Bodos: A tale of perseverance and faith

Two years ago, when an ethno-linguistic group from the far east of India, known as Bodos, went in thousands on a hunger strike, demanding a land of their own, it was the voice for their language, traditions, politics and most importantly their identity that has been raised. The vigour in the cries for Bodoland roots down to a past where these brave people of the mountains withstood the overwhelming “ Sanskritisation “ that ensued in partial truths in ethnic identities. Bodos are bold enough to stand up for themselves and brave enough to bare it all in that struggle, through the ages.

Abode of Bodos

The Bodos live mainly in regions of Assam. Udalguri, Chirang, Baksa, Sonitpur, Goalpara, Dhemaji, Lakhimpur, Kokrajhar of Assam are the major areas where Bodos occupy predominantly. They are also found in parts of West Bengal and Nepal where they are called Mech. They are recognised as plains tribe in the sixth schedule of the constitution. 

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Bodoland People's Front Flag

Language and culture

The term Bodo is derived from root words of related indigenous languages which roughly means ‘human'. The Bodo group is mainly characterised by the Bodo language which is one of the Tibeto Burman languages and is listed among the twenty-two scheduled languages in the Indian constitution. The popularly followed written form is Devanagari script, but there are scholars who believe that Roman script, as well as a special script called Dheodhai, was also used.
The Bodo community has an impressive foresight in the matters concerning cultural preservation and embracing ethnicity. Despite being minorities, they voiced their position in shaping future India by demanding reserved seats in elections to the Simon Commission. They also understood how culture is manifested in language and did all things under their power to promote Bodo language and it's rich literature, from setting up Bodo Sahitya Sabha to promoting Bodo studies in universities. 

Their rich cultural heritage is evident in the food they eat to their practices and values to the faith they follow. A staple of steamed rice cakes with jaggery fillings, steamed rice, fish and spinach, and lentils and fermented fish using traditional tools like fish are some of the ethnic delicacies of Bodos.
The major faith among the Bodo people is called Bathouism which implies five principles, namely air, fire, water, earth, and ether. Bathouism is deeply rooted in ancestor worship practices and holds that the primordial lord, Aham Guru existed formlessly in a void until he got tired and descended in flesh and blood and created this universe.

A ritualistic tradition involving the shijou plant surrounded by eighteen pairs bamboo sticks to form a representative figure of a dove heart is a central tenet in Bathouism and its ancestral worship traditions called Obonglaoree.


Traditionally Bodos were the first groups to introduce rice cultivation in the northeast. They also engage in tea plantation, pig and poultry farming. Weaving is also an integral part of the Bodo community with most families engaged in sericulture.

Bodos today

The Bodos being a minority has still managed to stand up for their heritage, identity and for themselves in the past. During the 1980s, their efforts under the leadership of Upendranath Brahma culminated in the formation of an autonomous administrative body called Bodoland Territorial Council which is recognised by the Indian government and has within its jurisdiction areas around the district Kokrajhar. In the past, BTC formed coalitions with larger parties like INC and came to power in Dispur as was the case in the 2006 Assembly elections of Assam.

Educational and employment opportunities are the biggest contemporary concerns of Bodo people. However, some major steps like the establishment of postgraduate courses in Bodo language at the University of Guwahati in 1996. Apart from this, illegal immigration to the tribal belts is another major threat to the Bodo community. 

During the recent national register of citizenship update, the Bodos expressed their disappointment in not printing NRC forms in Bodo language despite being recognised by the constitution as a scheduled language. Despite all of these efforts Bodoland still seems to be a dream that lies miles and miles away. Efforts were rekindled once Telangana was formed. But a separate state or territory for the Bodos is still a dream hoping to be a reality. Nevertheless, the fortitude of Bodos is commendable and in an age of bicultural, hybrid and self-selected identities, Bodos are not only self-accepting but they have also mastered the art of celebrating their uniqueness, which is why they could raise their voices in times of necessity.

- Ananda Krishnan

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