To be scheduled or not to be scheduled: The 1996 Ordinance, Its report and the tryst of Koch-Rajbangshis of Assam to be Scheduled Tribe

Nirban Ray

The Koch-Rajbangshi community of Assam had been demanding scheduled tribe status since the 1960s. But it was only before the general election of 1996, this demand had gained a peculiar momentum. Prior to 1996, the two Backward Classes Commissions- the 1955 Kalekar commission and the 1980 Mandal commission- had recommended the inclusion of the Koch-Rajbangshi community as an OBC (Other Backward Class) and not as a ST (Scheduled Tribe) community. Similarly, neither the advisory committee to revise SC/ST list in 1965 and nor the joint committee of parliament to examine the ST Orders Amendment Bill 1967 recommended the inclusion of Koch-Rajbangshis as a ST in Assam. 

The 1996 Ordinance, the bill, and the Select Committee 

However, in 1996, the Assam Government led by Chief Minister Hiteswar Saikia had recommended the inclusion of the Koch-Rajbongshi community in the list of Scheduled Tribes(Plain), excluding the autonomous districts of Assam. Assam Government not only recommended the proposal of inclusion of the community as ST to the then Narasimha Rao Government at the centre,  but it had also persistently demanded the inclusion on an immediate basis. The government of Assam was so persistent that- even though the Parliament was not in session, the Narasimha Rao Government advised the President to promulgate the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order (Amendment) Ordinance, on 27th January 1996 in order to include the Koch-Rajbangshis in the ST category of Assam. A Bill seeking to replace the Ordinance was also introduced in the Lok Sabha on 29th February 1996 but it lapsed with the dissolution of the tenth Lok Sabha. The ordinance was re-promulgated a record number of three times and later was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 12 July 1996 as the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order (Amendment) Bill 1996. The House, then authorised the speaker to refer the Bill to a select committee of Lok Sabha with instructions to report back to the house. The committee submitted its final report in August 1997 but the bill was neither introduced for voting nor enacted in time and thus it lapsed and the Koch-Rajbangshis became OBC again, having been lived a short span of less than a year as Scheduled tribes. In order to illustrate the gravity of the situation, a member of Parliament from Mangaldai, Madhab Rajbangshi expressed his anguish in Lok Sabha on 20 July 1998 as follows-

 “It  is observed that all the Ordinances pertaining to the inclusion of the communities as SC/ST in the past were  replaced  by  the  Bills  within  a maximum  period  of six months after the promulgation of the Ordinance. But in the case of Koch Rajbongshi community of Assam, even after lapse of two years, the promulgation of the 1st Ordinance No. 9, 1996 dated 27  January, 1996  is yet to be replaced by a Bill. The Parliamentary Select Committee has submitted its report in the month of April, 1997 recommending for the inclusion of Koch Rajbongshi Community as ST(P). The Government  of  Assam  had  also  submitted their  opinion  on  the report the Parliamentary Select Committee recommending for the inclusion of Koch Rajbongshi Community  as  ST(P)…  In spite of continuous re-promulgation of the said ordinance for the fourth time, it was not enacted in time leading to its lapses. This  way, a great injustice has been done to the Koch Rajbongshi Community of Assam by denying the fundamental rights under the Constitution of India as the issue under reference is still hanging.” (XII LOK SABHA DEBATES, Session II, (Monsoon) Monday, July 20, 1998)

  Reading the reports 

The primary objective of the select committee was to consider whether the Koch-Rajbongshi Tribe of Assam should be included in the ST list of Assam or not while taking into consideration the claims of other tribal groups for their inclusion in the ST list of Assam. 

Before making any claim based on its observation, the select committee first took notes of the reports submitted by the Assam Institute of Research for Tribal and Scheduled Castes. The institute was asked by Assam Government to examine whether the Koch-Rajbangshi community was entitled to be enlisted as ST. The institute submitted two reports to the Government of Assam.

 The first report

 was sent to the Government of India by Assam Government on 3rd April 1993, in which it stated that the Koch Rajbangshis do not deserve to be included in the Scheduled Tribes list of Assam. The report expressed doubt as to whether the ‘Koch’ and ‘Rajbangshi’ are knitted together or they are in two different communities. Further, as the Koch-Rajbangshis claim themselves to be “Kshatriyas” their present demand to become “Shudras” is more confusing. The report followed five criteria – primitiveness, distinctive culture, geographical isolation, shyness regarding contact with other communities at large, and overall backwardness to determine its finding. And it found that none of these criteria applies to the “Kshatriya” Koch-Rajbangshis living in plain districts of Assam (such as Sonitpur, Nagao), except the Koch-Rajbangshis living in the districts of – Goalpara, Dhubri, Kokrajhar and Bongaigaon. Considering all these aspects the report did not recommend the inclusion of Koch-Rajbangshi/Koch Rajbangshi-Kshatriyas in the list of Scheduled Tribes of Assam.  

 The second report

 was sent to the Government of India by Assam Government on 9 August 1994. Contradicting the first report, the second report provided adequate justification for the inclusion of Koch Rajbangshis-Kshatriya in the List of Scheduled Tribes in Assam. After analysing the historical and anthropological past of the Koch-Rajbangshi Kshatriyas, the report concluded that the Koch-Rajbongshi-Kshatriyas of Assam are of Mongoloid tribal origin and linguistically they belong to the Tibeto-Burman family. It further said that Koch, Rajbongshi and Kshatriyas are simply three terminologies adopted by the people of the Koch ethnic group on various socio-religious political situations. Regarding the five criteria to determine thier  tribal orgin, the report, first of all, made a clear distinction between the Koch-Rajbangshis of Upper Assam and Lower Assam and then concentrated its detailed field study on the Koch-Rajbangshis of Lower Assam particularly inhabiting Goalpara, Dhubri, Kokrajhar and Bongaigaon districts. For instance, the report found that the villages viz. Bhamandanga, Chuprikuti, Pokalagi, Kherbari, Jhaskal, and Ghariyaldubi etc. located near the Bangladesh border under Golokganj Sub-division of Dhubri district are found to be devoid of road and other infrastructural facilities, which hindered proper interaction of the people with the outside world. This report had taken into consideration the ruthless suppression of the Koch-Rajbongshi people of undivided Goalpara district by the Zamindars and its psycho-social implications, as it produced inferiority-complex among the population. The report also cited a 1969 report of the Department. of Economics & Statistics, Government of Assam which clearly found landlessness with mounting pressure on agricultural land, lack of industrialisation and that the present Koch-Rajbangshis were not economically well-off than their previous generation. In order to highlight the educational and employment position among the Koch Rajbangshis, the report represented a sample from the Koch-Rajbangshi dominated areas of Golokganj and Baitamari (North & South) of Dhubri and Bongaigaon districts, which depicted a very sorry state of affairs. Considering all these relevant aspects, the report found adequate justification for the inclusion of Koch Rajbongshi-Kshatriyas in the list of Scheduled Tribes of Assam. 

It is to be noted here that based on the findings of this second report, the Government of Assam recommended the Registrar General of India (RGI) to include Koch-Rajbangshis in the ST list of Assam. And when the select committee reached out to RGI for the same matter, the RGI office replied that it had in 1981 rejected the proposal but in the light of the empirical data furnished by the Tribal Research Institute of Assam, the RGI office had no objection to include the Koch-Rajbangshis in the list of Scheduled Tribes of Assam. 

 Concern and opposition of other Tribals 

The select committee received a total of 282 memorandums from various associations/organisations and individuals etc. containing comments/suggestions on the provisions of the Bill. Among the individuals, former CM of Assam Golap Borbora not only advocated immediate inclusion of Koch Rajbangshis to ST list but he also pushed for the inclusion of other tribals such as Chutia, and particularly the tea labourers on the ground that since the 13% general population were getting more than what they were needed to be given, it would not cause any harm to increase the reserved quota for tribals to 85%. On the contrary, another former CM Anwara Taimur opposed the inclusion as she believed that Koch and Rajbangshis were not the same, Koch Rajbangshis came from Cooch Behar of West Bengal and they were not tribals. Instead, she emphasized on the OBC Muslims of Assam and their demand for inclusion in the SC list. However, she stated that she would not oppose any decision taken by the government. Similarly, the United Tribal Nationalists Liberation Front of Darrang opposed the inclusion as the Koch-Rajbangshis had joined and assimilated with the Assamese culture, civilisation, and language of their own volition and they failed to conserve their own language, culture, and civilisation. Further, it found the community to be at its highest stage of development as the community produced a very renowned and advanced person like Sarat Chandra Sinha, who was the Chief Minister of Assam, from 1972 to 1978.

Among the opposition to the inclusion of Koch-Rajbangshis in the ST list by other tribal groups, the Dibrugarh Nagar Deori Unnayan Samiti presented the select committee a copy of the 1992 report of the Assam Institute of Research for Tribals and Scheduled Castes, the first report of the Institute which rejected the proposal of including Koch Rajbangshis to the ST list. The representatives of the Samiti opposed the inclusion based on their observation that Koch and Rajbangshi were two different groups, that in the social order of the Hindu caste system of Assam, the Koch comes next to Brahmin and Kalita and form a major constituent of the population of the Assamese society having Vaisnavite Sankari culture and that the  Koch-Rajbangshis are far advanced than the present group of scheduled tribes of Assam. Therefore the Samiti expressed its fear that if Koch Rajbangshis are included in the ST list then ‘it will have far-reaching consequence and will break down the entire infrastructure of the developmental programmes of the tribal people in the country.’ On a similar tone, the Sonowal Kachari Jatiya Parisad opposed the inclusion because according to them ‘the Koch Rajbangshi people are regarded as “upper class Hindu”, they are very intelligent, talented and the community is developed in all respects. To support their opposition, the Parisad also conducted a field investigation on its own and found out that since the ordinance included Koch-Rajbangshis as STs in February 1996 till August 1996, 25 out of 42 medical seats reserved for STs in Guwahati Medical College, 8 out of 10 seats reserved for STs in Jorhat Engineering College,  were occupied by Koch-Rajbangshi students, among other institutions and services. Therefore, the Parisad stressed the need to not dilute the existing 10% reservation quota of the regional tribal people of Assam and suggested a separate provision for the Koch Rajbangshis, if necessary.

 Verdict of the select committee

 After going through the various works of literature, reports of the Tribal Research Institute, comments of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, etc. and the evidence taken from various associations/organisations, the select Committee found the Koch Rajbangshis to be of Mongolian origin and one of the earliest inhabitants of the undivided Assam – living mainly in the districts of Dhubri, Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon, Goalpara and Kamrup with scattered presence in the remaining districts. The select committee observed that the Koch Rajbangshis of lower Assam, particularly of Dhubri, Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon, and Goalpara districts possessed all the criteria – primitiveness, distinctive culture, geographical isolation, shyness regarding contact with other communities at large and overall backwardness- in order to be included in the ST list of Assam. The select committee, therefore, recommended that the Koch-Rajbangshis should be included in the list of Scheduled Tribes so that ‘they may come in the mainstream of the public life’.

In its final remarks, the select committee provided a possible way out from the discontent which might arise as a result of diluting the existing tribal reservation in the following words, –

 “that presently there is 15% reservation for Scheduled Tribes (10% for plains and 5% for hills), 7% for Scheduled Castes and 17% for other Backward Classes. The total reserved quota thus comes to 39%. As per the Supreme Court verdict, a State cannot have more than 50% reservation. The Committee oobservesthat, in view of the Supreme Court verdict, there is still scope of increasing the reservation quota by 11 %. The Committee are of the opinion that the Government may explore the possibility to increase the adequate quota of the Scheduled Tribes. The quota reservation may be decreased from the Other Backward Classes list, If necessary, as a large chunk of Koch Rajbangshis, Chutias and others would be transferred from OBC list to the ST list. This proportional quota can also be added to the ST list. The Government may also explore the possibility of creating a separate reserved quota for Koch Rajbangshis and other communities to be scheduled by this Bill so that the reservation benefits enjoyed by the notified tribes are not affected.’  

 The Aftermath 

The report of the select committee of 1996 had failed to be translated into the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order (Amendment) Bill as the general election of 1996 resulted in a hung parliament with no single party having a clear majority. The BJP formed a short-lived government under Prime Minister Vajpayee but two weeks later United Front coalition secured a majority and Deve Gowda became Prime Minister. Again in 1997, I.K Gujral succeeded Deve Gowda and became the Prime Minister. Amid such instability in national politics, the select committee report eventually was forgotten and with it, the aspirations of the Koch-Rajbangshis to be included in the ST list lost its momentum.

 But, it was not in isolation for long as the ST question of the Koch Rajbangshis received yet another momentum in 2014 as well as in 2019, both times before general elections. In 2014, Narendra Modi came to Bongaigaon and announced on 19 April at Kakoijan election rally that within six months, ST will be given to Koch Rajbangshis if BJP comes to power. But it was not until 2019 that a bill was placed in Parliament for the same. The Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on 9 January 2019 by the Minister of Tribal Affairs, Jual Oram, intending to grant Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to six communities in Assam, including the Koch Rajbangshis. But, the day after the Bill was tabled, the existing ST communities came out to the street as a sign of protest. The Coordination Committee of Tribal Organizations of Assam (CCTOA) called a state-wide 12-hour bandh on 11 January 2019 to protest against the bill as they feared that the amendment bill would eliminate the “genuine tribal people” of the state by enlisting six new ethnic groups of Assam as STs (Outlook 2019). Following this, on 13 January 2019, the union home minister asked the Government of Assam to prepare the modalities for granting ST status to six communities of Assam without harming the rights of existing STs. Immediately after this Assam Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma took responsibility to recommend measures. But all this happened before the general election of 2019 and the Assam State election of 2021.

The elections are over now and Himanta Biswa Sarma has become the new Chief Minister of Assam. The modalities on the other hand have not yet been prepared and the inclusion of Koch Rajbangshis in the ST list of Assam still hangs like a pendulum. After all, to be scheduled or not to be scheduled is more of an electoral question rather than a developmental and identity question of the community. And who will bother?


 ( Nirban Ray is a Ph.D. student at the  Centre For Political Studies, JNU, New Delhi. He can be reached at 

 ***Select Committee Report (1997): “The Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order (Amendment) Bill,” 1996 C.B.(II) No 426, Presented to Lok Sabha on 14 August 1997, Lok Sabha Secretariat, New Delhi, 1997, viewed on 12 January 2019,


Paromita Ghosh

The city, Siliguri has been a refuge to millions of homeless who had crossed the newly created border and settled after the Partition of Bengal. This city weaves series of settlement stories that began after the British laid jute and tea cultivation and later magnified with the partition. Partition has played an important role in making of Siliguri and by walking down the memory lane of individuals this narrative would tell several unheard Partition stories of displacement and settlement experienced both by migrant Hindus Bengalis and local Rajbanshis and their process of claiming identity.


“Pardesi howa jachii

Elaye hamra laye pardesi howa jacchi

Hath gila boro basar nakhan sokto howa jaye

Hamare agil-purusher naki aja chilo

Boudiya bairagir moton hamrae laye

Bhita -r jomi ,haal goru bechara hath patodi”

 (we are becoming foreigners in our land, our hands are becoming tough. Our ancestors happened to be rulers but we have lost everything -our land, cows becoming recluse)” (Ganguly as cited in Ghosh, 2013,pp.70)[1]

Introduction:  Partition, as underlined

Our Independence had a disguised partner called Partition and history locked the violence and trauma that partition bore in the timeframe of 1947 only, not looking beyond that time and one particular region i.e. West Partition-Punjab for long. Partition was experienced differently in different regions, Eastern Partition did not experience this bifurcation in one time just in 1947 but twice/thrice- as an ongoing process, in a varied and multifarious way struggling through time. To unravel such silences Partition is still remembered and rewritten even after 72 years to bring out the several faces of East Partition (Roy, 2012).

East Partition was silenced over West Bengal experiencing continuous partition was not identified. The refugees from East Bengal remained a ‘problem child’ for a Nation whose path to self-reliant citizenship was handicapped due to illegitimacy of claims and with every riot, there was mass migration taking place and unplanned settlement (Sengupta, 2015). Therefore, Bengal experienced the most haphazard divide making people still suffer the consequences of the divide. Individual space within the collective is often constricted and the collective claim has more moral supremacy over individual needs. While Bengal became a subject of understanding Partition in the later years by nation, hegemony still played an important role in understanding how the partition of Bengal is represented. A peculiar hyper visibility of Calcutta (Kolkata) coming to stand in for all of Bengal and landscape of writings about/on Bengal Partition has been uniquely hegemonized by Calcutta (Kolkata). These representations at every step of time have often left many crucial gaps in knowledge where living conditions beyond cities, mofussil areas like Uttarbanga-North Bengal hardly found space in history, art, culture, or literature.


Uttarbanga[2] shares a distinctive history and socio-geographical condition from the rest of Bengal. This area with long past royal heritage was once covered with thick forests,experiencing incessant rains throughout the year keeping the land mushy and accommodating very less population of inhabitants: Rajbanshis[3], Meches[4], Rabhas[5], Totos[6], etc among which Rajbanshis were the largest ethno-linguistic and most notable community owning large acres of land as well as they have a ruling legacy (Gupta,1992). However, this region, with her history, had been in the dark corners for a prolonged period until recently. The differences and problems faced by partition in Northern Bengal was different from the rest of Bengal, there was a vast migration in Northern Bengal after Partition and is continuing because of the unplanned settlement and haphazard division mapped by the Radcliffe Line[7].

The history of displacement, dispossessions brought forth here was expressed through personal experiences more as History did not iterate, thus, creating an alternate history to challenge the ideological readings shaped by violence and neglect of a non-linear past.

Moving beyond the collective hegemonic frame of remembering Partition and bringing an alternative space where individuals share their memories, photo, visual memory through their everyday living. Memory has been passed on to generations and in this intergenerational movement of memory there has been a process of ‘amnesia’ – a process of forgetting and thus for retrieval of memory, poems, lost places, history of food, music is recollected and connected (Kabir,2013). Ananya  Kabir also explains that through a holistic understanding of how individuals in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh respond to everyday existences by forgetting and remembering circumstances and narrating the Partition story, Partition’s Post-Amnesia is created, to denote the deliberate return to the exploration of places lost to the immediate generations through a combination of psychological and political imperatives. The feeling about the Partition, the events, the process of voicing the longings for places, those times, and the lives of various individuals living beyond the drawn national boundaries encircles here. Through an explanatory lens and mode of analysis, the events of Partition are understood and therefore this continuous moving to and forth between narratives, history, various scholarly writings, and personal understanding, paves the understanding of how partition memory connects individuals through objects, places, and memory is passed down to generations making partition as part of one’s every day.

The complex story of Partition of Northern Bengal is intertwined with Nation, Geography, Caste and power dynamics of :

1. Kolkata and mofussil areas,

2. Bhadroloks to lower caste,

3. State exploitation,

4. Landowners with tillers,

5. Migrated Hindus and inhabitants.

Thus, this research work looks beyond the famous narratives of violence brought about by the Partition divide, religion, and pain of losing Land, and focuses on memories of Rajbanshis and migrated Hindu Bengalis to share a different story of partition. Focusing in Siliguri the memories talk about power dynamics that did make the story of Partition against the other but also shares a story beyond these polarised or fixed separate dichotomies where, time, space makes every individual victim of time, juxtaposed around, linked closely in a circle where every individual in one way or the other has been victims to partition.

Siliguri in Northern Bengal…

Siliguri had been a refuge to millions of homeless who have crossed the newly created border and settled here after Partition. Located in the foothills of Terai, Siliguri was once a marshy less known area recording just 8% of the population then, now is regarded as the second most important city of Bengal after Kolkata.  This city weaves a Partition story with continuous migration that continued after Partition that led to the growth of Siliguri.

A very common narrative to define old Siliguri was, ‘malaria-prone, empty land’ that was covered with the thick forest. In 1920Siliguri had a very sparse population of inhabitants and Rajbanshis were economically more sustained than the other inhabitants of Northern Bengal (Gupta,1992), owning vast stretches of land. They were big jotedars with fixed jotes(land) under Raja of Baikunthapur for generations, and no outsiders were allowed to own land in Siliguri until the Land Settlement Act was passed after partition in 1950. When the British were attracted to the thick forest cover of Northern Bengal in the 1920s’and decided to lay Jute-Tea cultivation and also establish administrative offices here for better administration of Northern Bengal, several rich, upper caste-class Bengalis from south Bengal, Marwaris, and Biharis started settling here for business or work. Along with them Santhals from Central India and Nepalis from Nepal also settled to work in the tea plantation area. Siliguri started developing as an urban space setting up medical, school, administrative offices, the market for Tea, Timber Trade, and further setting of the Road and Rail to connect plains with hills it initiated a social and identity turmoil among the inhabitants. Migration, urbanization, development led to land alienation and land transformation leading to marginalization and “proletarianization” (Basu,2017) of original inhabitants who were dependent on land and agriculture, and this alienation magnified after Partition. 

The story of Partition in Siliguri did not just comprise of Bengalis-upper caste-class who came and settled during the colonial period for work, but after Partition several middle class and lower castes dependent solely on cultivation settled here- Namashudras, Malo, Mahisyas, Yadavs, etc. from Mymensingh district, Kochbihar, Dinajpur, Jalpaiguri, Pabna, Dhaka, Bengalis, non-Bengalis, even Rajbanshis settled here. The memories of Partition in Siliguri share about how settlement and displacement both were experienced by refugees/migrants Bengali Hindus- as well Rajbanshis. Both Rajbanshis and migrated Hindu Bengalis shares the indifferences as well mutual feeling towards Partition. Siliguri was never an option for the evacuees as it was in no way a place for settlement- being malaria-prone, empty village but after Partition the close proximity to people living in Pabna, Rajshahi, Dhaka, Dinajpur, Rangpur, etc in the Northern Bengal made people settled here by just walking few miles and assurance of returning home when situations calm. The loss was very mutual, the displacement shared by both was the same, however, in this mutual sufferance the struggle of identity is stark, where the loss of the Rajbanshi community was much more.

The Swindle…

Land-dependent Rajbanshis’ land loss led to impoverishment, shifts in livelihood, and occupational transformations(Basu,2017). The biggest land dispossession that started with the Colonial period, then Partition, has been continuing till today making Rajbanshis almost landless and shift further away from city, Siliguri. Rajbanshis had learned the value of land economically with settlement and introduction of jute-tea and later when migrants from Bangladesh started settling here and this allurement made many sell away lands in return for cash, thus settlement slowly decreased their right over land. Nitish Ghosh[8], shares that there used to be a Rajbanshi family staying right opposite to his house in Hakimpara but as the migrant population increased in the locality, they sold off their house and moved somewhere else. Subhash Ghosh[9] also shared a somewhat similar story of displacement, his father had bought a paddy land near Noukaghat, Siliguri, and those rice were stalked in house, a Rajbanshi would come to buy rice from him to make puff rice and flat rice, they even exchanged their rice products for rice. Eventually, this man – remembered as Muriwala(puff rice seller)became very close to the family. Subhash Ghosh remembers visiting his house with his father, however, in one such visit, the man shared the agony of selling off their land and further moving to the outskirts of Siliguri. He persuaded Subhas ji’s father to buy his land so that they could shift to another place where most Rajbanshis has eventually settled. The continuous settlement after the partition made Rajbanshis’ lose their occupancy.

Land dispossession was also largely contributed by the Government who forcibly in the name of development snatched away the lands from Rajbanshis. The Land Reformation Act 1953 was introduced to settle the issue of settlement of refugees after partition but this land revenue reformation did not prevail equality and the Rajbanshi faced a major loss of land. Hemantika Basu (2017) in her research explains how lands were acquitted leading to deprivation and alienation of inhabitants from their land. She shared several interviews of land dispossessions; a Rajbanshi family living in Hyderpara, Siliguri possessed 36 bighas of land out of which more than 1 bigha had to be donated under compulsion for the development of the school, and no compensation was made instead more lands were grabbed in the preceding period leaving not much for their subsistence. Another interview shared, a Rajbanshi who possessed a good amount of ancestral property that covered almost 200 acres was attacked by the ruling party members. The intruders mostly political broke into their house one night and burnt their land document papers, injuring family members and throwing them out of their own house, later when the family returned home, they found out their whole land was acquired and the house was sold off to some Eastern Bengalis by political party men for a hefty price. Land dispossessions continued highly, the famous Vivekanda school in Hakimpara, Siliguriland was donated by Sarat Burman, a Rajbanshi in memory of his late father. When the school was constructed, it was named after his father ‘Darpa Narayan School’ but in the later years without any prior notice to Sarat Burman, the School Committee members mainly comprising of migrated Bengalis Hindus changed the name to‘Vivekanda School’, in the same way, the Siliguri College land was donated by Rajbanshi educationist named Biren Roy Sarkar but the name of the contributor is not mentioned anywhere in the school foundation list (Nag, 2015).

Forceful grabbing of lands was further instrumentalized by Government for the development of Siliguri by validating that the land belongs to the government. Tebhaga Movement and then the Naxalite movement, these land movements were further anti to Rajbanshi as randomly acquired lands in respect to exploitations. Mass exploitation in cultivation among Rajbanshis in Siliguri did not exist but the mass spreading of the movement later made many adhiyars stand against their Rajbanshi Jotedars as well through falsified manner or tricks lands were grabbed from Rajbashis (Basu,2017). Dr. Ray[10] laments, “Jara mulbasi tader ar kichui nei, electricity hoyegeche, jomir daam bere gelo kintu local lok kichui korte palona. Jara bairer lok tara boro building gore fello, ar mulbasinda ra ekhono competition e darate parlo na, tara pichiye poreche ebong manoshik dik thekeo pichiye poreche. Eto unnoti hoyegelo, airport holo, university holo, college holo tader I jomin te kintu tader i kono kaaj dayini (inhabitants couldn’t stand in the development of their land as they still could not get the opportunity to progress and bring changes in their lives as well even when their lands were taken for development purposes, they were not provided any scope to be part of that development process)”.  

The conflict…

There is a conflict of hierarchy existing in Siliguri, the superiority of migrants and dominance recurred and it has always been in an active relationship with inhabitants. East Bengalis in every way regarded themselves as superior and there can be no scope for East Bengalis to learn anything from inhabitants. The existing pride among migrants of being superior, smart, educated always made Rajbanshis be seen and treated as lowly. The ‘sons of the soil’ were beleaguered and their struggle for a better living and livelihood still pertains, whereas the migrant population was much successful in their land.

Migrated Bengali Hindus settled in Siliguri is a minority settled in new land yet, they claim to be superior to the inhabitants- Rajbanshis who were landed. The dominance by the landless individuals towards the landed-inhabitants and ridiculing them, treating them as inferior links to their pride of being more educated, rich, smarter coming from a progressive, much arable-prosperous land. They were forced to settle down in this uninhabitable land, narratives share how they made Siliguri into a city, development, health-educational and administrative services as well introduced market, regularised economy, brought about a flow of economy as well altered the cultivation process with hard work changing the soil texture for better agricultural produce (interviews)[11]. Space- land acts as an important tool to demarcate the hierarchy and estimate superiority, and therefore this tussle of claiming oneself is very complex. Revolving in the circle of hegemony marginalised under the other who claimed to be more dominant to the other, Rajbanshi lost their way of living to migrated Bengali Hindus with the loss of Land, whereas, the migrated Bengalis lost their land, displaced from Eastern Pakistan by partition and then settled here in Siliguri, they were ridiculed by the Bhadrolok’s – the higher caste, who claimed to be the most cultured, educated Bengaliof Kolkata, by epar-opar (this side and the other side Bengalis) dichotomy.

Every migrated Bengali Hindus interviewed said that Rajbanshi were lower to them, they had nothing to learn from them, they are stupid and were meek and therefore if scolded with a strong voice as Chandra Ghosh[12] describes, the scared Rajbanshis would give away things. He shares that in the weekly market, Rajbanshis were easily exploited, and with one scolding they would easily sell away the vegetables at the lowest prices as demanded. The migrated Hindus always made fun of Rajbanshis by ridiculing and calling them as ‘bau’[13], ‘bahe[14]. The conflict of hierarchy existed is so deeply that ridicule-jokes became part of the popular culture and normalised in everyday lives and common ridicule in most households. A kind of inferiority complex emerged after Partition among the migrated community magnified the differences to ridicule Rajbanshis’, underestimating them, their way of living, their culinary skills. Chayadida[15] shares Rajbanshis food habits were different from migrated Bengali Hindus, with an expression-mixed with laughter, pride, ridicule shared that Rajbanshis used to put pumpkin in their meat recipe and the Rajbanshi workers who used to work in their agricultural field used to love the food made by her mother.


The process of ridicule, a game of inferiority made Rajbanshis alter their lives, but this won’t be true to even contradict that Migrant Bengalis settled here haven’t altered their living. There has been a whole population march in Bengal after Partition, showing the differences that occurred questioning the right to own identity. The culture of Siliguri does not represent the culture of the migrated population of Bengalis nor Rajbanshis instead of Bengali Bhadrolok’s that engulfed away the dialect, way of living of individuals. Being a prey of time, hegemony, and politics, the memory of Partition shares the nostalgia of loss of identity that is re-iterated through the memory of culture and re-lived through oral narrations passed on to generations.  Identity is perpetually mobile that is always changing. It is a continuous process and in this change/evolution, respective identities do evolve, formulate leading to a redefinition of identities. In the social turmoil of indifferences, ‘othering’ and getting trapped in the vicious circle of hegemony, alienation made people think to reclaim themselves(Das, 2015).


[1] Excerpts were taken from a poem written by Tushar Ganguly in 1977, in “Uttar-SadhinotaPorberUttarbang-e osthirota-r utso o sahitya- silpo-sanskriti-teprobhab”.In. Ghosh, Dr.Anandogopal and Saha, Kartick (eds.), “1947- Paroborti Uttarbanga-1: A Collection or regional Bengali essays”, N.L Publishers, Shibmandir, Siliguri, West Bengal, 2013 .

[2] There has never been any straight title nor legal document to support Northern Bengal as North Bengal or Uttarbanga in Bengali, but addressing the Northern regions together as so is a political stand to highlight it as distinct from the rest of the Bengal (Nag, 2015).

[3]Rajbanshis- the inhabitants were rulers, land dependent individuals, belonging to the mixed breed of Mongoloid, Dravidian and Aryan race and having mongoloid features. The last existing royal lineage survives in Jalpaiguri and Coochbehar (17 kilometer from Siliguri)

[4] Mech tribe belonged to the Bodo-Kachari group of tribes. A Mongoloid race speaking Tibeto-Burman dialect

[5] Belonging to Mongoloid group migrated to India through North-Eastern Hill passes around thousand years before the birth of Christ.

[6]Toto, the least populous tribe residing in Doars area, has its Bhutanese-Tibetan origin.

[7]Radcliffe Line ripped through the soul of North Bengal cutting sharp through Rajshahi, Rangpur, Dinajpur, Pabna, Bagura, Malda, Jalpaiguri, and Darjeeling districts.

[8]Aged 60 he was born in Siliguri, however his family migrated here after Partition. He doesn’t relate with Partition but while talking he shared about the displacements in Siliguri. This interview taken on June, 2017

[9]Born in Siliguri, his parents settled here in 1960s from Bangladesh. This interview was taken in 2017.

[10]Born in Shivmandir, Siliguri to a Rajbanshi family has grown up listening to the stories of displacement, loss faced by Rajbanshi community after partition. This interview was taken in 2016.

[11]“Siliguri Purobartan”, Siliguri Corporation, Srijani Printers: Siliguri, 1986.

[12]Aged 80 was born in Bangladesh and later after partition shifted to Siliguri with parents. This interview was taken in 2016.

[13]An affectionate address in the local society but it was referred to as a slang naming rural idiots by migrated Bengali Hindus.

[14]an affectionate address in the local society but it was referred to as a slang naming rural idiots by migrated Bengali Hindus.

[15]Born in Pabna in 1944, shifted to Jalpaiguri after partition and then after marriage settled in Siliguri. This interview was taken on 2018.

This article is a part of M.Phil. research submitted in Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Women’s Studies Centre, Savitribai Phule Pune University by Paromita Ghosh (


  • Basu Hemantika, “Urbanization, Land Alienation and Proletarianization: A Study of Rajbansis in North Bengal”. In Work, Institutions and Sustainable Livelihood, Xaxa V., Saha D., Singha R. (eds). Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore.

  • Das, Kumar Samir. “Living the ‘Absence’: The Rajbanshis of North Bengal.” TISS

Working Paper, No.5, Tata Institute of Social Science (2015),pp:1-15. doi:

  • Kabir, Ananya Jahanara. Partition’s Post-Amnesias:1947,1971 and Modern South Asia. New Delhi: Women Unlimited, 2013.
  • Gupta,Das, Ranajit. Economy, Society and Politics in Bengal: Jalpaiguri 1869-1947. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1992.
  • Roy, Haimanti. Partitioned Lives: Migrants, Refugees, Citizens in India and Pakistan,1947-65. New Delhi: Oxford University Press,2012.
  • Sengupta, Debjani. The Partition of Bengal: Fragile Borders and New Identities. Delhi:Cambridge University Press, 2016.
  • Nag, Soumendra Nath(2015), Kamtapur movement in North Bengal geo-ethno environmental and historical perspective, Thesis Submitted in the University of North Bengal for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Department of Geography and Applied Geography, University of North Bengal.

CKRSD Exclusive on S.T status to six communities

. Photo: UB Photos.

CKRSD through RTI has got important documents from Ministry of Tribal Affairs which clearly highlights that six communities of Assam, Koch-Rajbongshi, Tai Ahom, Moran, Mottock, Chutia and Tea Tribes (Adivasi) qualifies to be included in the list of STs in Assam, and given approval by Ministry of Home Affairs, Registrar General of India and National Commission for Scheduled Tribes in January 2019 itself.  Click here to download the compilation of the documents  for free.

Koch Identity and Unity: Still a long way to go

Arup Jyoti Das

When it comes to understanding Koch identity, we often tend to understand it either from a colonial perspective or from a nationalist perspective i.e. Assamese or Bengali.  Colonial historical literature, as well as anthropological literature tells us to see communities or groups of people like Koch as a part of some racial box, putting them in language groups, as well as racial groups.  Communities like Koch, if we follow colonial narratives, have to be part of the Bodo race, a term used by colonial administrative scholars and self-styled anthropologists.  This generic term (Bodo) was used to include many other tribes like Mech, Kachari, Garo, Rabha, Tiwa etc into it. In the post-colonial scenario, banking on the colonial literature, the Mech community of Assam abandoned the Mech identity for Bodo. This new identify benefited the Mech (now Bodo) in many ways. Whatever belongs to Kacharis or Koches has been claimed by the Bodo tribe as their own. This became fatal for the Koches, as Koch history and Koch historical areas have been claimed by the Bodos. Taking advantage of the inclusive Bodo term, the Bodo tribe successfully established an autonomy arrangement called BTAD exclusively for them in an area which was part of the historical Koch Kingdom.

The Bodo case is only one example. There have been some serious political and social invasions on the Koches which have put the Koch identity into crisis. The Rabha tribe of Assam has been accused of using Koch culture and traditions heavily. The Rabha community has one section called Koch Rabha, who are actually Koch, but entered the Rabha fold in Assam, most probably to avail the benefits of Scheduled Tribe (ST) as Rabhas are ST in Assam. Its an irony that when the Koch identity in Assam (as well as other parts Northeast India) is in crisis, one section of the community is trying hard to reclaim or save what the Bodos have intellectually taken from them, while another section has given up the identity just to avail some constitutional benefits. Moreover, the Meghalaya Govt. has recently taken an initiative to take away the political rights of many minority tribes which include the Koches of Meghalaya.

It is worth mentioning here that the vast literature that was produced under the patronage of Koch King Narnarayan is now a part of Assamese literature history. Literature produced under Koch King Prananarayan was almost equally claimed by both Bengalis and Assamese.  In Garo Hills, local sources report that there are many archeological evidences which prove that Koches are the sons of the soil of Garo Hills i.e., Meghalaya, but there is no initiative to unveil those truths. In West Bengal and Bangladesh, there is an everyday attempt to erase the Koch history and heritage. Such is the situation of the Koches around South Asia. The question is, who to blame for such a situation? The Koches have the tendency to blame others and their own destiny for everything. However, it is not always true. Rather than others, it is the Koch people who have done the most damage to themselves. If we look into the history a bit critically, we will find that its not foreign invasion but internal conflict of the Koch Royals which weakened the Koch State for centuries till it disappeared. Even now, Koch Civil Society organizations and student bodies are divided and hardly come together to work for the Koch Society. Moreover, they maintain close relationship with political parties of contradictory views. The conflicts among various organizations as well as individuals are not only political but also social and cultural. Social and cultural differences among the larger Koch society is more damaging in the present time, since it is also contributing to identity conflict.

The main challenge of the Koch society at present is to solve the identity conflict which prevails within itself. A large section of the community is abandoning the Koch identity by following Hindu ways of life and believing that they are the Kshtraya Varna of the Hindus is the core this indentity crisis. This section of the Koch society likes to call themselves as Rajbanshi and they have dislike for the Koch term. Though in the recent time, particularly in Assam, the gap between Koch and Rajbanshi has been bridged to a great extend, it has a long way to go in West Bengal.

The Koch community has come a long way; hence, it cannot be compared with the other present STs of India. They formed one of the powerful Janapadas (republics) of the 16 Janapadas of ancient India called Komboja or Kocha Janapada. This community has gone through many social, religious and political changes. Sankala Deep Koch of 6-7th century was a renowned warrior of his time. The community has still preserved its ancient language, astrology, weaving, art, music and much more. A group of new generation Koches have started their quest for the truth of the Koch people. The truth will indeed enlighten the community.

(In this article, the term Koch includes all the Koches who consider or like to call themselves as Rajbanshi.)

The Case of Hasha: Why Koches are son of the soil

Jajang Kama Koch

Photo: KNC

Present day Rajbanshis of Bengal and Koch-Rajbanshis of Assam are originally Koch. This claim can be affirmed through several evidences, scattered throughout the linguistic, cultural and other social practices. As such, requiring a critical evaluation and closer inspection of the documents available.

In the year 1837, Martin had published a report, in which it is written “…in the Sanskrita language of the Tantras, the Koch are called Kuvacha, and by the neighbors they are called Hasa (Martin. Eastern India. Page-538; 1837 Vol-5). This calls attention to the fact that Koch have been addressed as ‘Kuvach’ in Tantras written in Sankrita whereas the local Kacharis have addressed them as ‘Hasha/hasa’.

A similar discourse has been reiterated by another colonial ethnographer named Hodgson. Hodgson  writes, “…They are called Kuvacha in Tantra, just named Hasa by Kacharis or Bodos of Assam, Kamal by the Dhimals, and Koch by the Mech or Bodos of Mechi (Hodgson B.H., Essay First on Koch, Bodo and Dhimal. Page- 145: 1847). Hence, an analogous conclusion can be drawn, that the  Koches  are referred to as Kuvacha or Kuvach in Tantric texts, whereas the Kacharis address them as Hasa. On the other hand,  the Dhimals inhabiting the area around Mechi river call them Kamal, and the Bodos living in the same area  addresses them as Koch.

The Case of Hasha

The word Hasha (ha nifisha) in Bodo language means ‘son of soil’. This can be easily discerned from the following Bodo linguistic pattern; ‘dawnifisa’  is pronounced as  dawsha meaning baby chick, ‘daw’ meaning hen ‘fisha’ meaning child , again ‘boronifisha’  means child of Boro, which is pronounced as borosha, similarly ‘ha nifisha’ pronounced as hasha, means child/son of soil, ‘ha’ referring to land or soil.

A notable phenomenon in this respect is that the Koch, Mech and Tharu  communities have lived together concurrently for a large  period of time. In which case, the usage of the term ‘Hasa’ to refer to a Koch logically points to the fact that the Meches residing in the Mechi valley and the Bodo Kacharis of Assam are not the same. Because the Meches of Mechi river valley use the term Koch whereas the Bodo Kacharis of Assam use Hasa referring the same group of people (ethnic/linguistic group).

Such appellative variations used for Koch by Meches/Bodos of Nepal and Bodos of Assam also

 suggest that the Meches have lived/socialized with the Koches longer than the Bodo communitywho have migrated from Kachar region at a much later point in history, and have thus come to refer the natives or indigenous Koch as ‘hasha’ or son of the soil. Regarding the migration theory of the Bodo Kachari community Dr. Francis Buchanan, had mentioned that:

“… The Kacharis are from a tribe, of which few families are settled in two eastern divisions of this district, and a great many in the lower hills of Bhotan, an in Assam.Indeed, they allege that their prince was sovereign of that country, when it was invited by its present rulers, and he still retains the sovereignty of a considerable extent of hilly country south from Asam, and east from Silhet (Cachar). It is perhaps from his territory that they derive the  name usually given to them, for my informants say that the proper name of the people is Boro.

Although long separated from their prince, and scattered through dominions of more powerfulsovereign, they allege that they still retain their loyalty and every year contribute to give him to support, its family wherever settled, gives from one to five  Rupees. Which are collected by persons regularly deputed from Kachhar the number of families in this district may be about 200.”

The land in which the Bodo community of Assam had later migrated was hitherto inhabited by the native Koch community and likewise referred to as Hasa by the Bodo community. The same land or the geographical area is now claimed by them as their homeland, ‘Bodoland’. While historical evidences reveal the otherwise, that they were merely migrators, in the post-colonial period.

In a pamphlet (or book) titled ‘Why Separate State’ published by All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) referring to the history of Bodo Kachari State and its authenticity, they cited Dr. S.K. Bhuyan stating:

” According to him the kingdom Cachar or which TamrodhwajNarayan was the ruler in the reign of swargodeo Rudrasingha and Govinda Chandra at the time of British occupation is only one of the numerous states brought to existence by political generous of Kachari people. Because the name, after which the district is called at present time the superficial observer is led to suppose that the habitant of Kacharis is ‘Cachar’ and that is only in ‘Cachar’. That the Kacharis experimented in the arduous task of state building”

Oral Perspectives

 Litterateur Raghunath Choudhury confides the same thing “Bodo people call the Koch-Rajbangshis Hasa, Muslim are called Bangal, Bengali as Bengali, Kolita as Kholta, Santhal asSantthal, Bhutanese as Ganga and Nepali as Nefal. They use the word Hasa even in their wedding songs…

Dawgabochoi aaoi dawgabochoi

Jingya dawcchi aaoi jingya dawcchi.

Hasa hobawnoi horawthoi

Gangya hobawnoi horawthoi.


Don’t cry daughter don’t cry

Don’t worry daughter don’t worry

We have not married you to a Hasa (koch-Rajbanshi)

We have not married you to a Bhutanese.

(Ashar Bati Alochona, MareyaDipak Kumar Roy, First year, third edition, May 1999, Shakti Ashram, Kokrajhar page no. 7-8)

Belated Jamini Kumar Barua too has confided that the Rajbangsi are known as Hasa. He has stated “we are the old inhabitants of this region. Previously only Koch-Rajbangsi and Bodo communities were to be found in Kokrajhar. Only after the British invasion other communities started migrating here. When Koch-Rajbanshis and Bodos were present here, the latter referred to them as Hasa… Hasa means son of the soil, we are the indigenous of this region” (Housh Alochona, sixth year first edition, 2016 page- 15).According to British documents, the Assamese  Bodo Kacharis called the Koch as Hasa. Also, the Bodo refer to the present-day Koch Rajbanshis or Rajbanshis, as Hasa. Emphasizing on the fact  that the present day Rajbanshi is a new ethnonym used for the Koch.

There are several references scattered which indicate that the Rajbanshis are Koch. A detailed study can help explain and specify the truth better. The Koch residing along the banks of Mechi river have mostly adopted the Rajbangsi identity. For which Koch are very hard to be found in this region.

(Translated from the original by Noya Koch, The views of the article is of the Author. The writes is a Guwahti based Activist and Researcher)

The Future’s in the Past: The Koches and the Worship of Hira Devi

Anuj Choudhury

hira devi
Idol of Hira Devi in the form Kali..Photo: Anuj Choudhury

The Koches are generally theist of pluralist deities. They worship nature with profound devotion. Their deities are known as wai (God or Goddess) according to their Koch language. Religion and belief system of the Koches can be broadly divided into two categories- one form which encourages ‘growth’ of positive elements and the other form which reflects ‘restriction’ of negative elements from the society. In the prior we see religious practices like Hudum, Ranthok, Madam Kam, Kartika, etc which essentially celebrate fertility cult and in the latter we see worship of demigods like Desphura, Raja Thakur, Walk Rabai (Bishohori Devi in Kamatapuri/Koch Deshi), Mashan, etc which are basically worshipped for the wellbeing of community members and protection from any harm or misfortune. Hindus see the belief system of these Mongoloid tribes as continuity with their own ancient pre-Hindu worship in the form of Shaivism and Shaktism. Worship of Hira Devi basically falls under the second category of religious beliefs among the Koches.

Hira Devi is one of the most important deity amongst the plethora of deities worshipped by the Koches and can be found in every Koch household. One can also get a glimpse and seek blessing of the Koch Goddesses at the famous Charantala Temple in Meghalaya. This temple located in the interiors of the state, is one of the most visited religious sites in North East India today. The temple is located at Babedpara village in Selsella block, about 55 kms from Tura in West Garo Hills and about 30 kms from Hatsingimari, district-headquarter of South Salmara Mankachar district, Assam. According to local history, the temple dates back to 1965 when there was a major outbreak of cholera disease. According to folklore, a nearby village which had lost 17 people to the epidemic and another neighbouring village had the same kind of losses, a Goddess is said to have appeared in a dream to one woman wherein she called upon the villagers to venture the Goddess which she would wipe out the suffering. After the end of the outbreak, the women created a small temple in her honour and offered prayers. This spread far and wide leading to a huge number of devotees queuing up to offer prayers. Thus over the years the temple has become an important pilgrimage for not only the Koches but thousands of Hindu devotees around the world.

At the Charantala temple one can see a plethora of deities- Hira Devi, Hawa Devi (Walk Rabai), Chitala and Kali. Also, other than these deities a sculpture of a Koch Man and Women in their traditional attire also finds a place inside the temple premises. The most striking feature among these deities is the portrayal of Hira Devi itself. It is surprising to see how Hira Devi, wife of Hariya Mandal and mother of Koch King Biswa Singha, the founder of 16th century Koch kingdom, has been portrayed by the Koch tribals and worshipped with immense devotion. The image of Hira Devi resembles that of Khorlo Dechok in Vajrayana Buddhism and that of Kali in Hinduism, naked and consuming her own flesh.  This may be in relation to the popular mythological belief among the Koches that Lord Shiva, in guise of Hariya Mandal had one day sexual intercourse with Hira, and in due course she gave birth to Bisu (Biswa Singha), giving the king a divine origin. As, Hira Devi is considered to be wife of Shiva, this may be the reason that Hira Devi is imagined as manifestation of Kali, Shiva’s ‘other wife’. However, the reason why she is portrayed as consuming her own flesh is still unknown, but the rationale might be that, as she has the power to protect and even take away lives, the creator must have visualized that instead of taking lives of others, she should take her own life.

A three day grand ritual at the Charantala temple takes place on Tuesday, sometime in the month of April every year. It attracts over 10-15 lakh devotees from the length and breadth of the country every year. Devotees from as far as Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Nepal and Bangladesh flock to the remote Koch village of Babedpara in the month of April to worship the Goddesses. Devotees basically offer sacrifices of animals and birds to please the Goddesses, the belief being sacrificing a life to protect another (human) life. Devotees also stay in make-shift tents, staying awake at night to make their offerings. The holy site also gets festive with the fair (mela) alongside, which is another attraction in itelf.

As Meghalaya being a Christian dominated state, a temple in the interiors of the state has caught the attention of many outsiders.  Huge donations have also poured in for the expansion of the temple. Hindu assimilation in the indigenous religious affairs of the Koch tribes is not new. The professional Brahmin priest has also appeared in the scenario though he has yet to dominate the decay of indigenous deities. The Hindu architectural design of the temple that we see today is not very old, the earlier structure was dismantled and given a facelift in 2016.  The new temple has been designed by an architect from Mumbai and idols have been brought from places as far as Rajasthan.

Thus, what we get to see today, that religious practices observed by the Koches are influenced by two different trends of religious rites and social usages. While some of their observances and festivals have been influenced by the neighbouring Hindu Bengali or the Assamese, others are the reflection of their own traditional beliefs and customs. Even though contact with caste Hindu society brought many religious changes in the Koch community but its influence could not altogether transform the tribal society. In fact the adoption and adaptation of the religious practices influenced by Hinduism can be viewed as an extra addition to the Koches already existing traditional practices.