The term Bodo has been used by the older generation of scholars to denote the earliest Indo-Mongoloid migrants to eastern India who subsequently spread over different regions of Bengal, Assam and Tripura. But recent developments make it imperative to redefine the term Bodo and its wider denotation deserves to be abandoned in recognition of the emerging socio-political vocabulary; the Bodo means the plain tribes of western and northern Assam known earlier as the Bodo-Kacharis. In this monograph also the term Bodo is used in this new sense, meaning the Bodo-Kacharis of the Brahmaputra Valley. Only that aspect of Bodo history has been considered in this study which can be traced on the basis of evidences, direct or indirect, and at the same time which is capable of throwing some light on the complex process of formation of the Assamese nationality vis-a-vis the evolution of Bodo society. This monograph is an attempt to trace different phases of history through which the Bodos emerged as the most dominant ethnic minority of Assam.
Dr. Sujit Choudhury (b. 1937) was the Head, Department of History, Rabindrasadan Girls College, Karimganj. He served as Teacher Fellow in the Department of Folklore Research, Gauhati University from 1977 to 1980. He was a Fellow at the IIAS from 1994 to 1996 and Visiting Fellow at Assam University, Silchar from 1998 to 2001 during which he was assigned the task of compiling a biographical dictionary of the freedom fighters of southern Assam. He worked on a U.G.C. sponsored major research project entitled The Mizo Quest in Retrospect (/890- 1966) from 2002-04.
Choudhury has eight books to his credit besides several research papers. Delhi University awarded him the prestigious Narsingdas Bengali Award-2000 for his book Prachin Bharotey Matripradhanya. He was awarded Rajmohan Nath Centenary Prize by Barak Upatyaka Bango Sahitya O Sanskriti Sammelan in recognition of his lifelong researches in regional history. He also received Sahitya Akademi Translation Award 2004 for translating Assamiya Calpa Sankalan (Published by NBT).
The term 'Bodo' is being used in more than one sense in academic discourses as well as in political deliberations and it is imperative to spell out at the very outset the precise meaning in which the term has been used in this study.
The older generation of scholars used the term 'Bodo' to denote the earliest Indo-Mongoloid migrants to eastern India who subsequently spread over different regions of Bengal, Assam and Tripura. Grierson identifies the Bodos as a section of the Assam- Burma group of the Tibet-Burrnan speakers belonging to the Si no-Tibetan speech family. S.K. Chatterjee subscribes to the same view. According to him these people migrated to eastern India in the second millennium B.C. and a large portion of them was absorbed within societies of plains-man at quite an early state.' Isolation caused fragmentation of the original stock and ultimately the branches assumed independent tribal identities like the Tipra, the Bodo- Kachari, the Rabha, the Dimsasa, the Chutiya etc. Rev. Sydney Endle, in his monograph, The Kacharis, used 'the Kachari' in the same wider sense incorporating all these branches.
In present day socio-political terminology 'the Bodo' means the plain tribes of the Brahmaputra Valley known earlier as 'the Bodo- Kachari'. The media at the regional and national level; officials at the Centre and the state political parties of all hues and the people in general have accepted what may be termed as the contraction of the original denotation. In the light of this situation, in this study also the term 'Bodo' has been used in the new sense, meaning the Bodo-Kacharis of the Brahmaputra Valley.
Rev. Endle identifies trans-Himalayan region between Tibet and China as the original home of the Bodes." S.K. Chatterjee is more specific when he suggests that 'the north-western China between the head-waters of the Huang Ho and Yang- Tsze Kiang rivers was the early home of the Proto- Bodos who migrated to eastern India in waves between the second millennium B.C. to the first millennium A.D. There are also other theories which we need not go into since the determination of the original home of the Bodos does not have any direct bearing on our study." However, for our purpose, it is necessary to remember that scholars like Edward Gait," J.D. Anderson 10 and K.L. Barua" hold the Bodos as the autochthons of the Brahmaputra Valley. At present, they are concentrated mainly in the districts of Kamrupa, Goalpara, Darrang and Nagaon of the Brahmaputra Valley. According to the Census of 1971 the Bodo population of Assam was 6,10,450 in 1971, Amalendu Guha, on the basis of the Census of 1881 thinks that in the late nineteenth century the Bodos formed one third of the indigenous population of the Brahmaputra Valley. The Bodos of today speak a language of Tibeto-Burman origin, have an indigenous religion called 'Bathau' religion and lead a distinct way of life.
During the early decades following independence a general feeling was current in the Brahmaputra Valley that the Bodos were gradually coming closer to the mainstream of the Assamese society and the possibility of their assimilation with the Assamese nationality was projected as an inevitable historical destiny." The Census of 1961 depicts 93.63 per cent Bodos as Hindus and this gave the illusion that the Bodos had already become a part of the local Hindu milieu. Also, the Census of 1951 and 1961 show an unusual decline in the growth rate of the Bodos. This was ascribed to willingness of the Bodos to register themselves as Assamese speakers. It was also argued that the adaptation of language was nothing but the natural corollary to the process of social absorption that had preceded the linguistic assimilation.
The developments of the last three decades have proved beyond all doubt that these speculations were wishful thinking. As early as 1967 the Plain Tribals' Council of Assam in its memorandum submitted to the President of India made it clear that the Bodos were neither eager to involve themselves in the process of Hinduisation nor in the process of Assamisation. The memorandum inter alia, says: Language spoken by the Bodo group of plain tribals belongs to the Tibeto-Burman group and widely differs from the Assamese language which is one of the modern Indo-Aryan languages. Though few of them speak partly Assamese, most of them speak their mother tongue and the village folk. particularly the women folk. do not at all understand the Assamese language."
The Bodo group of the plain tribals of Assam practices different religions: some of them are Hindus, some Christians while some others profess tribal religion. The caste system and untouchability are foreign to them.
This memorandum marks the beginning of the demand for autonomy of the Bodos, though the quantum of autonomy to be enjoyed was kept undefined in 1967. In 1985, United Tribal Nationals' Liberation Front made a specific demand for creation of a union territory for the Bodos. In 1987, All Bodo Students' Union (ABSU) entered the scene with the same demand but its assertion has been more vigorous and at times violent. ABSU, in its memorandum submitted to the Centre on November 10, 1987, expresses its bitter feelings in the following words:
The Assamese people are following the policy of expansionism and imperialism to capture and dominate all corners of Assam including the tribal areas. In fact, they have a plot to conquer all tribal areas and dominate them everywhere under their feet. That is why they are deeprooting Assamese colonialism in tribal areas. The Assamese people do not want to agree or recognize the existence and pre- dominance of tribal people in their majority areas too. The process of engulfment and silent aggression over the tribals by the Assamese people is still continuing.
The Assamese people have no political toleration. They cannot tolerate the existence of tribal communities and other democratic organizations who oppose the policies Assamisation and Assimilation.
The Assamese people. the Assam government and the administration consider the Bodos as the number one enemy for demanding a separate state.
From these lengthy extracts the reader may have a glimpse of the Bodo mind as it has been moulded since the sixties of the last century. Whether these allegations are based on genuine grounds or not is a different question but the fact remains that these are the manifestations of the Bodo's perception of the present day situation. It is clear that the process which the Assamese intellectuals once visualized as the formation of a composite and greater Assamese nationality has been halted with no sign of redemption.
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