Bodoland stir regains momentum, leads to blockade of Assam national highways by protestors

The agitation for a separate Bodoland flared up again in Assam on Monday after the Centre allegedly stopped their monthly meetings with the movement groups on the issue. Bodo groups blocked national highways in the state for 10 hours on Monday in protest.

The Bodo movement has gained momentum at a time when the state is still healing from the wounds inflicted by the riots in 2012 and 2014.

Agitating against the Centre's 'negligence', thousands of Bodos, led by an exceptionally high number of women, renewed their mobilisations to demand a separate state for the tribe. To further the cause, Assam bandh (shutdown) has also been called on 11 September.

Bodoland movement. Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Pramod Boro, president of All Bodo Students Union, which has been leading the movement for four decades, told Firstpost that this is the first time women in Assam have occupied the streets in demand for a separate Bodoland.

The protesters blocked the national highways at two different junctures for around 10 hours, causing a traffic jam and delaying delivery of goods and services to various parts of Assam and other North East states.

"In Chirang district, Bodo women staged the blockade at the district headquarters Kajalgaon on NH31C, while in Udalguri district, the blockade was put up on NH15 at Orang. The distance between Kajalgaon and Udalguri is about 250 kilometres," reported The Telegraph.

Boro alleged that the Centre is delaying a solution on Bodoland. "On 26 April, a tripartite meeting was held on the issue of separate Bodoland. In that meeting, it was discussed that a meeting will be held every month to arrive at a solution. But no meetings were held later on. For some unknown reasons, the meetings were not continued," he said.

He said that Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, five Bodo movement groups and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh were present at the tripartite meeting.

The Bodo movement groups claim that BJP leaders had promised a solution to the issue during the 2014 General election, but turned their back on them after attaining power. Last year, the groups expressed their discontent and called an agitation demanding a separate Bodoland.

Gobinda Basumatary, the leader of another Bodo movement group National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Progressive), told IANS: "We have been betrayed and exploited by the BJP. When the elections came in 2014, the BJP sought our support and assured us a small state within India. We supported the BJP and they came to power. But, in the last two years, no talks on the statehood issue were held."

Bodos are the biggest plains tribe in Assam. Since 1967, various groups and political parties have been demanding a separate Bodoland. The Bodoland movement turned violent after the Assam Movement (1979-1985) as it was believed that it neglected the issue of preservation of Bodo identity.

As a research paper on the Bodo movement points out: "Clause Six of the Assam Accord would give legitimacy to the imposition of the Assamese language and culture upon the Bodo people and other tribal communities of Assam. The Bodos, along with other tribal communities, resented the campaign of assimilation as they felt that they had no chance of preserving their own cultural heritage in the atmosphere dominated by the majority Assamese culture."

After decades of violent struggles, devolution of power to the Bodos was initiated after the Bodo Liberation Tigers signed an accord of peace in 2003 with the NDA government.

"Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD) is a spatial unit run by Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), that was created in 2003 by carving out some areas of eight districts of Assam – Kokrajhar, Dhubri, Bongaigaon, Barpeta, Nalbari, Kamrup, Darrang and Sonitpur," a study on the viability of Bodo movement says.

But Boro says that the BTAD failed to meet the aspirations of the people. "The BTAD passed 25 Bills related to land and revenue of Bodoland in its area. The Assam government is expected to either review the bills and send them back for rectification if any or send it to the government for assent. But the Government of Assam did none and sat on the bills. This indifference has failed the Bodos as a people," he said.

Though Bodo movement groups have demanded resumption of talks, the movement has faced resistance in BTAD itself. The irony with BTAD is that it has a larger non-Bodo population in it. A good number of non-Bodos are involved in a counter movement against the demand for Bodoland. As per a study published by International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications, there are only 32 percent Bodos in BTAD area.

Jogeshwar Kalita, leader of Non-Bodo Suraksha Samiti, which is leading a movement against the Bodoland movement told Firstpost: "We will not accept the creation of a separate Bodoland for the sake of Bodo people who are a minority in BTAD area. In 2003, the BTAD was formed, but many of us kept silent in fear. But we will not repeat the same mistake again." He added that if the Centre has to create a Bodoland, then it has to be done on the basis of a plebiscite.

The anti-Bodoland movement is a strong political force in Assam. In 2014, the Naba Kumar Sarania won the sole parliamentary segment on this plank. The conflict between the Bodos and non-Bodos resulted in riots in 2012 and 2014, which left more than a 100 dead.

With the Bodoland movement once again on the rise, Assam could be forced to relive its bitter past.

Updated Date: Aug 30, 2017 10:02 AM

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