Koch and Rajbongshi: Confusion or fusion

Anuj Choudhury

Recently there has been a lot of confusion regarding the usage of the term ‘Koch’ and ‘Rajbongshi’. People have raised questions on the validity of the usage of the term Koch and Rajbongshi together. Such question has mainly been raised in Assam and Meghalaya where Koch and Rajbongshi is used interchangeably and even used together as ‘Koch-Rajbongshi’.

The Koches of India are presently inhabitants of states- West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya and Bihar. In West Bengal and Bihar they the community is mainly referred as ‘Rajbongshi’, in Assam as ‘Rajbongshi’, ‘Koch’ and ‘Koch-Rajbongshi’ and in Meghalaya as ‘Koch’. Even though the community is referred as ‘Koch’, ‘Rajbongshi’ and ‘Koch-Rajbongshi’ in different states, but the origin of the community is one i.e, KOCH. The Koches are said to be of Mongoloid race, who were early immigrants from the Tibbetian region.

Now a question may arise, why are the Koches referred to as Rajbongshis then?
The ‘Rajbongshi’ term was first used instead of Koch mainly in the later-half of 1800’s. Such developments mainly took place in Bengal region when the Koch people came in contact with the Caste Hindu Society. The reason behind such a move was that the so called ‘Bengali Bhadraloks’(Upper Caste) considered the Koches to be of Lower Caste. The Koches belonging to a royal and princely linage could not accept themselves being placed lowest in the Hindu Caste system by the Bengali Bhadaloks. Thus, a process of Sanskritization began among the Koches to find a respectable place in the Hindu hierarchical social order. The term Rajbongshi came to be used more fluidly instead of Koch to show direct linkage with the princely class (Rajbongshi- Rajar Bongsho). Also, the original term Koch passed through more 3 distinct identities in different censuses in North Bengal- Rajbongshi to Bratya Kshatriya (1891), Bratya Kshatriya to Kshatriya Rajbongshi (1911, 1921) and Kshatriya Rajbongshi to only Kshatriya (1931).

The process of sanskritization by the Koches reached its peak under the Kshatriyazation Movement led by Panchanan Barma(1866-1935) in Bengal. The objective of the movement was to prove the Rajbanshis were Kshatriyas with a royal lineage and not Sudras as regarded by the Bengali Bhadraloks. In support of this claim the movement involved a ceremonial kshatriyaization process – brahminical rituals were performed to convert thousands of Rajbanshis to ‘Kshatriya Rajbanshi’ in the villages of North Bengal. Panchanan Barma’s movement was so influential in Bengal that the usage of the original term Koch almost vanished from the region.

However, where the process of sanskritization was not so strong among the Koches, the term Rajbongshi or Kshatriya-Rajbongshi did not replace the original term Koch. In Assam (from Barpeta onwards to Upper Assam) and Meghalaya the term Koch is still in usage. Interesting, the surname Rajbongshi is found in those areas, where this community identity themselves as Koch. Thus, the Koch and Rajbngshi are not two different communities but they are same. ‘Koch’ or ‘Rajbongshi’ or ‘Koch-Rajbongshi is used to indicate people from the same community.

Recently, in 2011 in a case between Hem Chandra Borah v. State of Assam a similar concern was raised by the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC). There was confusion regarding which term to use – ‘Koch’ or ‘Rajbongshi’ or ‘Koch-Rajbongshi for the community in Assam. The Government of Assam in a letter to NCBC replied that the tem “Koch-Rajbonshi” should be used for the community, which is now a constitutionally recognised term.

(The witter is presently pursuing MA in Social Work at ‘Dalit and Tribal Studies and Action Center for Social Justice and Governance’, Tata Institute of Social Science, Mumbai. He can be reached at : anuj@srd.tiss.edu)

*(Sanskritization is a particular form of social change found in India. It denotes the process by which castes placed lower in the caste hierarchy seek upward mobility by emulating the rituals and practices of the upper or dominant castes).


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About ckrsd

Managing Trustee Centre for Koch Rajbnashi Studies and Development, Guwahati
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11 Responses to Koch and Rajbongshi: Confusion or fusion

  1. Rahul Rajbongshi says:

    really good writing….

  2. benoy sarkar says:

    I would have given this article a 100% mark if the writer would have gone beyond “Koch”, “Koch-Rajbanshi”, “Rajbanshi” and “Kshatriya” terms by including an unheard term that is “Koch muslim”. Is it a new term? May be, but I belong to that sub group, so do my compatriots who’s forefathers converted to Islam a long time ago! One thing I can reassure the writer that no one would have dared to humiliate a Koch in today’s India if we had chosen Islam. Hegemony of Hindu brahmins would never be a point of discussion now! Same story goes with the Indian Dalits too!

  3. Pinaki Adhikary says:

    Thnks

  4. Subhash C Choudhury says:

    First mention of rajbongshi race is perhaps found in Mughal records. After Saraighat war Ambar king Ram Singh camped at Rangamati in between Dhubri and Bilasipara from 1661 to 1668. It is recorded that some of the Ram Singh’s khatriyo ( Rajput) soldiers married local Rajbongshi women since they were not sure when they could return to their native place.

  5. Hurang Konch says:

    Koches who identify themselves as Kocha (in Assam & West Bengal) and Kocho (in Meghalaya) have never used the term Rajbongshi to identify their tribe but by their Sub-tribes such as Wanang, Harigaya, Tintikiya, Margan etc. They also relate themselves to other members of their tribe through clans, such as a “kama” clan in a harigaya sub-tribe is related to a “kama” clan in a titikiya sub-tribe. The children always follows the mothers clan and if a non-koch is married/included into the family, he/she is given the father’s clan. None of this features are practised by the Rajbongshi Communities. The language spoken by the Koches of Assam and Meghalaya are tibeto-burman and have similarities with the Garo, Boro and Maitri Sub-tribes of the Rabha whereas the language spoken by the Rajbongshis’ is of Aryan origin. THE AUTHOR SHOULD REASEARCH MORE TO COME TO A CONCLUSION instead of merely identifying and calling the Koches and Rajbongshis’ as being the same tribe

    • Partho Protim Roy says:

      Absolutely! Even in the census report(i don’t remember the year, if i get a reply i can go through the sources again to find it out) clearly indicates that the ‘Koch’ and the ‘Rajbanshi’ are both conflicting terms and the both communities were different.

  6. Kaushik Ray says:

    Great explanation anuj da…

  7. Subhash C Choudhury says:

    A section of Tiwas speak Assamese and are called Thaluali. While the other section viz. Hajowali spreak Tiwa language.

  8. parikranti says:

    Very nice article. Learned lot of new things.

  9. Subhash C Choudhury says:

    Till the British came to Assam all tribes of Assam were called Koches which is vivid inthe Mughal n early British records. Most names of Indo mongoloids are recent. Koch Rajbongshi is an umbrella of early Hinduised Indomongoloids.

  10. Mithun H Koch says:

    I think our national Identity should be only Koch.

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