In pursuit of dreams

Villagers at a rally in Chirang.

Bodoland first emerged on the nation’s radar when Bodofa Upendra Nath Brahma steered the All Bodo Students’ Union on the path of political activism and galvanised the community into a mass force.
The Bodo movement became “a must” to assert our linguistic, literary and cultural aspirations because in a drastically changed demography and political situation of the region after Independence, the Bodo community was pushed to the brink of becoming a non-entity.
It took a six-year-long students’ movement to get the Bodoland Autonomous Council in 1993, but it failed to deliver prompting the second movement in 1996.

The second was more vigorous and with a difference — the democratic agitation by the students’ union was accompanied by the rise of armed conflict by the Bodo Liberation Tigers.
The fresh effort to settle the Bodo issue culminated in the signing of the Bodo Accord on February 10, 2003 between the Centre, the state government and the BLT. The Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) was formed and Bodo language was enlisted in the Eighth Schedule along with the promise of a Rs 500-crore special development package.
“Bodoland”, comprising Chirang, Baksa, Udalguri and Kokrajhar districts, was finally on the path of a long-awaited democratic system of self-governance that would understand and address the problems of its 30-lakh people living in 87,595 square km area.
The last few years have witnessed considerable development of infrastructure — be it roads, education, health or agriculture. Kokrajhar, which was a creepy and scary town during the movement, has transformed into a bustling one.
Today, Bodoland is proud to have several institutes of higher education, including a university. A medical college at Besargaon, on the outskirts of Kokrajhar, and an agriculture college will soon be coming up at Udalguri.
However, what it needs at present is the expertise of resource persons, technical and non-technical, to run these institutions. Hospital and dispensaries are without doctors, schools are running without teachers and the dropout rate has not come down as much as it should.
Much remains to be done yet. Bodos, known for their weaving, could have developed the handloom and sericulture sector into a strong women-oriented cottage industry, generating rural employment.
But indigenous weaving is facing a crisis today because of strong competition from products from Bengal and Varanasi of not only dokhona and chador but aronai as well.
Land, our biggest resource, has been occupied by illegal migrants and encroachers but our land reforms policy is yet to be amended.
Our forests and other rich traditional resources are diminishing rapidly. Water resources are not being tapped properly. Even the headquarters town of Kokrajhar has not been able to get water supply after six years of local government.
We have Manas and Orang national parks and Chakrasila wildlife sanctuary with a vast scope for tourism. But this has not been able to create enough employment. Bodo language is in the Eighth Schedule but students don’t even get Bodo-medium books on time.
When three of our MLAs got important portfolios in the ministry, we had hoped to build the BTC into a strong administrative set-up.
But there isn’t much to show for even after five years. Maybe we can hope for all these reforms in the second phase of our development as I still have faith in our local governance. After all six years is not a very long time for the fledgling BTC to achieve the target of “Model BTC” as envisioned by its chief Hagrama Mohilary.
Indeed, it is still a long way to go. To quote from Raju K. Narzary’s My People: My Homeland: “In a way the glorious struggle for self determination remained unachieved. The fight for uprooting oppressor from the society has lost its momentum. The dream to make the Bodo community a master race still remains a dream.”
The writer is a social activist and columnist