Edit/Op-Ed

Enlightenment and Conscientization Among the Bodos

Raju Kr. Narzary

Sir Edward Gait in his book, A History of Assam narrated about the glorious past of the race that has ruled the region even before and during the period when Chinese Traveller Hiuen Tsang visited the country of Kamrup while it was ruled by Bhaskara Verman who was a King of Mongolian origin. Referring to the citizen of the then Kamrupa country the Great Chinese Traveller Hiuen Tsang said “the short stature and yellow complexion of inhabitants and their alleged affinities with the tribes of South-West China may be taken as proving their Mongolian origin” (Gait, E: 1905). Rev. Sidney Endle said “The Kachari race was the original autochthones of Assam” (Endle, S: 1911). Likewise several historians have recorded the glorious Bodo emperors in eastern region of present India.

Despite glorifying the Bodo race by saying that the ancestor have ruled the region for centuries with different nomenclature Sir Eward Gait in the same book had predicted extinction of Bodo language by saying “The Bodo dialects, though still spoken in Assam by more than half a million person are in their turn giving way to Aryan languages (Assamese and Bengali) and their complete disappearance is only a matter of time” (Gait. E: 1905).

Presumably, Sir Gait reached to such an extreme prediction based on the rapid and large scale forced conversion of tribes of this race into Hinduism, Christianity and Islam at the cost of their language, culture and tradition. “The last part of the 19th century and early part of 20th century was a period of chaos and confusion for the religious affair of the Bodos” ( Brahma, K. 1992). The caste Hindus, who have migrated from different places into the Bodo dominated areas used to consider the tribe untouchables. The then British India Government also used to refer them as ‘primitive and depressed’ class of people (Narzary, C: 2011).

At this critical moment a man of great personality of uncommon calibre appeared among the Bodos. He was Srimat Kalicharan Gurudev (Brahma. K: 1992). It would not be wrong to state that Gurudev Kalicharan Brahma laid the foundation of present day Bodo society through his wide reform initiatives in such a critical juncture. This beginning has not only proved Sir Edward Gait wrong in just few decades but also reversed the history.

The tribes who had lost confidence of retaining its own identity due to external aggression and subjugation, today has been able to demonstrate extra-ordinary courage of reviving its glorious past by making the world recognize its existence with distinct ethnic and cultural identity in its geo-political map.

Gurudev Kalicharan Brahma, apart from extensive preaching of Brahma religion among Bodos, had taken radical steps to bring about reform in the society by organizing mammoth Bodo Maha Sanmilan. Several such Sanmelans were held under his charismatic leadership involving enlightened individuals of that period. In this Sanmilans several important decisions were taken to discard the evil practices of society and marched towards enlightenment to keep par with other advanced societies. Under the leadership of Srimat Gurudev Kalicharan Brahma several schools were established, people were involved with trade and commerce through Brahma Company and participation in the political sphere also was started by submission of Memorandum to Simon Commission in 1928 for addressing grievances of Bodo-Kacharies including reservation of seats for tribes in the Legislative Council.

The extensive reform movement led by Gurudev Kalicharan Brahma marked the beginning of process of enlightenment and conscientization among Bodos. One of the contemporaries and follower of Gurudev Kalicharan Brahma had started publishing a journal in Bodo called “Bibaar “in 1919 which is now referred as ‘Bibaar Age’ in the history of Bodo literature. This was followed by ‘Alongbar’ and ‘Jentoka’ age in the history of Bodo literature named after the journals. The followers of this noble person had involved themselves deeply in revitalizing language, literature, politics, culture, history and so on.

The strong foundation for further promotion of Bodo race also had given birth to several great personas like Padmashri Modaram Brahma, Mr. Satich Chandra Basumatary, Mr. Rupnath Brahma, Freedom Fighter Jogendra Nath Basumatary, Pramod Chandra Brahma and many others who tirelessly and selflessly nurtured the seeds of reformation sown by Gurudev Kalicharan Brahma. There were many organizations and groups, working for upliftment of the community. But in the post Independence era formation of Bodo Sahitya Sabha to work towards promotion and development of Bodo Language and literature had expedited the process of conscientization which did not confine only in the sphere of language but had spread across the spectrum. The non-compromising spirit of Bodo Sahitya Sabha had forced the then Assam Government to introduce Bodo language as medium of Instruction in Primary School in 1963.

In 1967 two important organizations was born, namely All Bodo Students Union and Plains Tribal Council of Assam. Both these organizations took radical steps to empower the community that shaped the present generation of confident Bodos. While ABSU mainly took the role of ensuring and promoting the interest of the students, the PTCA played the role of a political outfit representing plains tribal of Assam. From 1967 to 1986, the PTCA had politically benefitted by raising the demands of Udayachal a Union Territory for the plains tribal of Assam on the north bank of Brahmaputra. The PTCA having won several MLA and MP seats with mass support from plains tribal, kept taking part in the formation of successive governments but the plains tribal never got benefited politically, socially and economically. The leaders of the party instead of uniting the community for common cause, indulged in dividing the community by forming their own separate political parties thereby creating chaos and confusion.  The plains tribal political representation was getting weaker and weaker due to the PTCA leaders falling prey on the invisible hands to smother the tribal communities in Assam.

In such a critical juncture, a person with indomitable spirit and wide vision, Bodofa Upendra Nath Brahma became the leader of All Bodo Students Union in 1986. This coincided with the period of intolerable large scale atrocities meted out to tribal communities across the state of Assam by the chauvinist ruling cliché. Under the leadership of Bodofa, ABSU despite being an apolitical organization had to take up the political demands for creation of Separate State of Bodoland, Providing Schedule status to the Bodo-Kacharies living in Karbi-Anglong and North Cachar Hill District and Creation of Autonomous Council for Bodo-Kacharies living in southern bank of Brahmaputra. These three demands were made replacing long standing 91 (Ninety one) charter of demands relating to socio-economic development of plains tribes.

This glorious mass movement led by Bodofa Upendra Nath Brahma, has shaped the Bodo society as what it is today. Because of his visionary leadership, the plains tribes of Assam regained the confidence of taking part in the social, economic and political processes that affects their life. Especially, the Bodos, who, few decades back was predicted to be extinct, today has a language included in the eight schedule of Indian constitution. It is a medium of instruction till University level. Though limited it has a political control over a territory under Bodoland Territorial Council with constitutional safeguard under sixth schedule. The present Bodo generation is confident of competing with the world. They are proud to retain their distinct identity. There are institutions like ABSU, BSS and others who are tirelessly involved with promoting economy, education, politics, culture, tradition, history and so on.

There is no denying that in an effort to achieve the cherished goal, the community has also faced huge collateral damage. The society today is engulfed by extremism. The hitherto serene community is gradually imbibing the culture of intolerance. The economic disparity between the rich and poor is now more glaring. The aftershocks of unfinished revolution is surfacing and re-surfacing again and again.  The region as a whole is facing absence of leadership that can unite the forces with holistic approach of positive change in order to end the vicious cycle of violence, mindless disruption of normal civil life and kick start a healthy peaceful democratic atmosphere.

Nevertheless, the plains tribal particularly the Bodos have regained the lost confidence to face the brave new world after almost a century long struggle. The community really could march towards enlightenment only through struggle. The tribal masses are conscientized to live with dignity by retaining and promoting their own ethnic identity. This journey towards enlightenment and conscientization from a possibility of complete extinction became possible only through hard struggle.

(The author is Exicutive director of NERSWN (North East Research and Social work Networking). He can be contacted at: raju.nerswn@gmail.com)

Reference:

  1. Gait, E(1905): A History of Assam, LBS Publications Gauhati.
  2. Endle, S (1911): The Kacharis, Bina Library, Guwahati.
  3. Chatterji, S.K, (1951): Kirata Jana Kriti, The Asiatic Society, Calcutta.
  4. Mondal, S.N, (2006): Boroder Itihash O Sanskriti, Mr. Mrs B. Narzary, Pune.
  5. Brahma, K, (1992: A Study of Socio-Religious Beliefs, Practices and Ceremonies of the Bodos, Punthi Pustak, Calcutta.
  6. Narzary, C (2011): Dreams for Udayachal and The History of Plains Tribal Council of Assam, NL Publications, Kokrajhar.
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