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Explained: The demand for ‘tribal’ status for Himachal’s Trans-Giri and its Hatti community

Political promises have been made over the years; however, the government has cited technical hurdles in its fulfilment. With Assembly elections approaching, the issue is back on top of discussions.

Written by Manraj Grewal Sharma , Edited by Explained Desk | Chandigarh |
July 19, 2022 9:25:28 pm
Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur discusses the Hattis' demand with Union Home Minister Amit Shah. (Image: Twitter @jairamthakurbjp)

The Centre is reported to be considering granting “tribal” status to the Trans-Giri region of Himachal Pradesh’s Sirmaur district. The reported proposal, if followed through, would mark a movement away from the government’s earlier position on the matter.

On April 4 this year, responding to a question in Lok Sabha by the Congress member from Mandi Pratibha Singh on “whether the Trans Giri Area of Himachal Pradesh has been granted the status of Tribal Affairs”, Minister of State for Tribal Affairs Bisheswar Tudu said “the proposal…could not be considered due to want of requisite criteria”.

The demand to declare Trans-Giri a tribal area is old — and is tied up with the demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status for the Hatti community which lives in the area.

The community and the land

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The Hattis are a close-knit community who take their name from their traditional occupation of selling home-grown crops, vegetables, meat, and wool at small-town markets known as ‘haats’. Hatti men traditionally don a distinctive white headgear on ceremonial occasions.

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur has previously said that the Hattis live in 154 panchayat areas, and that members of the community numbered 2.5 lakh in the 2011 Census. The present population of the Hattis is estimated at around 3 lakh.

The Hatti homeland straddles the Himachal-Uttarakhand border in the basin of the Giri and Tons rivers, both tributaries of the Yamuna. The Tons marks the border between the two states, and the Hattis living in the Trans-Giri area in today’s Himachal Pradesh and Jaunsar Bawar in Uttarakhand were once part of the royal estate of Sirmaur. Jaunsar Bawar was conquered by the British in 1814.

The two Hatti clans, in Trans-Giri and Jaunsar Bawar, have similar traditions, and inter-marriages are common. However, a fairly rigid caste system operates in the community — the Bhat and Khash are upper castes, and the Badhois are below them, and inter-caste marriages have traditionally been discouraged.

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The Hattis are governed by a traditional council called ‘khumbli’ which, like the ‘khaps’ of Haryana, decide community matters.

Requirement of ‘tribal’ area

In its reply in Parliament, the government laid down the requirements for such designation, and the reason why Himachal Pradesh’s claim could not be considered.

It said that the Constitution provides for two types of areas: “Scheduled Areas” in terms of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, and “Tribal Areas” in terms of Sixth Schedule. “The “Tribal Areas” are designated in terms of Article 244(2) of the Constitution…read with Sixth Schedule… Himachal Pradesh submitted a proposal for notifying entire Trans-Giri area of Sirmour district, Dodra Kwar Sub-Division of Shimla district, 15/20 areas of Shimla and Kullu districts as Scheduled Areas in Himachal Pradesh.”

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However, the government said, “for declaration of Scheduled Areas the criteria followed are: preponderance of tribal population, compactness and reasonable size of the area, a viable administrative entity such as a district, block or taluk, and economic backwardness of the area as compared to neighbouring areas.

“The proposal was examined in the Ministry and could not be considered due to want of requisite criteria, as mentioned above. Accordingly, the State Government of Himachal Pradesh was intimated that the proposal in the current form for declaration of Scheduled Areas could not be considered.”

Demand for tribal status

The list of STs in Himachal Pradesh includes Gaddis, Gujjars, Kinnaras (Kinnauras), Lahaulas, Pangwalas, and some other smaller tribes. The bulk of the tribal population lives in remote, high altitude areas in the districts of Lahaul, Spiti, Kinnaur, and Chamba. The tribal population of the state was 3.92 lakh (about 6% of the total) in 2011.

The Hattis have been demanding ST status since 1967, when tribal status was accorded to people living in Jaunsar Bawar in Uttarakhand, which shares a border with Sirmaur district. Over the years, various ‘maha khumblis’ passed resolutions pressing the demand.

“[Hattis of Jaunsar Bawar] share similar culture and socio-economic conditions with the Hattis residing in Sirmaur,” Chief Minister Thakur said. “In 1967, their family members who were in Jaunsar were declared tribals but those who remained in Himachal were not given the same status or benefits.”

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Since getting the benefit of reservations, the Jaunsar Bawar area has produced a sizable number of civil servants. Due to topographical disadvantages, however, the Hattis living in the Kamrau, Sangrah, and Shilliai areas of Himachal Pradesh have lagged behind in both education and employment.

Political promises

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In its Lok Sabha election manifesto in 2009, the BJP promised, for the first time, to give ST status to the Hattis. This led to the consolidation of the community behind the party, which has repeated the promise in its subsequent manifestos.

The BJP has gained from Hatti support in the parliamentary elections in Shimla, which was once a Congress stronghold. In 2014, Rajnath Singh, who was then national president of the BJP, promised the Hattis ST status at a rally in Nahan in Sirmaur.

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In 2016, then Congress Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh moved a file to the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs asking for tribal status to the trans-Giri region, and Dodra Kwar in Rohru on the basis of a study conducted by the Tribal Affairs Institute, Shimla. The Union Ministry, however, said that the ethnography report about the Hatti community was inadequate, and sought a full-fledged ethnographic study.

In March this year, the Jai Ram Thakur government sent a detailed ethnographic proposal to the Centre, seeking the inclusion of the Hattis of the Trans-Giri area in the ST list of Himachal Pradesh. Thakur told the state Assembly that the required formalities had been completed, and the government was pressing its cases with the Centre.

At the end of April, Thakur met Union Home Minister Amit Shah and said he had been assured that the Centre would consider favourably the state government’s request for inclusion of the Hatti community in the list of Scheduled Tribes (STs) in the state.

With Himachal Pradesh headed to Assembly elections later this year, the ruling party’s outreach to the estimated 3 lakh-strong community is politically significant. In April, the Hattis had threatened to boycott the elections if their demand for ST status was not met.

The Hattis have a sizable presence in about nine Assembly seats in the Sirmaur and Shimla regions. Their population is concentrated in the four Assembly constituencies in Sirmaur district — Shillai, Paonta Sahib, Sri Renukaji, and Pachhad (all part of the Shimla Lok Sabha seat).

The BJP won 44 of the 68 Assembly seats in the 2017 elections, but the 2022 elections could be tougher, with the drag of incumbency and the presence of a third force in the Aam Aadmi Party.

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First published on: 19-07-2022 at 09:25:28 pm
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