Last month, the Assam Cabinet announced that Ali-aye Ligang – the biggest festival of the state’s Mising community – would be celebrated as a local holiday in ten districts in which the indigenous group forms a significant part of the population.

Ali-aye Ligang marks the beginning of the sowing season and is celebrated on the first Wednesday of the Assamese month of Phagun (which corresponds to February in the standard Western calendar).

The Misings, with an estimated population of around 6.8 lakhs as per the 2011 census, are the second-largest tribe in Assam. They make up 17.8% of the state’s tribal population.

Though the plea for Ali-aye Ligang to be observed as a holiday has been a long-standing one of the Mising community, the government’s announcement has not completely satisfied the community. Many are still pushing for the festival to be declared a holiday across the state.

The campaign has a long history. The demand for Ali-aye Lígang to be celebrated as a holiday in districts dominated by Misings emerged five decades ago, after the Assam Official Language Act passed in 1960 recognised Assamese as an official language of the state.

Though it contained provisions to protect the interests of linguistic minorities, the plain tribes realised they would have to fight to preserve their distinct identity and culture. Since the Mising community was spread across several areas, with various clans and localised traditions, an attempt to build a composite identity was seen as essential for waging an effective struggle. The campaign included the demand that a Mising language curriculum be introduced in primary schools.

More than two decades later, in the 1980s, the campaign for Ali-aye Ligang to be celebrated as a state-wide holiday picked up pace. As the Assam Movement grew stronger and consolidated a sense of Assamese nationalism, the Misings also began to fight for larger political space within Assam.

Anthropologist CJ Sonowal notes that while linguistic affiliation is a strong component of Assamese identity, other aspects like the Vaishnavite branch of Hinduism and cultural expressions such as the Bihu festival are also important. However, he notes that many core elements of tribal communities were never considered part of this composite Assamese identity. As a consequence, the plea for a statewide holiday for Ali-aye Ligang was part of the Mising community’s assertion that it too is an essential part of Assam.

The campaign in the 1980s was spearheaded by the Takam Mising Porin Kebang (or All Mising Students Union). It was formed in 1971, bringing under its umbrella several community organisations – some dating back to the 1920s and 1930s. During this period, they also began to advocate for the implementation of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, which gives tribal areas a degree of autonomy.

In addition to choosing Roman as the script for their language, the Misings decided to allot a fixed date for the Ali-aye Ligang. Before this, the day on which the festival had varied, depending on the onset of rain and the condition of cultivable land. Fixing the date in the month of Phagun amplified the scale of the celebrations.

Since the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in Assam in 2016, it has declared holidays for festivals such as Bhatri Dwitiyaj, Karam Puja and Chhath Puja. The Mising community feels that while the state has conceded to the requests for holidays by the Gorkhas, Tea tribes and Bhojpuris, its own demands have been ignored.

Ironically, the government’s announcement has exposed a faultline in the community. The Mising Socheton Samaj, which describes itself as an informal forum of conscious citizens, said it will now take forward the demand for it to be declared a state holiday.

But the Takam Mising Porin Kebang has accused the Mising Socheton Samaj and new organisations of trying to divide the Mising community. The samaj, whose members are said to have links to new political parties like the Raijor Dal, pose a threat to the predominance of the Takam Mising Porin Kebang. The Takam Mising Porin Kebang said that it too would continue to press for Ali-aye Ligang to be considered a state holiday.

Manoranjan Pegu is an Executive Council Member of Tribal Intellectual Collective, India.

Bhasker Pegu is an assistant professor at Dakshin Kamrup College, Mirza near Guwahati.

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