Santosh Rana


Santosh Rana was a leading member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) [CPI-ML] formed under the leadership of late Charu Mazumdar. He left CPI-ML in 1971 and constituted PCC CPI-ML in 971. HeĀ  contesting as an independent, won the Gopiballavpur seat in West Bengal in 1977. Below he presents a detailed history of BODO people who are recently targeted by Assamese chauvinists.


The demand for Bodoland was first raised in 1980 after the Assamese chauvinists represented by the Asom Gana Parishad came to power. In the far distant past, Bodos came from Tibet to settle in Assam and North Bengal. But in North Bengal, they are fewer in number and known as ‘mechs’. The rule of scheduling of tribes in Assam is a peculiar one. Tribes like Bodo, Rava and Missing, who live in the plains of the Bramha-putra valley, are scheduled as plain tribes. But the Bodos living in the southern hilly region are unscheduled. Again, the Korbis living in the hills are scheduled as hill tribes, but the Korbis living in the plains have not got this recognition although they are larger in number. On the other hand, the people belonging to the communities like Santal, Munda, Oraon, Ho, Mahali, Birhor etc, who constitute about 20 percent of the Assamese population, are recognized as scheduled tribes in India as a whole, but not in Assam. The language of the Bodos was a spoken language belonging to the Tibeto-Burman group. In the 1960s, the Bodo Sahitya Sabha ( Bodo Literary Society) was formed and a language movement started. The Congress Governments of Assam and Delhi, who understood only the language of sticks and guns, brutally suppressed the movement. In 1974, the language agitators were fired upon in Kokrajhar and more than one hundred Bodos were killed. Now the language of the Bodos is recognized as state language in Assam and books have been written in the Bodo language for education at the school and college levels.


In the whole of Assam, the number of Bodo population is 1.5 million, about 6 percent of the total population. In the four districts comprising the Bodo Territorial Council (BTC), the density of the Bodo population is greater. The Bodos, Ravas and other plain tribes together constitute about 30 percent of the population. Other communities living in the area are the Santals and other Jharkhandis, Bengali Hindus, Bengali Muslims, some Nepalese and Coch-Rajbangsis. According to an official report, of the total population of 1.05 million in the BTC area, the plain tribes are about 300 thousands, the Bengali Muslims 236 thousands, the Jharkhandis 186 thousands, the Coch-Rajbangshis 165 thousands and the Nepalese and Bengali Hindus 133 thousands. In truth the number of Bodos has been somewhat inflated in this report. But even if the figures are considered correct, it is clear that the Bodos are a minority in the BTC area. Yet when the BTC was constituted in 2003, the majority of the seats in the Council was reserved for the plain tribes. The upshot has been a rule of the minority over the majority.


This fact is too well known to the Bodo leaders. They want to be the masters of such an area where the Bodos would be a majority, or at least their hegemony would be recognized. Attaining this objective would require attacks on other communities including riots and mass killings. Ever since the Bodo movement was launched, six such large-scale riots have taken place. The figures of human beings killed in these riots are:


Year No. of People Killed

1993 61

1994 113

1996 198

1998 186

2012 (July-August) 100


It should be pointed out that in the killing spree of 1996, the actual number of deaths was more than 300, although the official figure was 198. Besides, 200 thousand persons were ousted from their homes, and half of them have not yet been able to return.


Towards the close of the 1980s, the Bodo movement started with the demand “Divide Assam 50-50”. It was led by two groups National Democratic Front (NDF)of Bodoland and the Bodo Liberation Tigers(BLT). The former was in league with the various extremist groups of the north-east including the ULFA, while the latter had regular contacts with the Indian state, which supplied them with arms and trained them. Besides engaging in mutual armed clashes, these two armed outfits used to launch attacks on other communities including the Jharkhandis and Muslims.


The allegation of the Bodo outfits is that they have become minorities in their homeland and that this is the consequence of large-scale immigration from Bangladesh. In a press interview, Mr Hagrma Mohilari, the Chairman of the BTC, has argued that the only way to a permanent solution is to expel illegal immigrants and to take measures against them (Times of India, 25 August, 2012). Asked about the number of illegal immigrants, another Bodo leader and ex-MP, Urkhao Gouda Bramma, answered that he was incapable of producing the number and added that the Assam State Government too was incapable of telling how many illegal immigrants were there (Times of India, 26 August). The fact is that the propaganda campaign of the Assamese chauvinists, Bodo extremists and their all-India patron, the BJP regarding illegal immigration has very little truth. Among the communities living in the BTC area, the Coch-Rajbangshis can by no means be called outsiders, because they came to Assam and North Bengal even before the Bodos, and went through a long and complicated process of Sanskritization. As a matter of fact, the extensive region from Purnea to Karnrup was under the Koch kings whose capital was the town of Coochbihar. Among the other communities that settled in the district of Kokrajhar, Santals came after the Santal Rebellion of 1855. The British rulers brought about 100 thousand Santals from the Santal Parganas and settled them in the agency area on the edge of the Samkosh river in the border region between Bengal and Assam. In this agency area, known as Simultala Agency, the Santals, who were efficient in settled cultivation, cleared forests and prepared lands. By 1858, British planters set up tea gardens in Assam, and brought workers from the Jharkhand region as serf-labourers. These tea garden workers, brought chiefly from Ranchi and neighbouring areas, were from Munda, Oraon, Mahali and other Jharkhandi groups. Tea gardens, were first set up in upper Assam, and when subsequently, such gardens were built up in lower Assam, Jharkhandi settlements grew up in these areas too. Since the volume of employment provided by the teas gardens was not enough, one section of the Jharkhandi people tokk up cultivation as their occupation. Taken as a whole, it is the Santals who constitute the largest Jharkhandi group in Kokrajhar. The history of migration of Bengali-speaking Muslims into Assam is also long. Large tracts of land of the Brahmmaputra valley used to remain uncultivated. After the annexation of Assam, the Mughal army, led by Man Singh, did not set up any camp there, because the revenue of the region was too insufficient to cover the costs. Todarmal characterized that region as a ‘non-revenue’ one. It was the British rulers who first transformed the vast tracts of the Brammaputra valley into a surplus revenue region. They discovered that the cultivators of Mymensingh and neighbouring districts were familiar with the technique of tilling land below water-level. They conducted a propaganda campaign in the villages of Mymensingh that anybody willing to migrate to Assam would get as much land as he liked, and besides, would receive a pair of bullocks and five rupees in cash. Thus Bengali Muslims began to come to Assam since the mid-nineteenth century. But it was in the first half of the twentieth century, roughly from 1901 to 1941, that large-scale migration took place.


At first, Assamese satra (monastary)-owners, landlords and the middle-classes welcomed the immigration from Bengal, because these immigrants, by cultivating fallow lands, were helping to increase the revenue, and were serving as a source of cheap labour. But the Assamese population felt concerned after their number went up largely. Under these circumstances, the British Government introduced a ‘line system’, in 1920, according to which an imaginary line of demarcation was drawn for segregation of the immigrant-dominated areas. The plan was to create a wall separating the immigrants from the Assamese society. Maulana Bhasani’s movement against this system has remained famous in history. The British Government of India brought Bengali Muslims to Assam and succeeded in enhancing amount of land revenue. On the other hand, they were trying to sharpen the contradiction between the Assamese population and the immigrants. In 1931, T S Mulan, the then Census Commissioner of Assam wrote that the immigrants have almost conquered Nagaon, have invaded the Barpeta subdivision of the Kamrup district and Darang is going to be invaded. He also commented that several thousands of persons of Mymensingh had already entered the district of Lakhimpur. The Commissioner compared these people with vultures rushing to putrescent corpses, because wherever there was fallow land they were jumping on it.


the eyes of the English bureaucrat, the immigrants were vultures and invaders. In an editorial of the Assam Herald, it was written, “Muslims of Assam are stunned to see that in such a dangerous moment, the gallant Congress ministers of Assam are out to prove their chivalry by torturing the helpless elements, thousands of whom had already been served with notice to quit. It may be that they would not leave their hearths and homes without resistance and any amount of torture on these ill-fated people may lead to serious communal tensions all over the province.” (Assam Herald, 16 November, 1946)


The purpose of the foregoing is to show that the problem of immigrant Muslims in Assam is not a recent phenomenon. Even before the partition of the country or the creation of Bangladesh, a large number of Bengali speaking Muslims were living in Assam. Among the 50 districts of India in which the density of the Muslim population is larger, 10 are in Assam. These districts are: Dhubri (74.3%), Barpeta (59.4%), Hailakandi (57.6%), Goalpara (53.7%), Karimganj (52.3%), Nagaon (51%), Marigaon (47.6%), Bangaigaon (38.5%), Kachar (36.1 %) and Darang (35.5%). At the time of partition, these were parts of some large districts, namely Goalpara, Barpeta, Kachar, Nagaon and Darang. Already by 1941, Muslims became a majority or near-majority in these districts. In the 1980s, the All-Assam Students’ Union(AASU), for justifying its campaign of ‘driving out infiltrators’, claimed that there were 5 million Bangladeshi infiltrators in Assam . But at that time, the total Muslim population of Assam was 4.774 million. The leaders of AASU later formed the Asom Gana Parishad and ruled the province for as long as ten years, but during those years, they could not identify even five thousand persons, let alone five million, as infiltrators. As a matter of fact, the very term ‘Bangladeshi infiltrator’ is only a symbolic one. Its real objective is to drive out the working people of other states of India who have settled in Assam. Actually driving them out is not the aim. If the Jharkhandis are driven out, there will be a scarcity of ‘coolies’ in the tea gardens. Similarly, if the Muslims are forced to live Assam, there will be a severe shortage of cultivators in the riverine tracts. The real aim is to keep these labouring communities in a state of subjugation and deprive them of their legitimate rights, so that their labour power and the products of labour can be appropriated at will From the claimed Bodoland to Manipur, many armed groups have as their targets Jharkhandi, Muslim or Bihari workers. They are not seen to wield weapons against domestic and foreign big capitalists and traders, who are exploiting the tea, oil and other mineral resources of the entire north-east.


Like the Assamese chauvinists, the Bodo extremists too are putting the blame on ‘Bangladeshi infiltrators’ for the recent spate of violence in Assam. Outside Assam, the BJP and other Hindu communal outfits are vociferous about ‘Bangladeshi infiltrators’. Had the BTC leaders really believed that large number of Bangladeshis had infiltrated into the council region, they could have identified them and expelled them through a tribunal.


The BTC was formed in 2003 after an agreement with the BLT, and it was an act of appeasement on the part of the Central Government to buy peace. The so-called Bodo People’s Front that contests in the poll is an ottshoot of the BLT and it is they who control the BTC, most of the seats of which are reserved for the Bodos, although they are by no means a Majority in the area under the BTC. For a lasting peace, the Central Government and the Government of Assam must stop the ethnic violence of the Bodo chauvinists, dissolve the BTC and evolve a solution on the basis of equality of all identities, ie, the Coch-Rajbangshis, Santals and other Jharkhandis, Bengali Hindus and Bengali Muslims, living in the region. In a region where diverse identities live in large numbers, the rule of one community must not be imposed by force.


(Frontier, Oct 7-13, 2012)

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