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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17 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. Sujit dev barman says:

    Government should give rajbongshi st caste certificate.oderwise we students belong nowhere

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

    • Dhruba Koch says:

      Dear Mr H Koch, I too had same confusion up to few years back . Then I read books , attended meetings, discussions , went to learned persons of the community , now I am 100 % convinced that koch and Rajbongshi are same people. As the article writer Mr Anuj Choudhury has rightly pointed out here , that in Bengal region it was due to cast ridden Hindu society , the upper caste Hindus had neglected the koches and derogatory remarks were hurled at the koches. these had hurtled the sentiments of koches and to counter the situation , the koches had started identifying themselves as Rajbongshi’s meaning they are related to kings and descendants of kings .That movement attained its peak under the leadership of Mr Panchanan Barman.That is how the word Rajbongshi have appeared among koches .This is a 100 % proven fact . No one should raise question about it. On the variations you have mentioned in your comment this is regional variation. These type of variations are seen in many communities around the world.
      Secondly this is a time for unification. Perhaps you know , due to past mistakes and of conspiracies the koch community have been disintegrated and many of us are living in very deplorable condition’s across varied political boundaries . In some places there is no patronize from any quarter be it political or from arrangements of societal structure. These has resulted in loss of culture , traditions , spoken language etc . We have become stranger to one another. Of late the community has waken up and a sense of revival of the past is seen within the community. In this context I urge and suggest you to visit places where the community people lives, interact with them, especially North Bengal, Assam , North Bihar , Bangladesh and Nepal etc. It is time unite, to sort out regional differences that have penetrated in us due to long separation time.

  7. Kaushik Ray says:

    Great explanation anuj da…

  8. Subhash C Choudhury says:

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

  9. parikranti says:

    Very nice article. Learned lot of new things.

  10. 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.

  11. Mithun H Koch says:

    I think our national Identity should be only Koch.

    • Dhruba Koch says:

      Yes brother , you are right . Instead we all should concentrate to tackle the present problems before the community. Most of the issues that cropped up among us are never ending .In my opinion we are same people the KOCH and Koch should be our identification at all stages and everywhere.,That s all, and prepare ourselves to face the present and future situations.Most of Our peoples are still agriculturist with age old techniques. Literary rate is very low in us. Latest technologies have not perverted in our day to day lives. In contrast , the neighboring communities have gone too far in all fronts. Observing these, I sometime feel strange why some of us are still engaged in never ending topics. This is time to march ahead unitedly , allow penetration of latest ideas and technologies in our day to life , otherwise , it is simply difficult to keep pace with time. History provides enough evidence that those who did not tuned themselves as per time and situation, simply perished.for ever. We should sort out differences, ignore silly differences especially regional difference and work unitedly.

  12. Hirdananda Rajbanshi says:

    No any satisfactory report has been made on the research of Koch,Rajbanshi in Nepal.I’m eagering to relief my heart through my culture’s detail history.I am still confused about various reports published from India,Nepal and even Bangladesh.

    • Dhruba Koch says:

      Dear Mr H Rajbongshi
      I am not a historian nor a scholar , rather I am a technical man (Engineer), very little history was studied during school days. Bu the recent activities of my community i.e Koch Rajbongshi has attracted my attention and I have started reading many books of history , Articles etc having the information of the community.It is true that a large number of Of Rajbongshi people lives at present day Nepal.
      The koch Kingdom attained its golden period during the rule of King Naranarayan and Chilarai. The boundary of the kingdom was extended to far far-lung areas that included parts of present day Nepal.During that time many peripheral and neighborhood communities had become /joined the koches. and became part of the community.Thereafter the Kingdom had to face several serious attacks from Outside , as a result the kingdom disintegrated and the community too. Also to escape the danger and hardships during those attacks the people had to leave their ancestral places and move to safer places . These may be one reason that community people are found in large area. Your present area of inhabitant being continuous land mass ,i.e it not separated by seas and oceans ,such a possibility can not be ruled out.
      I, fondly remember childhood days , when my grandfather Mr Thaneswar Koch used to tell friends and gatherings(He was village headman/Gaon-Bura) that how his forefathers and village man used to move from places to places in search of fertile land and safer places.
      The pre- British era of the Indian Subcontinent was full of princely states. They were engaged in never ending wars . During these eventful days people had to move constantly in search of safer places. So also the cultures and traditions moved along with them.
      Now coming to the topic ,The Rajbongshi of Nepal people definitely have roots and are kith and keens of the Rajbongshi’s living elsewhere. They are there , may be due to any of the factors mentioned above. Many similarities exists with other Rajbonghsi’s. As regards to fonts and spoken language these are regional variations, because when some one lives in a particular surroundings decade after decade , many characteristics of the surroundings gets reflected in their day to day life. It is true for anyone. But as regards to culture and traditions , The Rajbongshi community of Nepal has preserved and maintained the uniqueness of culture , which are same as found among Rajbonghi’s living in other parts.

  13. Dhruba Koch says:

    I think it is time to focus on other problems before the koch community. Enough discussion have taken place on the variations of the community. From these , it has appeared koch-Rajbongshi are people , one community , wherever she/he may live or to any region she/he may belong.
    The community now should focus on
    1. Preservation of culture and traditions observed in different regions.
    2. Educatiing the rural folks and illiterates in the community.
    3. Multi-disciplinary vocational education should be introduced in the community.
    4. Potential talents in different domain should be identified and encouraged to pursue further.
    5. Still there are efforts to divide the community in the name of Koch and Rajbongshi, Spoken dialects like Indo -Tibetan , Indo Aryan , On complexion of Mongoloid , Aryan , Dravidian etc , These sorts of efforts should be curbed at initial stage.
    6. Improvement of culture and traditions etc. Talents in these domains should be encouraged.

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