In a decision that could turn the political fortunes of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, the Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on Wednesday approved a constitution amendment bill that seeks to grant tribal status to the Hattee community living in the Trans-Giri region of Himachal Pradesh’s Sirmaur district.
After the Bill becomes an Act, the community, which has a strength of around 3 lakh, will be able to derive benefits meant for Scheduled Tribes under existing government schemes such as post-matric scholarship, national overseas scholarship, national fellowship, top-class education, concessional loans from the National Scheduled Tribes Finance and Development Corporation. They will also be entitled to reservation in services and admission to educational institutions.
The Hattee population is spread across four of five segments in Sirmaur district, and comprises around 50% of the district’s population. At present, the BJP has three legislators in Pachhad , Nahan and Paonta Sahib, while Congress represents two assembly segments Shillai and Renuka.
Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur, who addressed the media after the Cabinet briefing, expressed his gratitude to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union tribal affairs minister Arjun Munda for fulfilling the long-pending demand of the people of Sirmaur. “The Hattee Community of Sirmaur had been demanding ST status for at least 50 years. They had been demanding tribal status on the basis of their community members in the Jaunsar region of Uttrakhand , who share the same language and culture, being included in the list of STs.”
Chief minister Jai Ram Thakur and state BJP chief Suresh Kashyap hailed the Union’s decision as ‘historic’. “The decision will go a long way in preserving the rich culture and traditions of the area and accelerate the pace of development,” the CM said, adding that he had been urging the central leadership to take the decision since he came into power.
A long-drawn battle
It was in 1967 that the Hattees of Uttarakhand were granted tribal status, after which members of the community in Himachal Pradesh also demanded the same status. In 1992, the government conducted a survey to assess the socio-economic condition of the Hattee people. Based on the survey, the state government asked the Centre to categorise inhabitants of the Trans Giri area, comprising 154 panchayats, and the Dodra Kwar in Rohru as Scheduled Tribes. In 2005, the state government sent a proposal to the central government for granting tribal status to the Hattee community, but the UPA government rejected it.
The Prem Kumar Dhumal government had also redrawn the report on granting tribal status to the Hattee community. A delegation led by the then Shimla MP Virender Kashyap had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi.
In 2014, the government had asked the department of tribal studies in Himachal Pradesh University to conduct ethnographic studies and two years later, in 2016, the state government headed by Virbhadra Singh moved the Hattees’ case to the Centre for granting tribal status to inhabitants of the Trans-Giri region and Dodra-Kwar in Rohru.
In 2018, the tribal affairs ministry wrote back saying that details provided in the ethnography report about the Hattee were not sufficient. A delegation led by the then Shimla MP Virender Kashyap met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi. CM Jai Ram Thakur raised the issue before Union home minister Amit Shah and the tribal affairs minister. BJP state president and MP Suresh Kashyap had also met registrar general of India (RGI) Vivek Joshi in Delhi and raise demand for giving tribal status to the community. Kashyap had also met Union minister Arjun Munda regarding the demand.
Recently, Mandi Lok Sabha member Pratibha Singh had also raised the issue in Parliament.
Who are the Hattees?
The Hattee community, which has around 3 lakh members, lives in difficult conditions across the Giri River. They are spread across four of five segments in Sirmaur district.
Why were they demanding tribal status?
Ever since members of their community living in the Jaunsar and Babbar areas of Uttarakhand, who share the same language and culture were granted tribal status in 1967, the community members in Himachal Pradesh have been demanding the same.