Rajbongshis oppose CAA, but back NRC in north Bengal

December 18, 2019 10:01 pm | Updated December 20, 2019 12:25 pm IST - Kolkata

The Rajbongshis, the largest Scheduled Caste (SC) group of West Bengal, are all set to shut down parts of north Bengal from early January in protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). The organisers of the planned stir said that two key platforms of Rajbongshis had come together to lead the agitation.

With a population of 3.5 million in 2001 that is estimated to have swelled to about five million in the State alone, Rajbongshis constitute the largest SC group in West Bengal. A few more millions are estimated to reside in western Assam and parts of east Bihar.

Despite their differences, two political outfits representing the Rajbongshis — the Kamtapur People’s Party (KPP) and the Greater Cooch Behar People’s Association (GCPA) — plan to hit the streets in at least two districts of north Bengal from early January. The joint forum of KPP and GCPA said protesters would set fire to copies of the CAA on January 2 and enforce a shutdown in two districts of north Bengal — Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri.

Explaining the rationale for the anti-CAA campaign, KPP president Atul Roy, who had earlier backed a separate democratic homeland movement, asserted that the new law posed a threat to the community.

“Bangladeshi Hindus have taken over our land in north Bengal,” said Mr. Roy. “Linguistically, culturally, anthropologically, we are never connected to the Bengalis but it is because of illegal Hindu migration that Balurghat Lok Sabha seat and about half a dozen Assembly seats are now considered general category constituencies,” he added.

Another leader of an erstwhile separate Greater Cooch Behar statehood movement, Bangshi Badan Barman, the general secretary of the GCPA, said he had joined hands with Mr. Roy to oppose the CAA. The CAA had “freshly triggered” the Kamtapur land movement, he said, referring to the historical homeland of ethnic groups in the region.

“Our demand is Cooch Behar is a ‘C’ category State and its status should be restored,” asserted Mr. Barman. “Secondly, CAA should be revoked and National Register of Citizens (NRC) should be implemented in north Bengal,” he demanded. The two groups were ready to accept March 25, 1971, as the cut-off date for the NRC, he added.

Arguing that without the NRC, the Rajbongshis would be “eventually like ethnic Tripuris”, the two leaders asserted that “Bengalis have slowly usurped land, property and prestige of ethnic Tripuris”.

“It is strange that Tripura’s chief ministers are mostly Bengalis; Tripura’s tribal population reduced as that of Bengalis increased, similar things happened to us here,” Mr. Roy contended. “If another 2.5 crore Hindu Bangladeshis enter we will disappear,” he added.

Challenging the Home Ministry’s assertion that no migrant from Bangladesh would be a citizen “automatically,” Mr. Roy said that there was “no guarantee that a new vote bank politics of settling Bangladeshi Hindus will not be started in India”.

Besides the democratic movement, a militant outfit — the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) which had worked closely with United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) — rocked the State in the mid-1990s, demanding a separate homeland. “The government needs to monitor carefully [as] these old demands are returning,” a retired State bureaucrat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, a drive for a “consensus collection” in the villages aimed at uniting the Rajbongshis and other communities had begun, the joint forum’s leaders said.

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