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Thu, 02 Apr 2020

Northeast Today

The BTR Agreement and the Predications of Exclusions

The BTR Agreement and the Predications of Exclusions
February 10
13:56 2020

Jyotirmoy Prodhani

The Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR) settlement of 27 January 2020 has redefined the possibilities of extreme state reconfiguration that can be drawn so quickly if the state so wishes. The proposed territory of the BTR is the major chunk of the northern Brahmaputra valley and now it is only a matter of time where Assamese language would subsequently become a secondary language and the non-Bodo people might as well be reduced into the most disempowered lot in every respect. The recent tripartite settlement negotiated with and signed by the Bodo militants involved in the most dreaded terrorist attacks like the 2008 Guwahati blast that had killed and destroyed scores of innocent lives, has brought much cheer to the Bodo community but at the same time augured existential worries to others who happen to be the permanent residents since the pre-Bodoland era. In fact, the Bodo population within the Bodo territory is about 27% only where the worries and anxieties of the others is not speculative but rather experiential who have the experience of living in there with different nomenclatures- Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC) in 1993 and Bodo Territorial Council (BTC) since 2003. These political arrangements had definitely empowered the Bodos with incremental political authority, economic opportunities and expanded geography but at the same time these had also progressively dislocated all the other entities both externally and internally. The entire discourse of the Bodoland, sadly, is essentially founded on ethnic exclusion rather than accommodation. During the Bodo insurgency it was executed through physical annihilation, of which the Adivasis, Koch Rajbanshis, Muslims, ethnic Assamese and Bengalis were the major victims, and in peacetime the same categories have been subjected to the epistemic violence through political, cultural and economic subordinations. This is essentially predicated upon what can be termed as ethno-extremism which is equally belligerent and extreme like that of ultra-nationalist ideology fiercely based on religion or language only.

As per some of the terms of the “Distinct Clauses for Memorandum of Settlement”, which is going to be the broad term of reference for the BTR has mentioned that the proposed territory would be on the basis of the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution but would not make Clause 1(2) of the same schedule applicable within the BTR. The said clause of the Sixth Schedule provides opportunities for the other scheduled tribe to have a contiguous territory of their own and form autonomous district councils within the council or the state as in the states like Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland etc. In the BTR any possibility of such provision for others has been cancelled out right at the outset.

The Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) circulated speaks about the land rights primarily for the tribal people thereby posing a serious question regarding the land rights of the other indigenous and permanent residents within the proposed territory. Within the BTC the Koch Rajbanshis are an indigenous community, who are the original residents of the land but they are not a tribe yet who have the greatest fear of being pushed to the periphery in their own ancestral land living there since time immemorial. The BTR settlement might as well be a major instrument to dispossess the others of their lands. Similarly, ‘Assam Land Revenue Regulation 1886’, as amended in 1947 mentioned to be the basis of the land policy of BTR which provides protection to the indigenous and other notified categories like the Koch Rajbanshis, Santhals, Tea tribe and the Gorkhas, yet it has also added ‘Boroland Land Policy Framework’ to be included in the 9th schedule of the constitution to make it the foundation for the land policy in the BTR which is likely to pose greater challenges in terms of land rights of the non Bodos.

BTR would ensure a huge number of people under such a vast region to remain eternally deprived of the government jobs if one goes by the recent experiences in the BTC where almost all the government appointments in the Grade III & IV categories were given to the Bodos alone by the Council. With the prospective formation of the Bodoland Public Service Commission (BPSC) Grade I & II jobs and all other jobs too would be effectively for one community only depriving forever all the other communities who form more than 70% of the total population in such a vast region. Similarly, opportunities of political representation would be restricted as well since all the parliamentary seats including one Rajya Sabha seat demanded would be reserved for the STs.

In terms of cultural rights, the BTR has made the policy towards making Bodo language as the primary language for official and pedagogic transactions thereby forcing others to adopt the language out of compulsion not by choice. Though within the Bodoland, Bodo language has the right to be flourished but this should not turn into an imperialist exercise to progressively annihilate Assamese language which is the common language for all purposes across communities. In none of the official programmes of the BTC they have allowed other cultural entities to have the opportunity of representation which is a form of violence to culturally erase the others. There is legitimate anxieties that BTR might as well become a major theatre of another form of violence- epistemic violence which would include social subjugation, appropriation of history, invention of non-existent cultural forms to negate the cultural claims of others and subsequently erase the other communities from their own native spaces in order to establish the hegemonic dominance of absolute singularity. One of the ways to make the BTR more inclusive and reassuring to other is to declare the Koch Rajbanshis and the Adivasis (Tea Tribe) as STs for which they have been fighting for more than fifty years now.

(Jyotirmoy Prodhani is a Professor of English at North-Eastern Hill University (NEHU), Shillong.)

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