Will Pratima Ray get justice?

Nirban Ray

On August 19, 2021, Harendranath Ray, an old Koch-Rajbongshi man from Kurirpar (nearby Gauripur) of Dhubri district committed suicide as he couldn’t bear the brunt of the humiliation of her daughter suffered in the hands of Assam police in its custody at Gauripur Police station. His daughter, a Koch Rajbongshi woman of about 30 years was so brutally and barbarically tortured by Gauripur Police in their police station that she was unable to stand on her feet to walk out from the police station. Seeing this inhuman brutalization of his own daughter in a police station and realising the utter helplessness and powerlessness of his identity the old man chose to end his life.

His daughter Pratima Ray was working as a maid in the house of a district magistrate of Dhubri. When it was found that a “cup” was lost from his house, the magistrate relieved Pratima from work on suspicion of theft. He then complained to the police and since then Pratima and her father Harendranath Ray had to go through enormous everyday tortures as the Gauripur Police suspected Pratima of stealing the “cup” and often called them for questioning. For more than ten days the everyday torture of Assam police to the poor powerless family continued.

And on August 19, violating even the basic minimum dignity of a woman, Assam Police exercised its savagery on Pratima Ray with pride inside the Gauripur Police station in order to appease the Dhubri district magistrate- which although could not bring the lost “cup” back but it did succeed in the institutional murder of Pratima Ray’s father, a helpless, powerless Koch Rajbongshi old man.

This dreadful incident of barbaric brutality of Assam police to a Koch Rajbongshi woman and her father as usual was not able to get any attention from the mainland Assamese media and the Assamese civil society. But the almost unnoticed case received a little momentum when a few Koch Rajbongshi organisations and civil society groups approached Pratima Ray for support and they also initiated some protests for justice.

But, will Pratima Ray get justice? In fact, do the likes of Pratima Ray, a peripheral woman from a marginalized community ever get justice? And given the socio-economic and political situation of Koch Rajbongshis of Assam in general and of Koch Rajbongshi women in particular, it is rather imperative to ask – will the Koch Rajbongshis of Assam ever get justice? The question of justice for Pratima Ray is not therefore merely a question of juridical justice of an individual case alone. On the contrary, justice for Pratima Ray is a quagmire of lost dignity of the community she belongs and the identity she possesses.

সনাতন কোচঃ মোগলৰ বিৰুদ্ধে সশস্ত্ৰ প্ৰতিৰোধ গঢ়ি তোলা বজালীৰ বীৰ সন্তান

অৰূপজ্যোতি দাস

১৭ শতিকাৰ কামৰূপৰ বজালী অঞ্চলৰ বীৰ যোদ্ধা, সামন্ত, কৃষক নেতা তথা কামৰূপৰ স্বঘোষিত ৰজা সনাতন কোচৰ বিষয়ে ইতিহাস নিমাত নহয় যদিও, ইতিহাসবিদ সকল নিমাত বুলিয়ে কব পাৰি। চেগা-চেৰেকাকৈ অৱশ্যে সনাতন কোচৰ উল্লেখ ইতিহাসত পোৱা যায়। A History of Assam-ত Edward Gait- এ সনাতন কোচৰ কথা দুই-এঠাইত উল্লেখ কৰিছে। তেওঁ উল্লেখ কৰিছে যে কোচহাজো ৰাজ্যখন মোগলে অধীন কৰি লোৱাৰ পিচতো কামৰূপৰ কোচসকলে কোনোপধ্যেই মোগলৰ অধীনতা মানি লব বিচৰা নাছিল (But the Koches were by no means prepared to accept Mughal dominion)। কোচসকলে বিভিন্ন নেতাৰ অধীনত একত্ৰিত হৈ ব্ৰহ্মপুত্ৰৰ দুয়ো পাৰে মোগলৰ বিৰুদ্ধে এলানি আক্ৰমণ সংঘটিত কৰি সফলতা লাভ কৰিছিল। সেই সময়ত পৰিক্ষীত (কোচহাজোৰ ৰজা)ৰ ভাতৃ বলি নাৰায়ণৰ বাহিৰে আনজন শক্তিশালী নেতা আছিল  সনাতন কোচ। সনাতন কোচে সেই সময়ত মোগলৰ ৰাজস্ব বিষয়াজন বন্দী কৰিছিল (Gait,1984:67)।

সেই সময়ৰ অন্যান্য কেইবাজনো কোচ সামন্তৰ লগত সনাতনৰ কথা উল্লেখ কৰিছে বিশিষ্ট সমাজ বিজ্ঞানী ড০ অমলেন্দু গুহই তেওঁৰ ‘জমিদাৰকালীন গোৱালপাৰা জিলাৰ আৰ্থসামাজিক অৱস্থাঃ এটি ঐতিহাসিক দৃষ্টিপাত’ গ্ৰন্থত। তাত তেওঁ লিখিছে, ‘নগদ টকাত ৰায়তসকলৰ পৰা খাজনা আদায় কৰিবলৈ গৈ ১৭ শতিকাৰ প্ৰথমাৰ্ধত মোগল চৰকাৰে গোৱালপাৰা আৰু কামৰূপত ব্যাপক গণবিদ্ৰোহৰ সম্মুখীন হ’ব লগা হৈছিল। ঘাইকৈ এই বিদ্ৰোহ আছিল পৰাধীনতাৰ বিৰুদ্ধে। ‘…নব, সনাতন, ভৱচন আদি কোচ-ৰাজবংশী সামন্তসকলৰ নেতৃত্বত প্ৰজাসকলে খাজনা দিবলৈ অস্বীকাৰ কৰি সশস্ত্ৰ প্ৰতিৰোধ চলাইছিল’(গুহ,১৯৮৪:১৮)। গুহৰ বাহিৰেও অনিল ৰায় চৌধুৰীয়ে তেওঁৰ ‘নামনি অসমৰ মধ্যশ্ৰেণী’ গ্ৰন্থত সনাতন কোচৰ কথা উল্লেখ কৰিছে মূলতঃ গুহৰ তথ্যৰ আত ধৰিয়েই। আনহাতে সনাতন যে বজালী অঞ্চলৰ (এতিয়া জিলা) সেই কথাও চৌধুৰীয়ে উল্লেখ কৰিছে (চৌধুৰী,১৯৯৮:১২)।মুনিন্দ্ৰ নাথ শৰ্মাৰ ‘বজালীৰ ঐতিহাসিক পটভূমি’ শীৰ্ষক প্ৰবন্ধটোত সনাতন কোচৰ কথা আলোচনা কৰা হৈছে সেই কথা চৌধুৰীয়ে উল্লেখ কৰিছে। সনাতন যে সামন্ত আছিল তথা তেওঁ যে বজালীৰ দৈশিঙ্গৰী গাঁৱৰ এই কথা দৈশিঙ্গৰীত প্ৰচলিত আছে।

সনাতন কোচৰ বিষয়ে অকণমান আলোচনা কৰিছে ড০ ভাৰত চন্দ্ৰ কলিতাই তেওঁৰ ‘মধ্যযুগৰ অসমৰ সামৰিক ইতিহাস(১২০০-১৬৭১)’গ্ৰন্থত। সনাতনে নিজকে ৰজা বুলি ঘোষণা কৰা কথাটো এই গ্ৰন্থখনত উল্লেখ আছে। কলিতাই লিখিছে, ‘মুছলমানৰ অগ্ৰগতিক বাধা দিবৰ কাৰণে এক শক্তিশালী প্ৰতিৰোধ গঢ়ি তুলিছিল সনাতন কোচে। তেওঁ নিজকে ৰজা বুলি ঘোষণা কৰিছিল আৰু ধমধমাত এটা শক্তিশালী দূৰ্গ নিৰ্মাণ কৰিছিল। ইয়াৰ উপৰিও উত্তৰ কামৰূপৰ বিভিন্ন ঠাইত সৰু সৰু দূৰ্গ নিৰ্মাণ কৰিছিল যাতে মুছলমান সৈন্যৰ অগ্ৰগতিক বাধা দিব পাৰে। মোগল সৈন্যই প্ৰায় চাৰি মাহ সনাতনৰ বিৰুদ্ধে যুঁজ কৰাৰ পাছত ধমধমা দখল কৰিছিল (কলিতা ২০০৫: ৪৯)।


সনাতন কোচৰ বিষয়ে গুৰুত্ব সহকাৰে আলোচনা কৰা গৱেষক গৰাকী হল সংঘমিত্ৰা মিশ্ৰা। ২০১১ চনত প্ৰকাশ হোৱা মিশ্ৰাৰ ‘Becoming a Borderland’ শীৰ্ষক গৱেষণা গ্ৰন্থত তেখেতে সনাতন সম্পৰ্কে কিছু বিতংকৈ আলোচনা কৰিছে। সনাতন কোচ যে সেই সময়ৰ ইতিহাসৰ এটা গুৰুত্বপূৰ্ণ চৰিত্ৰ সেই কথা সংঘমিত্ৰা মিশ্ৰাৰ লিখনিৰ পৰা প্ৰতীয়মান হৈছে। সনাতেন ধমধমাত কেইবাহাজাৰো কোচ খেতিয়কক একত্ৰিত কৰি সশস্ত্ৰ প্ৰতিৰোধ গঢ়ি তোলা বুলি মিশ্ৰাই লিখিছে। সনাতনৰ নেতৃত্বৰ কোচসকলৰ যুদ্ধংদেহী মনোভাৱৰ বাবে মোগলে শান্তিৰ প্ৰস্তাৱ পঠাইছিল যদিও সেই প্ৰস্তাৱ ৰাইজৰ অনুকূলে নোযোৱা কাৰণে সনাতনে প্ৰত্যাখান কৰা কথাটো এই গ্ৰন্থত উল্লেখ আছে। ইয়াত উল্লেখ কৰা মতে মোগলৰ শান্তিৰ প্ৰস্তাৱ প্ৰত্যাখান কৰি সনাতনে মোগলৰ দূতক উত্তৰ দিছিল, ‘ খাজনা দিয়াৰ পিনে মনোযোগ দিবলৈ এতিয়া ৰায়তসকলৰ ক্ষমতা আৰু শক্তি দুয়োটাই নাই। আজি মহামান্যই নিজে আহিছে বুলিয়েই মই নিজকে সান্তনা দিব নোৱাৰো। দুজনকৈ আমাৰ সন্মানীয় ৰজাই (লক্ষ্মীনাৰয়ণ আৰু পৰিক্ষীত) সম্ৰাটৰ অধীনত স্বীকাৰ কৰি লাখ আৰু কোটিত ধন আদায় দিলে। তেওঁলোকৰ এই কাৰ্যৰ পৰা এনেকুৱা কি লাভ হ’ল যে মই আপোনালোকৰ শান্তিৰ প্ৰস্তাৱৰ পৰা কিবা কল্যাণ হ’ব বুলি ভাবিব পাৰো (Mishra 2011:33)।


যিটো সময়ত কোচ ৰাজ পৰিয়ালে নিজৰ মাজত যুদ্ধ-বিগ্ৰহ কৰি বিশাল কোচসাম্ৰ্যজ্যখন প্ৰায় ধুলিষ্যাৎ কৰি পেলাবলৈ লৈছিল, সেই সময়ত কোচ ৰাজপৰিয়ালৰ বাহিৰৰ সনাতন কোচৰ দৰে ব্যক্তিয়ে ভাতৃত্ববোধ, আনুগত্য, দেশ আৰু জাতি প্ৰেমৰ চৰম নিদৰ্শন দাঙি ধৰিছিল। দুয়োজন শত্ৰু কোচ ৰজা (খুৰাক লক্ষ্মীনাৰয়ণ আৰু ভতিজা পৰীক্ষিত নাৰায়ণ)ক ‘আমাৰ সন্মানীয় ৰজা’ বুলি মোগলৰ আগত উল্লেখ কৰি সনাতনে আগ্ৰাসী মোগলক স্পষ্ট বাৰ্তা দিব বিচাৰিছিল যে ৰজাৰ মাজত বিভেদ থাকিলেও সৰ্বসাধাৰণ কোচ একত্ৰিত আৰু স্বদেশৰ বাবে উচৰ্গিত। মিশ্ৰাই লিখিছে, ‘বন্দী ৰজাসকলৰ প্ৰতি হোৱা অন্যায়ৰ বিৰুদ্ধে সনাতনে কৰা মন্তব্যৰ পৰা সেই সময়ত কোচসকলৰ মাজত বিৰাজমান শক্তিশালী আত্মীয়তা(Kinship)ৰ আভাষ পোৱা যায়। সনাতনৰ জাতিৰ প্ৰতি থকা টানে সেই সময়ৰ আন আন কোচ সামন্তসকলকো আন্দোলিত কৰিছিল, যিটো দেখি সেই সময়ৰ এজন মোগল নেতাই মন্ত্বব্য কৰিছিল, ‘দুই কোচ ৰজাৰ বন্দিত্বৰ খবৰ কোচভূমিত বিয়পি পৰাৰ পিছত কোচ সামন্তসকলে কোচ সকলৰ বদনামি নোহোৱা কৰাৰ কাৰণে সশস্ত্ৰ অভ্যুত্থান সংঘটিত কৰিলে (Cited in Mishra 2011:33)।

সনাতন কোচৰ তথ্যৰ মূল উৎস হল মোগল সেনাপতি মিৰ্জা নাথানৰ বংগ, কোচবিহাৰ আৰু কোচ হাজোত (কামৰূপ) চলোৱা সামৰিক অভিযানৰ বিৱৰণী গ্ৰন্থ ‘বাহাৰীস্তান-ই- গায়াবী’। গায়াবী মিৰ্জা নাথানৰ  তখলুছ বা ছদ্মনাম। সনাতনৰ  নেতৃত্বত কোচ সকলে মোগলৰ বিৰুদ্ধে কেনে প্ৰৱল প্ৰতিৰোধ গঢ়ি তুলিছিল সেয়া ইয়াত লিপিবদ্ধ কৰা আছে। জয়-পৰাজয়ৰ কথা নাভাবি প্ৰতিকূল পৰিস্থিতিতো যুদ্ধৰ বাবে সদা-প্ৰস্তুত সাহসী কোচসকলৰ কথা ইয়াত লিখা আছে। সনাতনৰ নেতৃত্বত কোচসকলে মোগলৰ বিৰুদ্ধে কোনো চালুকীয়া-আবেগিক যুদ্ধ চলোৱা নাছিল। এই সশস্ত্ৰ যুদ্ধত সনাতনহতে সকলো ধৰণৰ ৰণ-কৌশল তথা সেই সময়ৰ যুদ্ধৰ সকলো আহিলা ব্যৱহাৰ কৰিছিল।মিৰ্জা নাথানৰ টোকাৰ পৰা গম পোৱা যায় যে সনাতনে বন্দুক আৰু কামানো ব্যৱহাৰ কৰিছিল। মিৰ্জা নাথানৰ শান্তিৰ প্ৰস্তাৱ লৈ যেতিয়া দূত সনাতনৰ দূৰ্গলৈ আহিছিল, তেতিয়া সনাতন বাহিনীৰ গুলী-বাৰুদৰ কাৰণে সেই দূত ভিতৰলৈ সোমাব পৰা নাছিল। ‘বাহাৰীস্তান-ই- গায়াবী’-ত উল্লেখ আছে, ‘সেই দূত দূৰ্গৰ ভিতৰৈল অগ্ৰসৰ হওতে দূৰ্গৰ আভ্যন্তৰত থকাসকলে প্ৰথমতে তাৰ প্ৰতি তীৰ, বন্দুকৰ গুলী আৰু কামানৰ গোলা নিক্ষেপ কৰে। কিন্তু পিচত যেতিয়া বাতৰি লৈ অনা বুলি গম পালে তেতিয়া তীৰ আৰু বন্দুকৰ গুলী নিক্ষেপ কৰা বন্ধ কৰি দূতক দূৰ্গৰ ভিতৰৈল যাব দিয়ে’ ( নাথান ২০১২ ৩৩৩)।

সনাতন কোচে কিমান দিনলৈ কামৰূপত মোগলক প্ৰতিৰোধ কৰিছিল সেয়া সঠিককৈ জনা নায়ায় যদিও সেয়া ২ ৰ পৰা চাৰি বছৰৰলৈ হব লাগে যিটো ১৬১৩ ৰ পৰা ১৬১৬ ৰ ভিতৰত হব (পৰীক্ষিত বন্দী হোৱাৰ পৰা মৃত্যু হোৱাৰ সময়খিনি)। উল্লেখ্যে যে মিৰ্জা নাথানক বৰ নগৰত (সৰভোগ)ত অবৰুদ্ধ কৰিবলৈ সনাতনৰ বাহিনী সক্ষম হৈছিল। ধমধমাত সনাতনে যি প্ৰতিৰোধ গঢ়ি তুলিছিল সেয়া মাহ মাহ ধৰি মোগলে ভেদ কৰিব পৰা নাছিল। সেই সময়ত সনাতনৰ বাহিৰেও বলি নাৰায়ণ, বেলতলা শাসক মামু(মান) গোবিন্দ (এওঁ পৰীক্ষিতৰৰ মোমায়েক), ৰাণী, লুকী আদিৰ ৰজা সকলেও মোগলৰ বিৰুদ্ধে যুদ্ধত ব্ৰতী হৈছিল যদিও সংঘবদ্ধভাৱে যুজ দিয়াৰ সময়পোৱা নাছিল, যিটে পৰবৰ্তী সময়ত সংযুক্ত বাহিনীৰ সৃষ্টি কৰি শৰাইঘাটৰ যু্দ্ধত কৰা হৈছিল। তেনে এক পৰিস্থিতিত মোগলৰ বিৰুদ্ধে আনসকলৰ দৰে সনাতনেও নিজৰ সম্বলেৰই যুঁজত অৱৰ্তীণ হৈছিল।ভাগ্য, ধনবল, জনবল, দেশৰ পৰিস্থিতি একোৱে সনাতনৰ পক্ষত নাছিল।

সনাতনক দমন কৰাৰ বাবে মোগলে অনীতিৰ আশ্ৰয় লৈছিল। বৰনগৰৰ দূৰ্গত অৱস্থান কৰি থকা সনাতনক মানসিক হেঁচা প্ৰয়োগ কৰাৰ বাবে মিৰ্জা নাথানৰ নেতৃত্বত আশ-পাশৰ গাঁওবোৰত লুণ্ঠন চলোৱা হৈছিল। নাৰী অপহণৰ ঘটনা পৰ্যন্তও হৈছিল। সনাতনক অন্তিম হেঁচা প্ৰয়োগ কৰাৰ বাবে সনাতনৰ দূৰ্গলৈ খাদ্য সৰবৰাহ কৰা দুই হাজাৰতৈকও অধিকলোকক হত্যা আৰু বন্দী কৰা হয়। দূৰ্গৰ সকলো দ্বাৰ বন্ধ কৰি দিয়া হৈছিল।তেনে এক পৰিস্থিতিত সনাতনৰ সংগীসকেল তেওঁক জুটীয়া অৰণ্যৰ দূৰ্গলৈ গৈ কিছু দিন তাত অৱস্থান কৰাৰ বাবে উপদেশ দিয়ে। সনাতনে নাথানবাহিনীৰ চকুত ধুলি দি নিশাৰ দুই প্ৰহৰত ধমধমাৰ দূ্ৰ্গ ত্যাগ কৰি জূটীয়ালৈ গুছি যায় (নাথান,২০১২ ৩৪০)।

সনাতনে জুটীয়াৰ দূৰ্গলৈ গুছি যোৱাৰ পিচতো সনাতনৰ ভয়ে মগালক বাৰুকৈয়ে চিন্চিত কৰিছিল।সনাতন যে সচাকৈয়ে আতৰি গৈছে এই বিষয়টোত মিৰ্জা নাথান বাহিনী নিশ্চিত হব বিছাৰিল। নাথানৰ তেনেকুৱা অৱস্থা দেখি মোগল কৰ্মচাৰীয়ে সাক্ষী যোগাৰ কৰি মিৰ্জা নাথানৰ আগত প্ৰস্তুত কৰিছিল। এই সাক্ষীৰ কাম আছিল সনাতন জুটীয়ালৈ যোৱা কথাটো সচা বুলি নাথানক বিশ্বাস কৰোৱোটো। পিচে সনাতনৰ কিন্তু পুণৰাই আবিৰ্ভাৱ হৈছিল।

পৰব্তী সময়ত মোগল বিষয়া মিৰ্জা ইউছুফ (নাথান নহয়) আৰু ৰজা ছত্ৰজিতেহতে য়েতিয়া বৰনগৰ দূৰ্গত অৱস্থাৱ কৰিছিল তেতিয়া সকলো সময়তে সনাতন কোচে তেওঁৰ বাহিনীক লৈ সম্মুখত ৰথ ৰাখি দূৰ্গত আক্ৰমণ চলাই মোগল বাহিনীক ব্যতিব্যস্ত কৰি তুলিছিল। পৰবৰ্তী সময়ত নতুনকৈ সৈন্য আনি চাৰিওফালৰ পৰা সনাতনৰ কোচবাহিনীক আক্ৰমণ কিৰ মোগলে পৰাভূত কৰিছিল। পিচে সনাতনক কৰায়ক্ত কৰিবৈল সক্ষম হোৱা নাছিল। সনাতন পুনৰ নহোৱা হৈছিল। সনাতন হেৰাই গল কিন্তু তেওঁৰ মৃত্যুৰ থবৰো পোৱা নগল।  

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প্ৰসংগঃ

কলিতা, ড০ ভাৰত চন্দ্ৰ. ২০০৫. মধ্যযুগৰ অসমৰ সামৰিক ইতিহাস(১২০০-১৬৭১)’, ভাৰতীয় ইতিহাস সংকলন সমিতি, গুৱাহাটী (অসমীয়া অনুবাদ-দীপক ঠাকুৰীয়া)

গুহ, ড০ অমলেন্দু. ১৯৮৪.জমিদাৰকালীন গোৱালপাৰা জিলাৰ আৰ্থসামাজিক অৱস্থাঃ এটি ঐতিহাসিক দৃষ্টিপাত’ ত্ৰিপথনাথ চোধুৰী, ধুবুৰী

ৰায়চৌধুৰী,অনিল.১৯৯৮. নামনি অসমৰ মধ্যশ্ৰেণী, বৰুৱা এজেন্সি, গুৱাহাটী

নাথান, মিৰ্জা. ২০১২. বাহাৰীস্তান-ই-গায়বী, দিব্যা প্ৰকাশ, ঢাকা (খালেকদাদ চৌধুৰী অনুদিত)

Mishra, Sanghamitrta. 2011. Becoming Borderland: Politics of Space and Identity in Colonial Northeastern India, Routledge, New Delhi

Gait, Edward. 1984. A History of Assam, LBS Publications, Guwahati

(সনাতন কোচৰ কাল্পনিক চিত্ৰখন অৰূপজ্যোতি দাসে অংকণ কৰা)

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

Untitled-1
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)

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.

(Email: anuj@srd.tiss.edu)

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