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.

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

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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.

 Translated-

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)

BOOK REVIEW: Koch Rajbanshir Kamatapur: Xopon, Dithok ne Matho Itihas

BOOK COVERKoch Rajbanshir Kamatapur: Xopon, Dithok ne Matho Itihas  by Arup Jyoti Das, Guwahati, Assam, Blue Sparrow Books, 2015, 176 pp, ISBN: 9781630417505,  INR 395/-

Marami Bhakat: Northeast India is much known to the world for its various movements for social justice triggered by ethnic identity. These movements have often demanded recognition of historical region and homelands. Kamatapur Movement is one such movement, which seeks recognition of a historical region called Kamatapur in the form of a state (federal unit) in modern India comprising areas of North Bengal and Assam. This movement is mostly spearheaded by Koch Rajbanshi people of Assam and West Bengal.  In this book author Das has taken up this social issue of the Koch Rajbanshis, which has been mostly ignored by the current academic discourse. Das is very much aware of trans-border nature of the movement, its historical complexities and current political narratives.

The book is largely divided into three sections. Thefirst section deals particularly with Kamatapur Movement with its historical background. This section has eight chapter devoted various issues like historical background, social mobility of the Rajbanshis and many more. The 2nd section is collection of articles on recent political challenges of Kamatapur area and political crossing of various ethno politics of confronting groups.  The 3rd section of the book contains another set of articles which are related to Koch Rajbanshi, but not directly to the Kamatapur Movement.

The Introductory chapter of the book gives us an outline of the whole Kamatapur Movement and has successfully discussed the various stages and layers of the movement. The chapter has discussed the rise of the armed struggle of Kamatapur Liberation Organization and role of various civil society organizations and students bodies which are involved in this movement for self- determination of the Koch Rajbanshis. The writer argues in this chapter that the aspiration of the Koch Rajbanshi for a homeland is much old and it has its roots in the annexation of Cooch Behar State with West Bengal as a district.

The 2nd chapter is about the Koch Rajbanshi people, their origin and migration theories. Here, Das has tried to look into the complexities of Koch Rajbanshi identity, its ethnic affiliation and the issues of transformation of the tribe to caste society. Das argues that Koch Rajbanshi people has the right to claim themselves as Kamatapuri, since they have been the main component of both ruler and ruled in the area for seven hundred years. Das has interpreted colonial texts, various legends and other local sources while framing his observation on the identity formation of the Koch Rajbanshi people. In his observation, Das says that Koch Rajbanshi is a “social category” rather than a hard bound ethnic identity.

The 3rd chapter analyses the historical background of the Kamatapur region, which comprises present Northern part of West Bengal and lower Assam.  The chapter starts with the history of Kamatapur of the middle of the 13th century and ends with emergence of colonial Cooch Behar in 1771.  This chapter is mostly confined with the history of present North Bengal and has not discussed the history of the Koch Rajbanshi of present Assam. In this chapter, Das has given a vivid description of Kamatapur kingdom from the pre-Koch period, emergence of Koch dynasty in Kamatapur and transition of Kamatapur into Cooch Behar Princely state.

The fourth chapter deals with the history of the Kamatapur of western side. Kamatapur was divided between the Koch royal families in the end of the 16th century as Koch Kamata and Koch-Hajo. The Koch Hajo region became part of modern Assam after independence of India. This chapter provides a valuable account of the history of Western Assam and lower Assam which was under the Koches till independence. Though brief, the author has given strong account of small Koch kingdoms and estates like Bijni, Gauripur, Darrang and Beltola. The discussion on the Beltola kingdom might be 1st of its kind for which Das should be given credit. This chapter gives the reader a clue why Kamatapur is demanded in Assam besides West Bengal.

The next chapter deals with the complexities and politics of merger of Cooch Behar Princely State into the Indian domain and then its annexation with West Bengal as a mere modern Indian district. The lost of the identity of the Kamatapur (Cooch Behar) region in Independent India has been argued as one of the root causes of demand for Kamatapur in present time. The author has mainly interpreted correspondence between Sardar Vallabbhai Patel and B.C. Roy to look into the politics of annexation of Cooch Behar with West Bengal. This chapter could have been deeper in investigating the issue.

The 6th chapter discusses the upward mobility movement of the Rajbanshis in the early 20th century which laid the foundation for a social justice movement in the later period. The chapter discusses how local Rajbanshis were alienated by migrant upper caste gentry who came from East Bengal and how power structure and land holding changes due to the same. This is an important chapter in terms of understanding the social causes which has resulted the present movement.

In the subsequent chapter, Das has discussed the language of the Koch Rajbanshis which is known as Kamatapuri, Rajbanshi or Goalparia. Das has avoided linguistic complexities while discussing language of the Koch Rajbanshis and mainly focused on the politics of recognition of the language. The next, chapter which is the last chapter of the 1st section, is the concluding chapter.

This book is a must read for those who wants to understand Koch Rajbanshi peoples’ aspiration for social justice. Das being a member of the Koch Rajbanshi community has found it difficult sometimes to disassociate himself from the sentiment of the Kamatapur Movement (as well as with the Koch Rajbanshi), particularly in the last section of the book, where he has written on various topics related to Koch Rajbanshis. Except this exception, Das has successfully played the role of both insider and outsider as a writer.

(Marami Bhakat is a Ph D Scholar at Dept. Political Science , Gauhati University)

Indigenous allies of the British Raj: The Rajbanshis of North-Bengal

Anuj Choudhury

The history of India has so far remained the exclusive domain of the elites, composed mainly of the Upper Caste. Had the Subalterns penned down their own experience, today the face of India’s history would have be a different one, as the poem expressed above.

What makes poet like Nabadwip Chandra Roy Barma praise the British? If a half-thinking Indian reads this poem, he might get furious on the Rajbanshis. However poem like this is an act of opposition on the ‘great civilization’ that India, over the years has falsely boosted itself to be. In fact, many depressed classes like the Rajbanshis in North-Bengal saw the British Raj as liberators, mainly from the treachery and hegemony of the Upper Caste Hindus.Full Story