On June 28th, 2021, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma found himself embroiled in a controversy when a video of him from 2017 surfaced on social media. In the video, Sarma is seen making a lewd comment about a woman belonging to the indigenous community of Assam. While Sarma himself has, in the past, claimed that the video was doctored, it has once again brought the issue of racism and tribeism to the forefront of public discourse in Assam.
The video in question was allegedly shot during a public meeting in Assam in 2017, before Sarma became the Chief Minister. In the video, he is heard saying that if he were to be given money to go to London and if he saw a beautiful woman belonging to the tea tribe community, he would take her with him back to Assam. The tea tribe community, also called Adivasis, are one of the indigenous communities of the state and are largely employed in tea gardens.
The video was shared widely on social media platforms and several political leaders, activists, and members of the tea tribe community demanded an explanation from Sarma. The Chief Minister, who is also a prominent leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), initially tried to downplay the incident and claimed that the video was fake. However, when the video was found to be authentic, he issued an apology and claimed that his comments were taken out of context.
The incident has once again exposed the fault lines of racism and casteism in Assam. The tea tribe community, which constitutes around 17% of the population in Assam, has historically been marginalized and discriminated against. Despite being the backbone of the tea industry in the state, the community faces several social and economic challenges.
In recent years, incidents of racism and discrimination against the tea tribe community have increased in Assam. There have been several instances where members of the community have been called derogatory names and faced discrimination in schools and workplaces.
The incident involving Sarma has once again raised questions about the lack of representation of marginalized communities in politics. While the tea tribe community makes up a significant portion of the population in Assam, there are very few leaders from the community in prominent positions in the state government.
Moreover, the incident has also exposed the lack of awareness and sensitivity among political leaders towards issues of caste and tribe discrimination. At a time when social media has made it easier to spread hate and lies, it is essential for leaders to be more aware of the impact their words and actions can have on people from marginalized communities.
The incident involving Sarma has also had repercussions beyond the borders of Assam. In July 2021, a group of Indian-origin protesters in London staged a demonstration outside the Indian High Commission, demanding that Sarma be held accountable for his comments. The protesters, who identified themselves as members of the tea tribe community, accused Sarma of promoting racism and sexism.
While the protest did not receive much attention in the Indian media, it highlighted the fact that the issue of caste and tribe discrimination is not limited to India but has global implications. It is essential for political leaders to be more sensitive to issues of discrimination and to work towards creating a more inclusive and equitable society.
The incident involving Sarma has once again brought to the forefront the urgent need for more representation and empowerment of marginalized communities in politics. Political leaders need to be more aware and sensitive to the challenges faced by these communities and work towards creating a more inclusive and equitable society. It is only by working together that we can create a just and fair society for all.