Why This Ethnic Community In Assam Is Demanding A Separate State

Posted by Savio Daimary in Politics, Society
March 16, 2017

More than a 1000 Bodos participated in an indefinite hunger strike, demanding a separate state called Bodoland. Various Bodo organisations have vowed to continue the hunger strike until the government comes forward to solve the problems of the Bodos.

The hunger strike which began on March 10, 2017, has already gone past its fifth day. Moreover, the participants have refused to take any medical help.  Even though their health has been deteriorating, they are still resolute and firm in their demand for Bodoland under Articles 2 and 3 of the Indian Constitution. Besides, this statehood agitation has been going on for over five decades.

Who are the Bodos?

The Bodos, an ethno-linguistic group believed to be the earliest inhabitants of Assam, are one of the Indo-Mongoloid communities belonging to the Tibeto-Burman branch of the Sino-Tibetan family. At the zenith of their thriving civilisation, they ruled vast territories encompassing almost the entirety of northeast India, parts of Nepal, Bhutan, North Bengal and Bangladesh.

For centuries, they survived sanskritisation without giving up their original ethnic identity. However in the 20th century, they had to tackle a series of issues such as illegal immigration, encroachment of their lands, forced assimilation, loss of language and culture. The 20th century also witnessed the emergence of Bodos as a leading tribe in Assam which pioneered the movements for safeguarding the rights of the tribal communities in the area.

From then on, they have been consistently deprived of the political and socio-economic rights by successive state and central governments. The Bodos have not only become an ethnic minority in their own ancestral land but have also been struggling for their existence and status as an ethnic community.

In the 1920s, a delegation of educated Bodos, the Bodo Plains Tribal, met the Simon Commission requesting for the reservation of seats in the Legislative Assembly of Assam. This marked the beginning of political awareness among the Bodos. Next, they formed the Tribal League of Assam to voice for the political rights of the ‘plains tribes’ in the 1930s. Soon after India’s independence, a Bodo literary organisation, the Bodo Sahitya Sabha (BSS), was formed to preserve and develop the Bodo language.

Constant immigration from East Pakistan changed Assam’s demography gradually. The state government did not take any proactive measures to prevent the encroachment of the tribal belts and blocks. It created mistrust and discontent among the Bodos. Consequently, the Plains Tribals’ Council of Assam (PTCA) started to campaign for a separate union territory called Udayachal for the Bodos and other ‘plains tribes’ of Assam in 1960s.

Once more, the rampant influx of illegal immigrants, this time from Bangladesh after its liberation in 1971, led to political turmoil in Assam. Later in the decade, the Assam Agitation for Anti-foreigner movement, spearheaded by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), turned violent when a group of Assamese youths under the name of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) took up arms for secession from India.

The Bodos felt increasingly alienated with the unwillingness of both the central and state governments in resolving the issue. This in turn intensified the Bodo movement. No longer did they demand a union territory Instead, the All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU) started agitating for the creation of the Bodoland state.

During the peak of insurgency in northeast India, a small group of educated Bodo youths formed an armed militia called the Bodo Security Force (BSF), following the example of their Naga and Mizo counterparts. This was later renamed as the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) whose objective was to establish a sovereign Bodo homeland.

However, the vigorous non-violent movement of the All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) came to a halt with the formation of Bodo Autonomous Council (BAC) in 1993. The Council proved to be futile. With the failure of the Bodo Autonomous Council (BAC), a violent armed movement surfaced when the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT), a rival group of the NDFB started agitating for a separate state within India.

Courtesy: All Bodo Students’ Union

Why A Separate Bodoland State?

Within a few years of its formation, the BLT concluded peace talks with the central and state governments. As a result, the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) was granted under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution in 2003.

The four districts under the BTC made minimal progress for the first decade after its formation. However, it could not fulfil the aspirations of the Bodos as issues like illegal immigrants, protection of tribal belts and blocks remained unresolved.

After the formation of Telengana, there was a revival of statehood demands across the country. Bodo organizations followed suit and relaunched their statehood demand.

PS: The hunger strike was called off on March 15, 2017, following promises by the state government to take up the issues with the Centre.

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