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Tribal groups of the north-eastern states are very concerned about change in demographic pattern, thanks to influx of Bangladeshi migrants – both Hindu and Muslim – over nearly seven decades. Assam became the cause of worry for everyone. The state with 34 per cent Muslim population has become a national worry. Although the state had indigenous Muslim population, they were never in majority in any of the districts. Now they are (in majority) in nine districts, up from six in 2001. The abnormal growth rate is due to influx and high birth rate among the migrant Muslims. The high birth rate among migrant Muslims, who are mostly poor and illiterate, is partly due to lack of awareness and partly orthodox beliefs.

The migrant Muslims had settled along the course of Brahmaputra – either on the banks or on the sandbars of the country’s largest river. The Brahmaputra flows by the western plain belt of Garo Hills and thus the area has a considerable population of migrant Muslims. Already plagued by incidents of crimes like murder, kidnapping and extortion, the region is now likely to plunge into a new crisis. Various Garo groups have demanded revocation of a norm in the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council (GHADC) that allows non-tribals to vote in the Council elections slated in October. A non-tribal person staying in Garo Hills for 12 years is eligible to vote in the GHADC elections and even contest in three unreserved seats – Rajabala, Phulbari and Mahendraganj. It was before the last GHADC election in 2009 that names of non-tribal voters were deleted from the special electoral rolls for the Council polls following demands from local pressure groups.

According to the tribal groups, non-tribals should not have any say in the elections of autonomous district councils (ADCs) because ADCs were formed as per the Sixth Schedule to protect the rights of indigenous people of the land. While the GHADC norms still allow non-tribals to vote and contest in the unreserved seats the ADCs in Khasi Hills and Jaintia Hills had already barred non-tribals from voting. The system in Meghalaya is unique unlike neighbouring Assam where all permanent residents are allowed to vote in the tribal council elections although the seats are reserved for tribals. Due to the unique system, non-tribals staying for decades in Khasi-Jaintia Hills are not allowed to vote, let alone contest the ADC election. They are also barred from voting in the election of local traditional bodies like the Dorbar Shnong. In absence of municipal bodies and gram panchayats in Meghalaya, permanent non-tribal settlers do not have any say in the local administration in Khasi-Jaintia Hills. Now, the same system is demanded in Garo Hills too. This will be infringement of rights of these citizens. Since they are affected by the administration of district council in their everyday life, they too should be allowed to vote, at least.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on August 29, 2015)