation as faced by the Red Indian in the US; they had been treated as separate and independent people and the autonomous councils were conceived following the administrative setup in the US.
You may also like to know how the Sixth Schedule Areas are being governed: Governance in Sixth Schedule Areas