March Edition, Tribe, Arup Jyoti Das
The idea of Bodoland is intensified time to timewith vigour in Assam.The demand for a separate statefor the Bodo community of Assamis much old and politicallypopular. An idea that has a longhistory of struggle, sacrifice anddiscrimination.
The idea of Bodoland has been projected as the sole solution to the miseries, which Bodos had suffered under Assamese hegemony for long. An idea that created a new generation of Bodo nationalist and patriots. The Bodo’s struggle had earned them Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD), an autonomous arrangement for the Bodos which empowered them for self rule in huge parts of lower Assam.
However, the idea of Bodoland has been facing opposition from other communities of BTAD area, particularly from the Koches (also known as Rajbanshis) who had been demanding a separate state comprising areas of Assam (also BTAD) and North Bengal since a long time. Interestingly, whenever the demand for Bodoland is intensified, the demand for Kamatapur is intensified too.
Along with the demand of Kamatapur, the non-Bodo communities of the BTAD areas are also opposing the creation of Bodoland citing discriminatory treatment of the Bodos towards non-Bodos. It should be noted that Bodoland has witnessed some of the major ethnic conflicts in the recent time. It shows the complexity of the idea of an exclusive homeland in Assam. Due to the bloodshed and insurgency activities, the issue of Bodoland is more prominent in media and political discourse.
On the other hand, though the issue of Kamatapur fails to get that kind attention, the issue of Koch people’s self-determination should not be ignored since it has a complex and long history of struggle for social justice.
Kamatapur is the desire for recognition of a historical Koch-Kamata region which continued till 1948 as Cooch Behar princely state and other various small principalities like Bijni, Gauripur and Sidli in West Assam. It should be noted that while Bodoland is projected as an exclusive homeland for Bodos, Kamatapur is projected as a regional identity rather than an ethnic identity.
However, unlike Bodos, who have witnessed strong leadership, the Kamatapur Movement lacks intelligent and dedicated leadership. If Bodoland is created, it may lead to more complex situation in lower Assam. These complexities have arisen since the idea of homeland is mostly understood in an attempt to provide social justice to one particular community. Thought the idea of exclusive homeland is extremely popular in Northeast India, we often forget that Northeast India is highly multicultural and multi ethnic. Every idea of homeland is overlapped by many other homelands.
This is very true for Assam. The proposed area of Bodoland is actually a shared homeland of many other communities. Bodos do not have majority in the area. The Bodos have only partial rights over the territory which they are demanding for Bodoland, not complete rights. The complete right has been claimed forcefully, sometimes with the instigation of the state.
When we look back to the Bodo’s movement for Bodoland, we see that along with the aspiration for self-rule there were injustices done to the Koches, Adivasi and minority communities of the area. People who were internally displaced in lower Assam are mostly due to violence caused by Bodo movement. It is sad that in many occasions, movement for self-determination goes out of control and desire for self-rule, love for own community is replaced by hatred for other communities. Someone’s dream for social justice may become someone’s nightmare.
In Assam, a majority of the tribal groups at some point of their struggle had expressed their anger against the Assamese nationalist idea. Among them, Bodos were in the front line and successfully have become something parallel to Assamese nationalist. The idea of “Assamese identity” was not acceptable to communities who are very much independent in their culture and language compared to the Assamese. In this process, the idea of ‘Assamese’ suffered a setback. Even communities like Koches are also gradually going out of the fold, particularly in West Assam.
Interestingly, it seems the Bodo nationalists have a tendency of the Assamese nationalist. Their claim over Dimasa history and Koch history as their own has been highly criticised. Colonial academician used the terms Bodo as a generic one which included Koches, Dimasa and others. Edward Gait was so confused with the term that even mentioned the Kachari kingdom as of the Bodos. However, at present the term is officially used by the community who were earlier known as Mech. Today, Dimaraji and Bodoland are two separate political imaginations.
Hence, a progressive Bodo national identity including others is not possible, as others have to merge with Bodos (previously Mech) the way Assamese demanded from other communities. Moreover, a progressive Bodoland is also difficult to achieve by winning the trust other communities living in BTAD area. The idea of Bodoland was never projected as an inclusive and progressive one.
Human history is not all about exclusiveness, but about inclusiveness. The communities who are in conflict now, once lived peacefully together. The issue is of rights, development and social justice. Adivaisi rights cannot be denied in the pretext of their late migration to Assam. If Bodo’s political desire for homeland has made the Adivasis homeless, then Bololand will be seen as threat to the life of the Adivasis. Shall we rethink the idea of exclusive territorial homeland in the changing global scenario?
(The writer is a Guwahati based author and columnist and former North East India Correspondent of International Institute of Social History, The Netherlands).