Bodoland Dispute: History and Current Situation

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Context: The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the Assam government and the Bodo groups signed an agreement to redraw and rename the Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD) in Assam, currently spread over four districts of Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri.

Relevance:
Prelims: Bodoland history and present status.
Mains: GS III: Linkages between Development and Spread of Extremism.

About Bodos

  • Bodos are the single largest community among the notified Scheduled Tribes in Assam
  • Bodos are a part of Bodo-Kachari and constitute about 5-6% of Assam’s population.
  • The four districts in Assam-Kokrajhar, Baksa, Udalguri and Chirang- that constitute the Bodo Territorial Area District (BTAD), are home to several ethnic groups.
  • They speak the bodo language, a mixture of a dialect of Tibetan and Burmese, recognised as one of the twenty-two scheduled languages in the constitution of India.

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Historical Background

  • The first organised demand for a Bodo state came in 1967-68.
  • The Assam Accord of 1985, gave rise to Bodo aspirations and in 1987, ABSU revived the Bodo statehood demand.
  • Bodo Security Force which arose in 1986 as an armed group renamed itself NDFB, and later split into factions.

Efforts by government resolve dispute

  • This was the third Bodo accord to be signed in the last 27 years when the violent movement for a separate Bodoland state claimed hundreds of lives, destruction of public and private properties.
  • First Accord: The first Bodo accord was signed with the All Bodo Students Union in 1993, leading to creation of a Bodoland Autonomous Council with limited political powers.
  • Second Accord: In 2003, the second Bodo accord was signed with the militant group Bodo Liberation Tigers, leading to the formation of a Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) with four districts of Assam- Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baska and Udalguri-called Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD).

Why the demand for separate Bodoland?

  • For centuries, they survived Sanskritisation without giving up their original ethnic identity.
  • However, in the 20th century, they had to tackle a series of issues such as illegal immigration, the encroachment of their lands, forced assimilation, loss of language and culture.
  • The 20th century also witnessed the emergence of Bodos as a leading tribe in Assam which pioneered the movements for safeguarding the rights of the tribal communities in the area.
  • From then on, they have been consistently deprived of the political and socio-economic rights by successive state and central governments.
  • The Bodos have not only become an ethnic minority in their own ancestral land but have also been struggling for their existence and status as an ethnic community.

Timeline

  • 1966-67–  the demand for a separate state called Bodoland was raised under the banner of the Plains Tribals Council of Assam (PTCA), a political outfit.
  • 1987–  The All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) renewed the demand. “Divide Assam fifty-fifty”, was a call given by the ABSU’s then leader, Upendra Nath Brahma.
  • 1979-85– The unrest was a fallout of the Assam Movement, whose culmination- the Assam Accord- addressed the demands of protection and safeguards for the “Assamese people”, leading the Bodos to launch a movement to protect their own identity.
  • 2012–  Bodo-Muslim riots, hundreds were killed and almost 5 lakh were displaced.
  • 2014– Separatists killed more than 30 people in Kokrajhar and Sonitpur.

Features of recent Agreement

  • With this agreement, over 1500 armed cadres will abjure violence and join the mainstream.
  • Funding: A Special Development Package Rs. 1500 crores over three years will be given by the Union Government to undertake specific projects for the development of Bodo areas.
  • Commission: It proposes to set up a commission under Section 14 of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India, which will recommend the inclusion or exclusion of tribal population residing in villages adjoining BTAD areas.
  • In this commission, besides State government, there will be representatives from ABSU and BTC.
  • It will submit its recommendation within six months from the date of notification.
  • Bodo-Kachari Welfare Council: The Government of Assam will establish a Bodo-Kachari Welfare Council as per the existing procedure.
  • Associate official language: The Assam government will also notify Bodo language as an associate official language in the state and will set up a separate directorate for Bodo medium schools.
  • Although Bodo was included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution in 2004, it is yet to receive an official language status.
  • Bodo with Devnagri script will now become Associate official language for the entire state of Assam.
  • As per the agreement, villages dominated by Bodos that were presently outside the BTAD would be included and those with non-Bodo population would be excluded.
  • Tribal status: Bodos living in the hills would be conferred a Scheduled Hill Tribe status.
  • Structural changes: The name of BTAD will be changed to Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR) and it will have more executive, administrative, legislative and financial powers.
  • However, the “memorandum of settlement” does not have any provisions for a separate state.
  • Instead, it seeks to “augment area and powers” of the existing Bodoland Territorial Council and “streamline its functioning”.
  • The existing structure of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) will be strengthened with more powers and its seats will be expanded from 40 to 60.
  • Central University: A Central university in the name of Upendranth Brahma will be established within the Bodoland area.
  • Institutions: National Sports University; Institute of Livelihood management, Regional medical institute; tribal university, rural development centre, veterinary college, music and fine art college and many more centres will be set up in the region to ensure progress.

Signatories to the Agreement

  • The Bodoland Territorial Council, All Bodo Students Union (ABSU), various factions of National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB)– Gobindo Basumatary faction, Dhirendra Bodo faction, RanjanDaymari faction and Saoraigwra faction and the United Bodo Peoples Organization (UBPO) are party to the agreement with the Centre and the Assam.

Significance of the Agreement

  • The objective of the agreement is to increase the scope and powers of the BTC and to streamline its functioning;
  • Resolve issues related to Bodo people residing outside Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD);
  • Promote and protect Bodo's social, cultural, linguistic and ethnic identities; providing legislative protection for the land rights of tribals;
  • Ensure quick development of tribal areas and rehabilitate members of NDFB factions.
  • It is expected to usher in a new dawn of peace, harmony and togetherness and that those associated with armed resistance groups would now enter the mainstream and contribute to the nation's progress.
  • The accord will lead to transformative results for Bodos as it successfully brings together leading stakeholders under one framework and would help Bodo people get access to development-oriented initiatives.
  • This agreement will facilitate the all-round development of the Bodo areas, their language and culture will be protected without compromising the territorial integrity of Assam. 

Additional Information:

Areas under 6th Schedule-

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Difference between Fifth Schedule and Sixth Schedule:

Features Fifth Schedule Sixth Schedule
Article Scheduled Areas of Article 244(1) are notified as per the Fifth Schedule Tribal Areas of Article 244(2) are notified as per the Sixth Schedule.
Territorial extent It includes all the states except Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram & Tripura This is only for the states Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram & Tripura
Governance Tribal Advisory council can be formed (Advisory body and no elected members) Autonomous districts councils and for those districts, regional councils can be formed (Governance body with elected members)
Role of President/Governor President can notify/modify a scheduled area in any part of India (not in the schedule 6 states) Governor(of schedule 6 states) can form/alter autonomous districts and autonomous regions.
PESA applicability “ Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA,1996)” is applicable (as of now to the tribal areas of nine States, namely, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa & Rajasthan) As of now, the PESA act is not applicable to Schedule 6 areas. (because of their own Autonomous councils for governance.)
Lawmaking They can’t make laws/rules, but the governor has to check the applicability of the central/state laws to the schedule areas. District or the Regional Council may after its first constitution makes rules with the approval of the Governor.

 



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