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India’s Tribal Communities- The Bodo Tribe of Assam

The Boro is the largest ethnolinguistic group in the Assam state of India. They are a part of the greater Bodo-Kachari family of ethnolinguistic groups and are spread across northeastern India. They are concentrated mainly in the Bodoland autonomous region of Assam, though Boros inhabit all other districts of Assam.

• Boros speak Boro language, a Boro-Garo language of the Tibeto-Burman family, which is recognized as one of twenty-two scheduled languages in the Indian Constitution. and over two-third of the people are bilingual, speaking Assamese as a second language.

• The Boro along with other cognate groups of Bodo-Kachari peoples are prehistoric settlers who are believed to have migrated at least 3000 years ago.

• The Bodo-Kachari were also some of the first people to rear silkworms and produce silk material and were considered to be advanced in rice cultivation in Assam during this time period.

• The Boro people are recognized as a plains tribe in the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, and have special powers in the Bodo Territorial Region, an autonomous division.

• Bodo Tribal Community of Assam is considered as the earliest immigrants of Assam. & plays a very important role in the culture and tradition of the state.

• Bodo Tribe is known to be the earliest immigrants in Assam. This ethnic community is mainly concentrated in Brahmaputra valleys.

• It is the largest minority group of the state. It is believed that this tribe arrived in Assam from Tibet through Bhutan passes.

• As the primitive settlers of Assam valley, the bodo community is considered to be the most traditionally and culturally rich community of the state.

• For writing they used Roman script and Assamese script. Now they have taken up the Nagari script for their writing.

• Their rich culture incorporates elements like dancing, singing etc. which reflects the fact that they have many religious practices and beliefs, among which Bathouism has special importance.

• This community is very fond of conventional drinks called Zu mai. When people visit their house they used to offer this drink as a kind of respect.

• Their main food consists of non-vegetarian dishes like pork and fish. Oma Bedor, Onla and Narzi are their main cuisines.

• Fairs and festivals of Bodo tribe “Baishagu is the main festival of Bodo community. It is celebrated during the month of April every year.

 

POPULATION: 1.4 million

LANGUAGE: Bodo (majority), Assamese

RELIGION: Ba-Thou, Hinduism, Christianity

LOCATION: Bodoland autonomous region of Assam, though Boros inhabit all other districts of Assam

HISTORY : 

• The true ethnic Tribal Community of northwestern parts of Assam are Bodo Tribe & the Kachari is the sub branch of the Bodo.

• The Bodo Tribe resides in the Brahmaputra valley.

• Bodo Tribes are known to be the earliest settlers in Assam.

• They are the first to cultivate rice and rear silkworms.They are superstitious by nature and believe in rebirth.

• The word ‘Bodo’ has been derived from the word ‘Bod’ meaning Tibet. They are the largest ethnic and linguistic group of tribes. Bodos are peace-loving people.

• In Earlier times Bodos were cut off due to the geographical area and weather conditions from other parts of the Country.

• This was the main reason which led to the lack of education and economy among them. Due to this, the arousal of the Bodoland Movement was initiated.

• The movement started in late 80’s under the leadership of Upendra Nath Brahma who is now called as the Father of Bodos.

• A Bodoland Territorial Council is formed to save & protect the culture, language and identity of Bodos.

• It was managed and headed by All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) and an armed militant group called the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT).

• The land given to the Bodos was called Bodoland. Most of the Bodos arrived from Bhutan Passes.

• The 6th Schedule of the Constitution of India has conferred Bodo Tribal Community the status and prestige of the Plain Tribe.

• Kokrajhar town is regarded as the hub of Bodo tribal Community.

CULTURE

• Culture of the whole society of the Bodo Tribe includes dancing, singing etc.

• One can find the surnames of Bodo Tribe as Bargayary, Bodosa, Boro, Owary, Wary, Ishwary, Goyary & Daimary.

• They use the beautiful language of Bodo and some people in the primitive age used Roman and Assamese Script.

• Bodos have quite exquisite dresses which are exhilarating the beauty and glamours of women.

• Dokna is the dress worn by Bodo women which they themselves knit on their own hands. Shawls form a major fashion among Bodos and thus loom is the most important thing used in the courtyard of the Bodo House. Bodos in the ancient times used to pray to their forefathers.

• Today Bodo Tribal Community has changed significantly and has accepted Hinduism as their main religion.

• They practice a Culture known as Bathouism. The plant called Siju is worshipped as a symbol of Bathou Symbol.

• To worship, a clean ground near the home or the courtyard of the home is chosen. One pair of Betelnut called Goi betel leaf called pathwi is offered.

• The offering even included rice, milk and sugar. For the Kherai Puja an titlear is placed in the rice field.

• The Bodos do not practice dowry and caste system as per their rules of Brahma Dharma.

• The famous folk dances of Bodo Tribe such as Bardaichikhla and Bagurumba are extremely colorful.

• The Bodo Tribal community follows a common system of marriage in all villages.

• Elders in the village fix the bride. Bride money is paid and they do not marry from other communities. Sunday is the best day for a Bodo Wedding.

• They have a taboo against marrying within the same clan.

• The groom is asked to stay with his father-in-law’s family. The customs of Bodos have a ritualistic naming ceremony, when a cock is offered to the Gods for the welfare of the baby.

IMPORTANT CLANS 

1. Swarg-Aroi; In Sanskrit, Swarga means heaven. The clan is heaven folk. The clan never

worked as cultivators. They were also known as Deoris and Ojhas.

2. Basumati-Aroi; In Sanskrit, Basumati means earth. The clan is earth folk. The clan had

certain privileges over land not possessed by others. Basumatary, the largest sub-tribe of Boro also means Sons of the Soil

3. Ramsa-Aroi; The clan is Ramsa folk. Ramsa is a village in Betna Mouza, Undivided

Kamrup. Ramsa is a hill in Kharguli, Kamrup. Ram-sa (Ram’s people) is the name by which Kacharis living in the plains were known to their brethren in the hills.

4. Mahalia-Aroi; Mahalia Kacharis came to be known as Mahilari.

5. Hajo-Aroi; Many Boros worshiped Raja Hajo. Hajoari is related to Hajo. Hajo means Hill.

FOOD 

• Bodo have favoritism and taste buds for some of the mouth watering dishes.

• They are very much fond of conventional drinks called Zu Mai, Zu means wine and Mai means rice.

• Rice is the main staple food but are savored with a non-vegetarian dish like fish or pork.

• They now usually prefer non-vegetarian dishes. The main dishes are Oma Bedor, Onla and Narzi.

OMA BEDOR 

Most Bodo people like Oma (Pork) bedor (meat). Boros prepare pork meat with different flavors and styles. It could be fried, roasted, and stewed. The first type is pan fried. The second flavor is made by roasting (or smoking) the meat in the sun for several days. The and meat – it tastes very rich in fat.

NAPHAM 

Napham is an unique dish that distinguishes Bodo cuisines from that of the other races. It is made by grinding smoked fish, specific leafy vegetables, ground powder, and the mixture is allowed to age in a sealed bamboo cylinder. Thereafter, aged napham could be fried or used as is, – it tastes like pate made out of Chinese dried fish.

ONLA 

Onla is a gravy made from rice powder and slices of bamboo shoots cooked lightly with oil and spices. Chicken or pork can be added to onla.

JU MAI 

Rice wine is produced by the bodos mainly during the festivals like Bwisagu and Domasi. Jumai could be of two types, (A) gishi (wet) and (B) gwran(dry). (A) Gishi is brewed by fermentation of rice, when a piece of plum is added to the gishi mixture during fermentation, the product tastes like plum wine! (B) Gwran is produced by distillation of the gishi, – it tastes like Japanese sake. The Bodos examine the strength of the wine by throwing a cup of beer in the fire. A flash of fire indicates the strength of the wine.

OCCUPATION 

• Along with whole Indian communities even Bodo Communities have undergone changes and taken up several occupations.

• In early days Bodo tribes practiced farming and cultivation. Rice farming, tea plantation, pig & poultry farming, Silkworm Rearing is a major occupation of any Bodo Tribe.

• They have also developed in the years the art of craftsmanship by creating several products from bamboo.

• Weaving is also the popular occupation among Bodos. In very early age girls of Bodo Tribe learn the art of weaving.

ECONOMIC LIFE:

• In the sphere of economic life agriculture still has a dominant position, yet in the contemporary times occupation like service, trade and commerce, contracts etc are adopted; but in small numbers.

• Agriculture is the main occupation of any rural society. It is also the mainstay of the economic life of the Bodos. Though a large section of the Bodos were engaged in shifting cultivation (largely slash and burn variety in the plains and to some extent terrace cultivation on the fringe areas of Bhutan and the Garo hills till many years back, now the Bodos are fully settled cultivators.

• Before making a settlement, they select a plot which is suitable for the cultivation of paddy.

• They primarily look for a plot with a vast grazing field, availability of rivers, ponds or lakes, jungles and forests for hunting animals and for collecting firewood without scarcity.

• For the cultivation of paddy the Bodos select a land which can sustain water for a long time. The Bodos are efficient in constructing irrigation canals, embankments and minimum traditional technology for daily use.

• They generally cultivate such mustard seeds , tobacco, jute, vegetables like potato, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber, gourd, green leaves, spices, chilly. onion, ginger etc.

• They produce partly for domestic consumption and partly for selling in the markets. They grow areca nuts and trees in their compound.

• Castor plants are cultivated for producing Endi cocoon, which is a part of home industries in spinning and weaving especially for women folk.

• For cultivation of paddy, there are three kinds of cultivation of the land in the society.

• They are Self Cultivation, Adhi system, Sukhani system. The first kind is the tradition of the Bodos, but the second and the third type might have been borrowed from others in the past.

i) Self system- The owner cultivates his land with the help of his family or male labour (Dahona) and female labour (Puwati) for a season by giving them a certain amount of paddy or wages.

ii) Adhi system- In this system the land owner gives away his land to a cultivator for cultivation for a temporary phase and the total product of the land is distributed equally between his owner and the cultivator.

iii) Sukhani system- here the land owner fixes a contract with the cultivator , and the cultivator has to give a fixed quantity of product for each bigha of land he cultivated.

DRESS AND ORNAMENTS 

• The set of all items worn on the human body functions as signs.

• The distribution of types of clothing in relation to different climatic zones and the variation in clothes worn with changes in weather conditions show their practical, protective function.

• Furthermore, types of clothing vary with types of social occasions, which indicate that the wearing of clothes is also subject to socio-cultural norms.

• The mode of dress of Bodo people is unique and full of colors, with style and attractiveness.

• The traditional attire was always handwoven which is also a testimony of Bodo women’s talent in weaving.

• The male person, both young and old put on Gamosa woven at home , which hangs down to the knees from the loins.

• In the present times they have started using Gamosas which are mainly stripped and are in different colours.

• They earlier used to wear vests made of Cotton or Endi which is rare nowadays. Besides, they put Aronai (a small wrapper) around their neck.

• They have started using Jacquard looms to increase production, efficiency and quality of the Bodo textiles. In Kokrajhar wearing of traditional dress is compulsory in schools and colleges too.

MARRIAGE SYSTEM OF THE BODOS 

• Marriage creates new social relationships and reciprocal rights between the two new people, between each and the kin of the other, and establishes the status of the offspring when they are born.

• The social ceremony which gives sanction to this is the marriage ceremony of the Bodos. The Bodo word for marriage is ‘Haba ‘.

• The Bodos have a very high regard and dignified concept of chastity and they live by it.

• Traditionally the Bodos have as many as six types of marriages. ‘Lwngan Wi lanai haba’ or arranged marriage is the most common socially accepted marriage custom of the Bodos.

• The bride is selected by the parents of the bridegroom and then the marriage is settled after negotiation.

• Till today this form of marriage is solemnly celebrated. However the bride price is no longer compulsory.

ARTS AND CRAFTS: 

• The arts and crafts are part of the traditional culture which is originally transmitted generation to generation among us.

• Cane and bamboo are the two most commonly used materials in daily life in Bodo society.

• Traditional Bodo society made products ranging from household implements to construction of dwelling houses to weaving accessories to musical instruments and to construction of houses and fencing etc. are made in bamboo.

• Specially, whole range of household and fishing implements are also made of bamboo and cane, like- Plough (Nangal), Yoke (Jungal), Horrow (Mwi) etc. Bodo women are traditionally expert in weaving.

• Looming and weaving materials, like- weaving post (Khuntha), post bar (Salbari ), Warp roller (Gandwi), Reed (Rasw ), shuttle (Makhu), pedal (Gorkha), Bobbins(Musura), Spinning wheel (Jenthar), spindle (Jenthar) Gonsa-gonsi etc. generally these weaving materials are made of bamboo and wood.

• The bamboo, cane and wood are also used in construction of traditional houses, cowshed, piggery house, poultry house etc. among the Bodos.

FESTIVALS

• Baishagu is the most cherished, springtime festival celebrated by Bodo Tribe at the advent of the New Year.

• Famous for its myriad colours and merriment, Baishagu is celebrated during mid April.

• The other festivals which Bodo Tribe celebrates are Hapsa Hatarani, Awnkham, Gwrlwi, Janai, Bwisagu and Domashi.

• Among all the Kherai Festival includes singing, dancing and drumming celebrated with much rejoice.

What is the Bodo issue? 

• The first organised demand for a Bodo state came in 1967-68.

• In 1985, when the Assam Movement culminated in the Assam Accord, many Bodos saw it as essentially focusing on the interests of the Assamese-speaking community.

• In 1987, the All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) revived the Bodo statehood demand.

• It subsequently renamed itself National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), and later split into factions.

What are the previous accords? 

• The 1987 ABSU-led movement culminated in a 1993 Bodo Accord, which paved the way for a Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC).

• But ABSU withdrew its agreement and renewed its demand for a separate state.

• The 2003 Bodo Accord was signed by the extremist group Bodo Liberation Tiger Force (BLTF), the Centre and the state.

• This led to the formation of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) which is an autonomous body under the Constitution.

What has been settled now?

• Primarily, this Accord ends a truce with four factions of the NDFB after decades of armed movement that claimed over 4,000 lives.

• The agreement says that negotiations were held with Bodo organisations for a comprehensive and final solution to their demands while keeping intact the territorial integrity of the State of Assam.

• A minister said the demand for statehood came to end with the Accord.

• However, an ABSU leader said that there is no mention anywhere in the settlement that the ABSU will give up the statehood demand.

What was agreed on territory? 

• The area under the jurisdiction of BTC was called the Bodo Territorial Autonomous District (BTAD).

• In the 2020 Accord, the BTAD was renamed to BTR (Bodoland Territorial Region).

• BTAD comprises Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri districts, accounting for 11% of Assam’s area.

• The new Accord provides for alteration of area of BTAD and provisions for Bodos outside BTAD.

• A commission appointed by the state government will examine and recommend if villages contiguous to BTAD and with a majority tribal population can be included into the BTR.

• Those villages, now in BTAD and with a majority non-tribal population can opt out of the BTR.

• This will lead to an increase in the Bodo population in BTR and decrease in non-tribal population, leading to mitigation of inter-community clashes.

• The government will set up a Bodo-Kachari Welfare Council for focused development of Bodo villages outside BTAD.

What are the other provisions? 

• Several of the provisions agreed upon in the 2020 agreement were an extension of what was already in effect.

1. It provides for more legislative, executive, administrative and financial powers to

BTC.

2. The amendments to the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution to improve the

financial resources and administrative powers of BTC.

• This agreement says the Government of Assam will notify Bodo language in Devanagari script as the associate official language in the state.

What will happen to the cases filed during the armed movement? 

• The Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) says criminal cases for non-heinous crimes shall be withdrawn.

• It also says those cases in connection with heinous crimes shall be reviewed case by case according to the existing policy on the subject.

• The MoS states New Delhi and Dispur will take all necessary steps to rehabilitate the cadres, funding economic activities, vocational trading and recruitment in appropriate government jobs.

New Accord 

▪ According to the new accord, BTAD will be renamed as Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR). 

▪ The agreement promises more legislative, executive and administrative autonomy under the Sixth Schedule to Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) and expansion of the BTC territory in lieu of statehood.

▪ It provides for alteration of the area of BTAD and provisions for Bodos outside BTAD.

  • For this, a commission appointed by the state government will examine and recommend if villages contiguous to BTAD and with a majority tribal population can be included into the BTR while those now in BTAD and with a majority non-tribal population can opt-out of the BTR.
  • Subsequent to this alteration, the total number of Assembly seats will go up to 60, from the existing 40.

▪ The Government of Assam will notify Bodo language in Devanagari script as the associate official language in the state.

▪ The memorandum of the settlement says that the criminal cases registered against members of the NDFB factions for “non-heinous” crimes shall be withdrawn by the Assam government and in cases of heinous crimes it will be reviewed.

▪ A Special Development Package of Rs. 1500 Crore would be given by the Centre to undertake specific projects for the development of Bodo areas.

▪ The Assam government will set up a Bodo-Kachari Autonomous Council, which will be a satellite council for the focussed development of Bodo villages outside the BTR on the lines of the existing six councils for plains tribes.

Associated Issues 

▪ The new Bodo Accord has led to the intensification of the movement for Kamatapur State by organisations of the Koch-Rajbongshi community.

  • The territory of the demanded Kamatapur State overlaps with the present BTAD.

▪ Ripple Effect: The augmented area and powers of the BTC, under the new accord, may trigger fresh aspirations in the nine autonomous councils in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram to graduate to the new model.

▪ Ethnic Fault-line: Clamour for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status by the Koch-Rajbongshi, Adivasis and several other non-ST communities has also grown.

  • Likely expansion of the ST list in Assam has the potential to keep the Bodos out of power in the BTC and may push Bodo organisations to revive their homeland demand. As the reservation of seats of BTC is for the STs and not exclusively for the Bodos.
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