This article is written by Yash Sharma, a law student at Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, Indraprastha University, New Delhi. This article deals with a historical event that is the signing of the Bodo Accord, which is expected to resolve the issues with Bodo-Kacharis in Assam.
The Tripartite Bodo Accord or Memorandum of the settlement was signed between the Central government, the Assam State Government and a banned Assam based terrorist group the National democratic front of Bodoland (NDFB) on 27th January 2020. The Bodo Accord’s objective is to bring peace and stop the separatist demands from the Bodo-Kachari People. This accord is an extension to an already existing Accord of 2003. The Bodo accord of 2020 is an attempt to amplify the administrative, legislative and financial powers given to Bodo Territorial Region (BTR) and a council responsible for its administration. It is expected from the Accord that it will finally put a stop to almost three-decades-long armed rebellion. And no more incidents like 2012 Assam violence will occur that may again cause 4 lakh people to take shelter in relief camps from 400 villages due to riots that broke out between indigenous Bodos and Bengali speaking Muslims.
This article attempts to provide a detailed study of the Bodo problem, Bodo Accord provisions, its previous versions, Settlement of demands and disputes and possible issues that could arise from signing this accord.
Who are the Bodos
Bodos are an ethnic and linguistic community in Assam. Their origin can be traced from Brahmaputra Valley, settled in North-Eastern area of India and parts of Nepal. According to the census of 1991, the population of Bodo People was 1.2 million in only Assam accounting to 5.3% of the total population of Assam. They speak Boro language, part of Tibeto-Burmese family and their language is recognised by the state of Assam and is an official language of Assam state and is one of the 22 scheduled languages given a special status under the Constitution of India.
Boros do cultivation and profess agriculture. They are a plain area tribe and are protected under the sixth-schedule of the constitution that deals with administration and management of tribal districts of the north-eastern states namely Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram under Article 244.
The Bodo-Kachari is an umbrella term for all the tribal communities. These groups of tribes include a total of 18 ethnic sub-groups among what The Bodos are one of the largest. Among the 18 groups mentioned Boro are found in the Dooars region, Mechs are found in Assam and Nepal, the Dimasa (or Hill Kachārī), Galong (or Gallong), Hojai, Lalung, Tippera, and Moran in the eastern region. The last estimate of Bodo speaking language in India was 2.2 million in the 20th century.
Within Bodo, there is a diversity in culture. The Garo is matrilineal, but all the other tribes are patrilineal culturally. Due to the influence of Hinduism and passage of time, many of the tribes started to represent themselves as a Hindi Caste.
What is the Bodo Issue
In 1966, started an agitation for separate land under the Plains Tribal Council of Assam (PTCA), a political party in the Assam state of India. The movement took a severe turn in 1987. Post the Assam movement from 1979-1985 against the illegal migrants infiltrating the cultural indegeniousty of Assamese protected under the Constitution. The movement led by All Assam Students Union (AASU) and All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP) resulted in the Assam Accord. In 1987, The All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) restarted the demands for a separate state’s demands to protect their own cultural diversity and identity like Assam.
The demands for separate Bodoland: Reason
Bodos were able to sustain their ethnic identity in the 20th century, without giving up to Sanskritization that was imitating those of higher class for a better position in the society and maintained their original culture. With the change in the region’s demography due to illegal migrants, infiltration of their land, forced assimilation, loss of indigenous language and culture they were starting to get intolerant to all these changes for saving their own identity. In reasons to that, the region witnessed movements by Bodos as the leading tribe in the region for protection and safeguarding of their rights and identity as protected under the constitution.
The tribal community from then on has been continuously facing the oppression of their political and socio-economic rights by the governments successively from both state government and central government. Due to this everlasting suppression and being torn apart from their ancestral lands by outsiders, Bodos with other tribes started an armed rebellion to protect their existence and identity.
In the last 27 years, the whole region has experienced many developments, and they had already witnessed three accords of 1993, 2003 and now in 2020.
Bodo Accord 1993
After six years, started in 1987 Bodo movement for an autonomous state resulted in a memorandum of settlement between The government of India, the Government of Assam and Bodo leaders from ABSU and Bodo people’s action committee. The provisions of the accord were to formulate a Bodoland Autonomous Council. The Bodoland Autonomous Council’s role was to administer the area of Bodoland as an autonomous administrative unit. ABSU took back their support to Bodo Accord 1993 and reinstated their demands for a separate state for Bodos and repealment of Bodo Accord of 1993.
Bodo Accord 2003
Post-1993 accord, the extremism of the group increased, and killings of non-Bodos were evident. To put a stop on a decade long rebellion Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) Accord was signed. But, the success of the accord was dependent upon the cooperation of Non-Bodo and Bodo people and proper implementation of the provisions.
The target of the council was to achieve education, protection of land rights, linguistic safeguard, preserving socio-culture and ethnic identity of Bodos and to boost the economic and infrastructural development.
Provisions of the Bodo Accord
PM Modi stated that the Bodo Peace Accord 2020 signed between All Bodo Students Union (ABSU), National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and the Assam State Government will be remembered as an end to the era of violence and disputes and will mark the beginning of peace, prosperity and development. The Bodo Accord will try to provide political, economic and legal benefits to the Tribal Areas with certain autonomy under Article 244 of the Constitution of India without a need for him to demand a separate area.
The main objective of the Accord was to bring an end to the decades-long conflict, and for that, a truce was instated. Focusing on the point that this rebellion claimed over 4,000 lives, this settlement will bring an end to that. The Accord brought all the factions together, which is a milestone in their story’s political development.
With the commencement of Bodo Accord of 2020 region under the jurisdiction of Bodo Territorial Council (BTC) earlier known as Bodo Territorial Autonomous District (BTAD) will be called Bodo Territorial Region (BTR). Earlier BTAD comprised Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri districts amounting to 11% of the total area of Assam. Memorandum of Settlement (Bodo Accord) 2020 reorganised the state boundary as per delimitation commission to be formed for this and also consists of provisions for Bodos outside Bodo Territorial Autonomous District. The commission which will be appointed by the state for changes in boundaries of this region will work to analyse and suggest if villages neighbouring Bodo Territorial Autonomous District and having majority Tribal Population could be included in the Bodo Territorial Region. To safeguard the ethnic identity of the Tribal people, the choice was given to the majority non-tribal population to stay out of the Bodo Territorial Region. The result expected is that Bodo Territorial Region will have an increased population Tribal Community; this was done to avoid inter-community conflicts. In Addition to that, the government will create a Bodo-Kachari Council for the development of Bodo villages outside the BTAD region.
There were many provisions in the Accord of 2020 that tried to enhance the provisions in the earlier accord of 2003. It provides for more executive, legislative and financial powers to Bodo Territorial Council. Amendment in the sixth schedule was discussed to increase the administrative authorities and financial powers given to the Bodo Territorial Council. The State Government of Assam will make Bodo Language an official State associate language in ‘devnagri’ script.
Assessment of previous cases
Among the signatories present in the signing meeting of the Memorandum of Settlement there was Ranjan Daimary whose faction is called NDFB(RD). The National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) was an extreme armed group fighting for separation and was declared a terrorist group by the Government of India. Ranjan Daimary, along with nine others, was sentenced the death penalty for their involvement in Assam Serial blasts, resulting in the death of 90 people in October 2008. The settlement says that in the case of heinous crimes, the case would not be quashed. As per the settlement, all the cases related to some heinous crimes will be reviewed case by case as per the already existing policies on the subject matter.
The case of Khagrabari in Baksa District in 2014 when Bodo extremists and others reportedly killed nearly 40 Bengali Muslims by raining fire on them was taken as an example of the heinous crime. The government’s stance on these cases is that cases of ‘Heinous Crime’ will be reviewed. Justice could not be laid down in the name of peace.
After three days of signing the memorandum of settlement, around 1600 cadres of Bodo militant group NDFB surrendered their arms and ammunition to the Assam Government. The Prime Minister of India welcomed the move by giving a message that peace finds its way when the use of violence is ended, and faith in democracy is restored.
Possible future problems
Firstly, there is a possibility that with the accord will with Bodos not bring peace. There will be socio-political contestation among all the tribes not only in the BTR area but also in adjoining tribal areas where scheduled hill tribes are in good numbers.
Secondly, there is security to Bodo-populated areas under the sixth schedule. Communities living with the Bodo-Kacharis in the Bodoland or BTR will be affected when the Bodos will be given greater autonomy to self-administer the area. This situation has created insecurity among groups such as Koch Rajbongshi, Adivasis and Muslims living besides Bodos in Bodoland Territorial Area Districts of Kokrajjhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri. Due to this, the Local Kokrajhar MP, a non-Bodo, appealed to the Government that this solution to a Bodo problem does not pose a threat to a non-Bodo problem.
Thirdly, the Bodoland People’s Front has dominated the Bodo Territorial Council ever since 2003. There are new candidates up for grabbing power in the upcoming council elections, and the front is not really pleased with it.
Lastly, the Bodo tribes living outside the BTAD in the hills will be given a scheduled hill tribal status. In the past Karbis tribe was given the same treatment, and it did not go well, and there was an uprising.
Probability of Ripple Effect
There is a faction, Karbi Longri N.C. Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF) a militant group active in Karbi Anglong district and Dima Hasao district fighting for the cause of Karbis, that is self-rule or self-determination. The group is likely to push on the same lines after taking the note of the Bodo Accord.
Ints work of latest revision since 2015, the Naga Accord can spur a demand for more autonomy and administrative powers in the Naga-dominated districts of Manipur, even the dominant Meiteis of the valley are pushing for their demands for inclusion in the Schedule tribe category.
The Bodo Accord is expected to create a prolonged peaceful environment in the valley. Bodo Accord promises greater power in terms of administration, legislation and finance of the Bodo Territorial Region. It is a good move as it solves most of the problems and attempts to provide a model form of a separate autonomous region within the Indian union. But the Accord has some loopholes that could be exploited to incite violence in the area again. The Accord provides a mechanism to create a governance system. Still, peace will be crucial until an all-inclusive governance model is finally created under the provisions of the Constitution under the sixth Schedule.
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