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How do you justify the demand for a separate state for Bodos?
It’s the same justification that was applied in Telangana, or before that in the creation of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand. The aspirations are the same, only the people are different.
How sure are you that your movement will convince the Centre to create a separate Bodo state?
Until and unless a solution is arrived at, our movement will continue. It is not that we started it only yesterday, it is a five-decade-old demand. It’s about our legitimate rights, and we are not asking for anything extra-constitutional. If the Indian government doesn’t talk to us, it will mean that it has double standards and discriminates among its own citizens. The government will have to tell us that if Telangana can be created, why not Bodoland?
But even within Bodo-dominated areas, non-Bodo groups feel the movement is not inclusive and are fearful of a total Bodo takeover?
Yes, Bodos are leading the movement, but have you ever heard us saying that we want a separate state only for Bodos? That others will be thrown out? I don’t think the Constitution has any provision for creating a state for a particular community alone. So where is the question of that? In our charter of demands, you will find the mention of every ethnic group who reside in that particular land mass we want to be separated from Assam. We have raised their demands as well. Non-Bodos have also supported the movement.
But even the government sees it as an ethnic and linguistic movement. Does that not hamper the chances of a proactive discussion?
Our demand is not on linguistic or ethnic lines, it is about the identity and oppression of people living in Bodoland, and it is not that only Bodos live in Bodoland. Nowadays when you think of creating a separate state, you have to consider so many things — administrative set-up, geographical advantages, issues of public participation — and all these issues need to be addressed, since the Assam government has done nothing at all. Contrary to what some people are professing, that Bodos are demanding a separate state for their own community, Bodoland signifies a region — the northern part of the north bank of the Brahmaputra that almost divides Assam into two halves. We are asking for these 32 tribal belts and blocks, which were always there.
What about the Koch- Rajbongshis’ demand for a separate Kamtapur? That too is in lower Assam and asks for areas you are demanding for Bodoland. Don’t the two movements weaken each other?
No. In fact, the existence of so many separate statehood movements shows that people of this area want separation from Assam in whatever form, be it Bodoland or Kamtapur. In the case of Kamtapur, we honour their culture, language and aspirations, but some elements are trying to create confusion among the Koch-Rajbongshis and Bodos. We are from the same stock, our history is the same. Right now, it is important that the groups show solidarity with each other.
Bodo groups had agreed to the Territorial Council structure established by the government. What then made you renew the movement for a separate state?
Bodos are one of the major tribal communities of this country and have been around since 5000 BC. Our aspiration is the preservation of our identity, culture, language and customs. How can a council, which has no powers and is dependent on the state government for funds, do that? There is no space for a Bodo identity under the Assam government. We are outnumbered in our own state. In 1951, in the proposed Bodoland area, the Bodos were a majority and now, we are a minority. The Assam government has allowed our lands to be encroached.
Will you settle for an alternative solution?
There are notions like declaring Assam a tribal state. I have heard people talking about the option of a Union Territory, but we at ABSU have realised that nothing short of a full-fledged state is going to address our aspirations.