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?

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 ( Nirban Ray is a Ph.D. student at the  Centre For Political Studies, JNU, New Delhi. He can be reached at raynirban1@gmail.com) 

 ***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, https://eparlib.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/757628/1/jcb_11_1997_scheduled_tribes.pdf.

KNOWING THE CITY, SILIGURI

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.

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“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

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.

Conclusion

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).

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[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 (paromitacg@gmail.com).


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http://hdl.handle.net/10603/174126