New Delhi, Feb. 16: A decision taken by the Arunachal Pradesh government last week to grant Scheduled Tribe status to the Lisu people is likely to have far-reaching, strategic implications.
Lisus (or Yobin as they are called in Arunachal Pradesh), live in the finger-like territory of India in Changlang district.
The land mass is surrounded by Myanmar on three sides and is near China.
The Centre is in favour of the move because the security establishment believes that co-opting the Lisus, who also live in China and are influenced by Han Chinese culture, could prevent them from being co-opted by the Chinese. In other words, the Lisus could be better entrenched into the Indian mainstream.
The community has its population in four villages, including Vijaynagar and Gandhigram where the Assam Rifles has a presence since 1961. It was during the first forays by the Assam Rifles that the Lisus had helped the Indian forces as porters.
Living on the southeastern periphery of the Namdapha tiger reserve, the Lisus have been demanding inclusion in the list of Scheduled Tribes (ST) for 20 years. The state cabinet is likely to clear the proposal shortly, a state government source said.
“It is an important decision because the Lisus also live in China’s Yunnan province and in the Sagaing division of Myanmar that borders India,” a source said. “Besides recognising them as one of the Arunachalese peoples, it could also help prevent poaching in Namdapha forest,” he added.
While some believe that it is the Lisus who actually protect the forests, sections of the state administration insist that Lisus are responsible for hunting tigers.
However, it is the strategic aspect that the Centre is likely to focus upon more intently before taking a final call.
The Arunachal government will forward a proposal to grant ST status to the Lisus to the Union home ministry after the cabinet approves it.
One aspect that has puzzled security agencies is the clamour by minority religious organisations for ST status for the Lisus.
“If pushing for their ST status is used as a pre-condition to convert them then it needs to be verified,” a government source said.
Moreover, there are pockets of Lisu population who have converted to Christianity in Myanmar. A Buddhist-majority Myanmar has been suspicious of Christian missionaries working in the tribal areas of northern and northwestern Myanmar.
“They deserve it (ST status),” minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju told The Telegraph today. A delegation of Lisus had recently called on Rijiju.
The All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union, however, has reservations about the government’s move. An AAPSU source said it would not allow granting them ST status unless a detailed study is done on the Lisu people’s migration and origins. “We need to know the ground realities,” the source said.
Charles Maung Bo, who was installed by Pope Francis as the first Cardinal from Myanmar on February 14, has expressed concern over intolerance towards Myanmar’s religious minorities, especially Rohingya Muslims.