Volume 5, No. 10, October 2004


Kamtapuri Struggle

A Reply To Injustices

[The ‘Left’ Front government in West Bengal has a proven track record in its highhandedness to oppose and suppress any nationality movement in cahoots with the Central government. It raised ruckous and a series of falsehoods against the perpetually oppressed and marginalised Rajbanshis and their movements popularly known as the rising of the Kamtapuris. Rajbanshis, according to the 1941 census, inhabiting the North Bengal districts (as Dinajpur, Rangpur, Jalpaiguri, Coochbehar) comprised nearly 60% of the Hindu population and about 20% of the etire population. There were both Rajbanshi Hindus and Rajbanshi Muslims but they had marked absence of distinct occupational and specialised service, artisan and trading groups. The Hinduised Rajbanshis formed loosely differentiated amorphous community with very little adherence to Puranic Hindu faith, their own religious beliefs predominating. In the historic Tebhaga movement in the North Bengal districts Rajbanshis came to the forefront under the CPI banner and they spearheaded the struggle through their unparalleled militancy and dedication. It is recorded that even the Rajbanshi Kshatriya Samity in Rangpur turned into a CPI base. In the glorious battle of the Khanpur village of Balurghat on 20 January, 1947 during the Tebhaga moverment 14 people were killed, out of which 9 belonged to Rajbanshi and Muslim communities. Those Rajbanshis who always sided with the communist movement, have remained as a socially, economically and culturally expolited nationality. The current rising of the Rajbanshis in North Bengal is the militant expression of pent-up grievances of those people in the form of Kamtapuri struggle. The following article has addressed the problems, demands and movements of the exploited nationality who have been betrayed by the CPI(M) and its government in West Bengal. — Editor]



The Royal Bhutan army and the Indian army were at their toes. Operation ‘Flush Out’ led by the prince of Bhutan was like draining the water to catch the fish. The operation was started on 14th December ’03 after the repeated ‘failure’ of the persuations of the Bhutan Government. We were informed that the Bhutan parliament also appealed to the Indian ‘insurgents’ to leave their country. But it was the ‘arrogant attitude of the insurgents that resulted in the operation’. Here it should be noted that the Royal gesture was upheld by the then Indian Government in SAARC conference. The Bhutan Government’s operation was upheld as a lesson to be followed by others. The logic echoed Bush’s arguements, "whether you support us or you are in opposite camp". But who were targetted in Bhutan? Who were those dreaded extremists?

Militarily Bhutan’s position is significant to all the nationalities of North Eastern India who have been fighting the nationality struggle for the past three to four decades. Indian Government since her "independence" has trampled the nationalists’ aspirations underfoot. Various nationalities regions inhabited by distinct were annexed forcibly and dealt with under the bayonets. The government has forced the nationalities to take up arms from the very beginning. Hence the ULFA, NDFB, KLO etc. have found a place for a sigh of relief in friendly terrains of Bhutan. It is only a technical; a military stop gap measure. The real root of the movement lies in the Indian sub-corntinent itself. This may be further reinforeced by the fact that what was the number of KLO cardres who were targetted during the flush-out operation? The 10th January’03 edition of Ananda Bazar Patrika quoted the figure as 166. The daily quoted that by the 22nd December, 14 were killed in "encounter," and 71 KLO cardes surrendered or were arrested.

The preparation of the Indian army in response to the Royal Bhutan Government’s good gesture was enormous. 160 trucks of cartriges, mortars, heavy machine guns, rocket launchers and a dozen of helicopters including Chetak, Chita were deported to India- Bhutan international boundary. This prompted Sumanjit Roy, the notorious trigger happy SDPO of Alipurduar to term the actions as– "It is of course a War". The "Gallantry award winning officer" Sumanjit Roy expressed to the Anandabazar correspondent that, "KLO and ULFA have almost lost their backbone. Our job also will be almost completed if we can capture Jiban Singh...."

Jiban Singh, one of the most dedicated KLO cadres was later on Killed in an "encounter". But the movement of the KLO seemed to be far from over.

Once again the award winning officer is proved to be a fool. They cannot feel the pulse of the people. The Chief Minister of West Bengal on one occassion had admitted that Kamtapuri movement has some socio economic. But, in the same breath he reiterated the need to deal the KLO with iron hand. Police never learn from history, so do these self-proclaimed Marxists. But, what’s the root cause of the Kamtapuri movement that Buddhadeb Bhattacharya or Mr. Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, the Congress leader, find difficult to shake off?

India is a multinational country. Here there are various nationalities in different stages of development. The Indian ruling classes, to maintain the status-quo, feel insecure to recognise the democratic aspirations of the nationalities. Hence, the nationalities which rightly recognise their main stumbling block for the realisation of their aspiration have become the target of the Indian ruling classes irrespective of the nature of demands. Nowadays, on the one hand, the Indian ruling classes are in search of allies among the nationality movements that can subotage and betray the movements. On the other hand, the ruling classes opt for arms to nip the nationalists’ aspirations in the bud. The CPI(M) as a true torch-bearer of the Indian ruling classes has failed to teach treachery to the Kamtapuri leaders. Hence, the rule of jungle predominates their agenda: "kill them, shoot them, they are anti-nationals."

One cannot but be surprised to go through the demands of these ‘anti-national Kamtapuris’. The KPP or Kamtapur Peoples’ Party on 26.09.97 submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister of India ,Indrakumar Gujral, through the divisional commissioner of North Bengal, Jalpaiguri division. The 11 points charter of demands were --

1. In order to enable the Kamtapuri speaking people to govern their own lives by reason of ethnic, linguistic, historical, cutural and social distinction from the rest of the people of West Bengal a separate statehood namely ‘KAMTAPUR’ be created within the framework of India comprising the whole of North Bengal and adjoining Kamtapuri populated areas in India, in accordence with the article (3) of the Constitution of India.

2. With a view to advancing the language of the Kamtapuris it be included in the 8th schedule of the Constitution of India.

3. On the basis of the lease-year of 1971 (Indira-Mujib accord) the expulsion of illegal foreigners from Kamptapuri areas of North Bengal be implemented soon.

4. In order to curb the illegal influx of immigrants in North Bengal and adjacent Kamtapuri dominated areas, the ‘INNER & PERMIT LINE’ must immediately be imposed on the said areas.

5. With a view to restraining the intrusion of illegal foreigners in North Bengal, barbed wire be erected on the borderline of both India and Bangladesh without further delay.

6. Regarding various cultural programmes of Kamtapurians for the Kamtapuri people of North Bengal should be arranged to telecast on the television by opening Fulbari Doordarshan substation centre immediately.

7. With a view to ensuring an all round development of North Bengal, the ‘Teesta irrigation project’ should be immediately declared as a national project.

8. In order to enrich the culture of the Kamtapuri people of North Bengal as well as neighbouring areas, different types of cultural programmes of Kamtapurians be broadcast through ‘All India Radio, Siliguri at par with daily the programmes in Nepali by the All India Radio, Kurseong.

9. In respect of promoting higher education for the aboriginal people of North Bengal a central university namely Roy Saheb Thakur Panchanan Barma University be set up in the district of Coochbehar immediately.

10. Regarding exchange of enclaves, Indian enclaves in Bangladesh and Bagladeshi enclaves in India be exchanged without further delay.

11. In respect of pre and post independent history of North Bengal a ‘WHITE PAPER’ regarding economic status, culture, populaltion and ethnical identity of the origional people of North Bengal be published immediately.

Which of these demands are detrimental to our society? In actual reality, the CPI(M) is acting as a pawn at the hands of the Indian ruling classes and it feels its unchallanged position be thawrted. Most probably it feels all democratic voice should be "processed" through its sweet will. The CPI(M) campaign against the Kamtapuri movement intentionally sweeps under the carpet the root cause behind the rising of the Kamtapuris.

Who these Kamtapuris are

Kamtapuris are said to have their origin in the Khen tribes who established their Kingdom in the entire North Bengal and Assam. The geographical boundary is also claimed to stretch upto Jhapemorang of Nepal. Later, through different historical developments Kamtapuris spread throughout North Bengal and parts of Assam. The religion has not created any barrier among the Kamtapuris. Hence the caste and religious oppression is remarkably absent in the community. There are Muslims, who are converted. and known as ‘nasya muslims’. They have same traditional folklores and culture like other Rajbanshis. The aspirations of the Kamtapuris are never taken under consideration. The forced merger of Coochbehar in 1947 with the Indian subcontinent further alienated the Kamtapuris. But, here it should be mentioned that the demand for separate Kamtapur state is quite old as it was raised in 1940. The alienation and deprivation on all fronts have aggravated the crisis and the assertion of the Kamtapuri passion is being reinforced.

Social Alieanation

One school of thought put forward that Bengali nationality is heterogeneous and a product of assimilation of differrent nationalities. The assimilation is still going on. Differrent nationalities though undergoing assimilation have their uniqueness as nationalities. In pre-revolutionary China there was an example of mutual assimilation provided by the Manchu people, a nationality which originated in the Changbai Mountains in northeast China. Though they were a different nationality, they adopted Han culture of the dominant nationality. At first the Hans’ written language was adopted and then their spoken language. They have gradually forgotten their own language, both written and oral. So, there seemed to little to apparently distinguish the Manchu people from the Hans’, although in reality they were still two differrent nationalities. It was after liberation that the Manchu people were formally recognised as a nationality. The co-operation between the two nationalites, Han and Manchu went unabated.

The opposite happened in the Kamtapuri case. Kamtapuri was neglacted from the very beginning. Still, there was an undercurrent of assimilation with Bengali nationality. Waddell in 1901 held that Koches, Kacharis, Garo, Rabha, Lalung, Metch elevated their tribal status; gave up beef, underwent Sanskritisation and assumed the name Rajbanshi. Rajbanshis desparately tried to be elevated in Hindu upper caste dominated social hierarchy. But, they were repeatedly marginalised and looked down upon. Later a desperate attempt at uplift or assimilation was carried on by Rai Saheb Panchanan Barman, a lawyer by profession of Rangpur district, who sought help from relevant clues of the Vedic Shashtras and Brahmin Pandits of Kashi, Nabadwip, Mithila, Kamrup, etc. to cite different code of laws which reinforced their Kashatriya origin. It was through this process, effect was made to legitimise the elevation of their ritual status to "Kashatriyas". It is through the Kashatriya movement that the Rajbanshis challenged the lower status assigned to them. While in 1891 the Rajbanshis described themselves as Vratya Kashatriya, from 1911 they began to claim pure Kashatriya status legitimised by priests, genealogists and pandits. They followed some Hindu tradition. Still they were not accepted in the Bengali upper caste dominated socio-cultural "mainstream". Racial and social supressions are eminently present in Nagendranth Basu’s World Encyclopedia (Vishwakosh) in the early 20th century. Rajbanshis were mentioned as barbarians or Mlechha. The Rajbanshis were even denied entry into the temple of Puri Jagannath through on act in the year 1911. The caste Hindu zamindars and professionals protested strongly against the demand placed by the ‘Rangpur Vratya Kashatriya Jatir Unnati Vidhayani Sabha’ to write Vratya Kshatriya as the varna status of the Rajbanshis.

Though there were inter marraiges between Rajbanshis and Bengalees, the former are systematically cornered. They are not even recognised as nationality. The deprivation and social neglect has a long-term effect on the Kamtapuri nationality. This is further aggravated through economic alienation and underdevelopment compared to other parts of Bengal.

Economic Deprivation And Alienation

The other day the Congress MP Priya Ranjan Das Munshi was seen confronting question in one premier TV channels just on the eve of election. The question was about the underdevelopment and deprivation of North Bengal. Mr. Das Munshi, then tried to establish the fact that the ‘Left’ Front government was against any development in North Bengal. It was very natural for an MP opposing ruling ‘Left’ Front government in the state. But he in the same breath stated that previously he demanded article 370 like resolution for North Bengal, that can facilitate the development activities here in North Bengal. This was enough to establish the magnitude of unzngal there is a single university in North Bengal. In the sphere of road ways, rural electrification, water supply, hospital beds, North Bengal lags far behind those in South Bengal. Only in the small irrigation sector there is a lion’s share of 74.33% of total shallow tube wells in West Bengal. But, agriculture in general in North Bengal is very backward. The presence of semi-feudal land relation coupled with flood besides other factors has prevented the area from developing in the agricultural sector. Except North Dinajpur, to some extent other five districts are no industry districts. Though the government of West Bengal as a part of short-term measure has extended olive branch to the industrialists for setting up new industries there was not much response to it.


Despite all rhetories the underdevelopment of the North Bengal has hit the local Rajbanshis the most. The original inhabitants of this region have been over the years reduced to a minority. Gradual influx from neighbouring country Bangladesh and Southern Bengal has in real terms got the better of the Rajbanshis in economic aspects. More developed cultivation and irrigation, kow- how, better education in all aspects for others robbed the Rajbanshis of their rights over the limited meagre resources. The Rajbanshis are mostly deprived of the landed property. The Bengalies of Bangladesh and Marwaris cornered the Rajbanshis. They produce more and quality products. Hence, Rajbanshis are gradually sidelined and on occasions are forced to surrender their land. These Rajbanshis then migrate as free laborers in the adjusting districts or states.

In addition to this, imperialists-sponsored urban development dispossesed Rajbanshis of their land. For all the development projects viz construction of roads, railways, barrage, etc. Rajbanshis are the worse hit. Despite the huge Rs. 700 crore river Teesta project, Rajbanshis do not get a drop of water, or compensation money. Only tea gardens are benefitted. They have received water from the said project. In 1986 due to environmental disorders in Brazil, Tea cultivation received a boost in production. Land mafias led by even local CPI(M) leaders dispossessed Rajbanshis of their lands. In this phase, on a moderate estimete, at least forty thousand hectares of cultivable land was transformed into Tea gardens, owned mostly by multinationals & outsiders. The transfer of land rights of the Rajbanshis is not new. In 1905 in Phalakata Tehasil lands were sold. The customers were Marwaris and non Bengalee businessmen. In adjacent Mayanaguri Tehasil, 45% of the hand was transferred to outsider money lenders. The people from Gour Bengal and Assam due to their superiority in agricultural and socio cultural aspects dominated over the Rajbanshis. The sons of the soil got outnumbered by the others. This influx of outsiders is not new. In 1881 census Rajbanshi community people was 45% of total population. In 1921 the proportion went down to 30% of the total population. The situation further deteriorated during the partition of Bengal. The influx is continuing unabated powerful Bengali people strive to look down upon the local peoples’ self dignity. They called Rajbanshis ‘Bahe’. It is distortingly abreviated form of ‘Babahe’ used by the Rajbanshis to address uncle and dear ones. The attitude of the Bengali nationality to address Oriya as ‘Ure’, a Biharis as ‘khotta’, Nepalis as ‘Kancha’ got reflected in this way.

Thus, an act equivalent to ethnic cleansing, treating local Rajbanshis as second class citizen is sure to bounce back. The Kamtapuris are bouncing back. Their self assertion is further engineered by their language. The language that Kamtapuris use to communicate among them is known as Kamtapuri. Kamtapuris want the recognition of their language. This simple demand has earned wrath of the rulers. The CPI(M)’s view on the Kamtapuri language is that it is not a separate language but a local dialect. It is actually a Bengali language. English has developed from a small group’s language named Anglo Saxon. Recently the recognition of Bodo language in the eight schedule has patronized the development of translation into the said language. The same can be true in case of the Kamtapuri language. Though there is some similarity between Bengali and Kamtapuri, it is not enough reason to term the later as a mere dialect. The Assameese language in the past was said to be a sub-language of Bengali. Now, with the protest of the Assameese has self asserted and upheld its uniqueness. Flemish language of Belgium and Africans of South Africa are said to have some link/similarity with the Dutch language. But those are separate languages. Hence citing the letter of Maharaja Naranarayan of Coochbehar written in 1555, some say it is close to the Bengali language. Mere similarity can not refute Kamtapuris’ demand. One school also expresses that it is a bridge language. Whatever it be, it is not Bengali. This is something separate. This should be recognised.

In now-a-days there are a lot of literary works and efforts are on to develop them in the Kamtapuri language. Dharmanarayan Burma has published a book named Outline of Kamtapuri Language and Literature. Some dictionaries have been written. Many journals are now published. People are being organized in support of the separate identity of their language. They are demanding to establish Kamtapuri academy in the palace of Coochbehar, to have Kamtapuri programme in radio from the Siliguri centre. Which of the demands among these are anti national? The CPI(M) is working overnight to establish this language as a mere dialect. But how will it respond if asked about high drop-out rate of children from high school? Their own Pabitra Sarkar Commission Report has expressed that teaching in alien language is one of the causes of drop out. Why is this not true for the Kamtapuri children? This self-declared Marxists have forgotten that in Russia even languages of nomadic tribes having no written forms were patronised and developed as a separate ones. Why they are not taking lessons? The answer is of course simple. The attitude of such a breed of first Bengalee and only then ‘Marxist’ is a predominant cause of this betrayal. They are haunted by the ghosts of imperialism. The Marxists in real terms have compelled the Kamtapuris to take up arms. The Kamtapuri People’s Party for a long time carried on an open struggle. Dharnas and processions were the order of the day. But the state resorted to arrests and tortures. Gradually all the open scopes of movements were taken away by the government. In December 2000 at Coochbehar, police arrested 200 people from the KPP mass meeting. One Murali Roy and two women activists were arrested by the police from Darjeeling district. But they go missing till date. Operation Kamtapuri 1 was started on 27th November 2000. Police raided KPP supporters’ houses at the wee hours of night. On 3rd November 2001 Kalidas Roy of Uttarbaro Haldibari village was arrested and thrown into Mekhaliganj Jail. What type of activist was he? Once he took part in the KPP-led road blockade. He was found dead in the judicial custody on 31st January 2002. Police planned to hush up the matter. The police in the day used to meet people, talked to them and then didn’t enquire anything about the KPP or any movement. But, in the late hours of night they raided the houses of the people who normally stayed indoors. Police do not spare any Rajbanshi, be they members or supporters of any party, even the CPI(M), BJP or others. Combat forces beat mercilessly one Aloka Roy on 2.5.2002 because it is alleged that she served food to the Kamtapuris. Even two minor sons aged 10 and 12 were beaten. The family was economically poor. They were, however, BJP supporters. One CPI(M) ex-panchayat member was also arrested. In almost all the cases imposed, there is one common clause on sedition and anti state conspiracy. How ridiculous! The state government can set aside the demand of the KPP or the Kamtapuris. But is it justified to treat them as anti-natinational? The State is acting out of vengeance. On 4th May 2000, one person of the CPI(M) named Pranesh Pal was killed. No investigation was carried on about the incident. Kamtapuris were targetted indiscriminately. A spate of arrests was carried on. On 6.5.2000. Khiren Das was arrested as a KLO activist. On 8th may 2000 there was demonstration against the police arrest. On 9th May again two persons were arrested. On 10th May there was a road blockade at Changmari by the KPP and & All Kamtapuri Students’ Union from 9 am. Police came by 9.30 am. asked to lift the blockades and all of a sudden they opened fire when the road blockade was called off. Two innocent persons Shyamsundar Das and, Limbu Das were killed in the firing. Once the KPP declared to observe Republic Day as their sign of commitment to the Indian Constitution. That was also taken suspiciously by the government. Thus all avenues of open mass movements were taken away by the State and the Kamtapuris are forced to form their armed organisation. The KLO i.e. Kamtapuri Liberation organisation was formed on December 28, 1995. In July 1999 KLO and ULFA for the first time carried on joint armed operation. A tea garden owner was abducted from the Latabari tea estate. The KLO through its armed struggle has finally been able to ring alarm to the ruling class. On July 19, 2000, the Chief Minister of West Bengal Buddhadeb expressed concern over ULFA and KLO joint activity. He was very anxious about the possible cooperation between the KLO and the Maoists of Nepal and India.

The KPP or KLO may have some lacunae in their activities but it is not proper to term them anti-national and the hysteria of pan-Bengali raised by the by CPI(M) should be exposed to the all possible extent. The movement from the very biginning has been targetted by the State, imperialists and comprador bourgeoisie nexus. The movement in the critical juncture has sometime expressed some deviations. Once KPP went into some electoral adjustments with the Trimamool Congress led by Mamata Bannerjee, an opportunist leader. The leaders of the movement should realize that they should unite with revolutionary forces who show equal respect to them. The demands of the Kamtapuris cannot be fully realised in the present set up. The unity of the revolutionaries and the Kamtapuri nationality struggle can be a forerunner in upholding the Kamtapuri demand of self assertion.





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