Yobin: A marginalized tribe in search of Arunachalee identity

Source: The Assam Sentinel, 31 August 2010 (accessed: 1 September 2010).

ITANAGAR, Aug 31: Myriad of tribes and sub-tribes amalgamate to give an identity of oneness to the 26 major and 100 plus minor tribes of Arunachal Pradesh.  With the pace of progress, almost all tribes and sub-tribes converged into a potpourri which has given rise to unique identity popularly known as Arunachalees – by locals and outsiders. But as it happens with many evolving societies, few tribes or groups are always left behind in the process, mostly by default. On other hand, for reasons beyond realms of logic and thought, some tribes are caged in time warp through design of government policy and polity. Such acts of design orchestrated through government’s policy decision caught one of our own brethrens, in Noa Dehing valley of Changlang district, called Yobins as noted in government documents, which otherwise is known as Lisus amongst other tribes of Arunachal Pradesh.

Dawn of the 1980s heralded the marginalisation of Yobins, but question is far too many like why Yobin, what caused such catastrophic move, which way to rescue this dying tribe and who would shoulder the responsibility. With these thoughts and questions, there is a long felt need amongst the Yobins to highlight their issues with a little expectation and hope. Like in the case of most indigenous tribes in Arunachal Pradesh, even Yobins have their oral history, not written. Oral history traces their roots to far-east Asia but since time-immemorial they have been settled in Dawodi areas, now Vijaynagar area along the Noa Dehing valley. As per the material evidences, Yobins had worked with British Raj in Margherita and other areas of Assam during the early part of the 20th century too. With India’s Independence, Yobins were included as a scheduled tribe as per a 1956 Presidential Order. Given the sensitivity and strategic importance of including Dawodi areas, which bordered with Myanmar, to be part of Indian geography, Chaukan Pass Expedition was carried out by 7 Assam Rifle in May, 1961 to re-assert its control over Dawodi region. ‘India wanted us to be part of its constitution and we joined hands with them willingly and we must be given our due,’ is more or less the sentiment of Yobins.

After the epoch making expedition, the then NEFA government set up its first administrative post in 1962. As per material evidences, they were counted during India’s Census Operation of 1961 and 1971 too. Rightfully, they enjoyed all the political, sociological and economically facilities and benefits till the first general assembly. But they lost everything in 1980 when none of them were enrolled as electorates due to reasons best known to the political leaders of that period.

And that was the beginning of the marginalization process of Yobins. In sociology, marginalization is defined as the social process of becoming or being relegated or confined to a lower social standing or outer limit or edge, as of social standing. The only link road between Miao and Vijaynagar, known as MV Road, disappeared; the only motorable road turned into porter track. With no road communication, it had cascading impact on other facilities like medical care, food and social security.  Marginalized people are not considered to be a part of the society. Consequently, after 30 years of marginalization, Yobins are nowhere. Yobins had no voting rights from 1980 till 1994; all social and financial benefits were withdrawn too during the same period. Along with material deprivation, marginalized individuals are also excluded from services, programs, and policies (Young, 2000). Marginalization has ensured poverty, psycho-emotional damage, and diseases often result in catastrophic damage to lives, health, and psyche. According to the Yobin Tribe Welfare Committee based at its Yobin Camp in Miao, 70% is the school dropout rate amongst children studying in school due to lack of educational infrastructural facilities. Such statistical figure is alarming due to the sheer fact that denominator is just couple of thousand. In its effort to salvage the grim situation; little more than 100 elders of the Yobin community are supporting 238 young children out of welfare camps in Miao, 157 miles from its original place Vijaynagar. As per Census 2001, Yobins are numbered around just about 2000 headcounts which is a very precarious situation. In its own homeland for centuries, Yobins are like stateless people in many worldly senses. And the worry today is not only about their existence but it is about saving this dying tribe. In its most extreme form, marginalization can exterminate groups.

In the 21st century, terms like colonialism are no more heard, concepts like apartheid are abhorred. And the mantra of ‘inclusive growth’ gained currency across communities, societies and states; thus, it is imperative to explore dimensions and depths of issues grappling the endangered Yobin tribe to provide them a level playing field. There is a need for debate and discussion to understand the Yobins and their challenges. There is a need for space to initiate the dialogue process to compile the supporting and opposing views besides taking into account the perspectives of leading thinkers and academicians of the State on Yobins as a marginalized tribe; There is a need to debate in public domain about their eternal search for Arunachalee identity. Sure enough, all concerned individuals and groups can contribute towards their search for Arunachalee identity.

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