By Nachiket Kondhalkar
The agitation for a separate Bodoland flared up again in Assam recently. Allegedly, the Centre stopped monthly meetings with the movement groups on the issue. The strike that followed blocked national highways in the state for ten hours in protest.
The creation of Telangana has had a subtle destabilising effect on the rest of India. The most visible of these is the demand for a separate Bodoland. The movement has intensified since the government announced its plans for Telangana in October 2013. The Bodo movement has also shown support for the Gorkhaland movement. But both movements continue to toe the line with repeated incidents of violence.
Who are the Bodo?
The Bodos are an ethnolinguistic group believed to be the earliest inhabitants of Assam. At the peak of their civilisation, they ruled almost the entirety of northeast India, parts of Nepal, Bhutan, North Bengal and Bangladesh.
For them, the Assamese were powerful colonisers who ousted them several centuries ago. The Assamese-speaking mainstream trespassed on their plains. It is similar to how the Assamese consider the Bengalis or Bangladeshis as trespassers.
In the 20th century, Bodos had to tackle the issues of illegal immigration, encroachment, loss of language and culture, and forced assimilation. The 20th century also saw the emergence of Bodos as a leading tribe in Assam. They pioneered the movements for safeguarding the rights of the tribal communities in the area.
The Bodos have become an ethnic minority in their own ancestral land. They have been struggling for their existence and status as an ethnic community.
History of the Bodo movement
In the early 1960s, a political party representing Bodos realised that tribal belts and blocks were acquired by rich landlords or new immigrants through illegal means. Moreover, Bodos had little or no access to economic aid from the Central Government. Without an economic package for the Bodo dominated areas, education was a distant cry.
There is hardly any infrastructure that connects the Bodo dominated areas to the main cities of Assam. That is why they demanded a Union Territory called Udayanchal, to be carved out of Assam. All they wanted was to protect farming and grazing lands from the rich landlords and illegal immigrants. The persistent apathy of successive governments towards the Bodo community resulted in no changes. By the end of the 70s, it became clear that the Bodos had little or no influence in the Indian political process. Additionally, the financial packages meant for tribal-development got diverted and misused.
In the late 80s, All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) became active. They demand a separate state called Bodoland to this date.
The Bodos have felt increasingly alienated with the unwillingness of both the Central and State governments in resolving the issue. This, in turn, has intensified the Bodo movement.
The developments in 2017
In March this year, an indefinite hunger strike was called by Bodo organisations demanding the Centre’s attention. They wanted to start a political dialogue with all the stakeholders to carve out a separate state of Bodoland.
The agitation was called off after the BJP-led government in Assam sent a letter assuring that the government would address their demands before April 14.
On 13 April 2017, fifteen different locations all over Assam held protests due to lack of government action. More than 6000 members and activists shaved their heads to express their anger.
Masked politics: Marginalisation of other communities
Bodo militants continue to kill to hurt the Assamese authorities by striking at the minorities that support them. Vulnerable Bengali and Adivasi settlers have often found themselves facing the barrels of Bodo guns. Instances of severe violence by militants were reported in 2008, 2012 and 2014. Thus, the violence has led to the displacement of approximately 70,000 people.
The Bodos have portrayed themselves as the most rightful representatives of the BTAD (Bodoland Territorial Area Districts). The BTC (Bodoland Territorial Council) is mostly Bodo, as per the provisions of the Bodo Accord of 2003. But the BTAD areas do not have a homogenous demographic profile. In fact, some villages of the BTAD house a significantly larger number of non-Bodos than Bodos. Thus, the non-Bodo and Muslim communities feel under-represented at the BTC. They have recorded their displeasure at the inequity in the distribution of resources and lack of administrative powers.
While Bodos continue to champion the Bodoland cause and profess to speak for all communities in the Bodo region, the reality is different. They have created a new class of political elites with whom the other communities feel disconnected and victimised by. A separate state will lead to the further strengthening of the Bodo semi-criminal political elite. It may intensify demands for further carving up of Bodoland. Moreover, the presence of militant forces creates an atmosphere of fear. In the effort to secure Bodo identity, how many other identities may get marginalised?
Featured Image Source: Flickr
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