The past one week, one saw several protests and rallies in different university campuses in state of Assam and Delhi by Bodo (not to be confused when we call them Boro as they are one and same) students. This protest was triggered primarily by a paragraph in the book, Ancient Indian Social History by Romila Thapar. A part of the paragraph in question reads, ‘Few in India pause to count the number of militant groups, that are terrorizing areas of the sub-continent and are not concerned with matters of Islam, such as the PW, the Naxalites, the Bodo, the ULFA, a variety of groups in the north-east some of whom go back fifty years, and various mafias acting like private militants.’
To put it simply, Romila Thapar has called the entire Bodo community ‘terrorists’, ‘militants’ and ‘mafias’. I am sure she did not write this paragraph intentionally to hurt the community. Rather this came out due to her sheer ignorance towards a community which is the largest indigenous tribe in the entire north-east region of India. Either way, it is shameful. A historian attempting to write about Indian social history using examples from a particular region without the basic knowledge of one of the largest indigenous communities in that region is unpardonable. Writing about north-east and not knowing that Bodos are a community and not an outfit is like going to outer space and being foolish enough not to carry a cylinder of oxygen to breath.
Equating a community with dreaded insurgent groups in this manner is not only shaming of a community but also dangerously provocative for its people who have already been going through a lot of political turmoil not exactly of their making. One hasn’t seen a more careless utterance in printed form for a very long time indeed! Imagine if the above paragraph was to be written just replacing another community. Just for an example, ‘Few in India pause to count the number of militant groups, that are terrorizing areas of the sub-continent and are not concerned with matters of Islam, such as the PW, the Naxalites, the Rajputs, the ULFA, a variety of groups in the north-east some of whom go back fifty years, and various mafias acting like private militants.’ Or – ‘Few in India pause to count the number of militant groups, that are terrorizing areas of the sub-continent and are not concerned with matters of Islam, such as the PW, the Naxalites, the Yadavs, the ULFA, a variety of groups in the north-east some of whom go back fifty years, and various mafias acting like private militants.’
However, Romila Thapar is not the first and the last one to goof up in this manner embarrassing themselves despite their irrefutable education, experience and reputation of being well-researched scholars and writers. I feel rather sad that even well-meaning social commentators and writers such as Sanjoy Hazarika fall short in being factual in their writing. I have always had admiration and respect for the noble issues he brilliantly addresses and books he writes, but I wonder what he was thinking when, to refer to NDFB, he wrote in his latest book, Stranger No More (Page#187) ‘The Bodo use of explosives was deadly…’. Hazarika too, just like Romila Thapar, forgot very conveniently that ‘Bodo’ is not an outfit but a community. What makes Hazarika look poorer than Romila Thapar is that at least the latter is from two thousand kilometers away, not having an opportunity to know the Bodos in first hand but Hazarika has grown up among the Bodos.
In December 2014 IANS/the Assam Tribune, while reporting about an attack by NDFB, had published a news item with the title ‘‘Bodos Kill 65 in Assam’’, upon which we had sent a legal notice to them for their mischievous/careless act to defame the entire Bodo/Boro community. The publication had apologized and retracted their headline, but it did not deter other media houses from committing the same errors or designs. On 9th June 2015 we saw a program on India Today Television with the heading “Instilled fear among Bodos”. This TV program was on a successful police officer who was posted at that time as a Superintendent of Police in Tezpur, Assam. The police officer had undoubtedly displayed bravery in counter insurgency operations, especially against the NDFB. The TV program was a tribute to the officer’s bravery to which one had no issue as she had indeed done her job well. But it is pertinent to not mix up between a community and few rebels from the community to paint the entire community as a villain.
We are concerned for all communities of our country and their reputations, including the Bodo community. Last year the entire country was taken hostage by the Karni Sena when they attacked people and places violently against the film ‘Padmavat’. We saw headlines like “Karni Sena strikes school bus” or “Karni Sena threatens to chop of heads of the lead actress and director” or “Karni Sena sets vehicles on road ablaze”. They never wrote, and good that they did not write, “Rajputs strike school bus” or “Rajputs threaten to chop of heads of the lead actress and director” or “Rajputs set vehicles on road ablaze”.
On 15th August 2004, ULFA had bombed a school killing several children. The headlines ran, ‘ULFA attack on Independence Day’ etc. and not ‘Assamese attack on Independence Day’ and rightly so.
When an Australian missionary, Graham Staines, along with his two minor sons were killed on January 23, 1999 by a mob comprising members of Bajrang Dal, the media termed it as ‘Bajrang Dal – A Militant Hindu Outfit Kills Graham Staines And His Sons’. It never ran any news with headlines that read, ‘Hindus Kill Graham Staines and His Sons.’
When, for example, a terrorist organization like Lashkar-E-Taiba strikes and kills innocent lives, we do not and should not publish a report with headings which say something like – ‘Muslims Strike Innocent People’. Instead of that a heading is given that correctly mentions the militant organization’s name.
If intelligence and common sense could be utilized in above examples why can’t the same be utilized for the Bodo community? Besides defaming the said community with their callousness Romila Thapar & Co, with such maligning terms and headline have created more hatred and divisiveness between the Bodo/Boro community and other communities in Assam in particular and the world in general. Thereby, leading the society and region into more chaos and law and order problems.
Individuals and news outlets such as Romila Thapar, Sanjoy Hazarika, the Assam Tribune, INAS, and India Today TV do enjoy not just national but global impact and it is utterly shocking that they publish such defamatory writing and reports which have caused irreparable injury to the reputation of a community at the domestic as well as global level.
Now that the damage is done what could be now a corrective measure for Romila Thapar and Sanjoy Hazarika? Being optimistic, one feels that the damage can be reversed partially if in the next editions of their books the writers can ensure that suitable edits can be made to leave the Bodo community out of the sentences/ paragraphs that present this community as a outfit, let alone a dreaded outfit, to the world. Is it too much to ask from them? One wouldn’t think so. Is this corrective action possible? Absolutely.
We think, it would be also good if they seek unconditional apology from public at large and also to the Bodo community for their errors by writing in social networking sites which reaches millions everyday. This will by no means make them look bad but courageous and upright. This way they will also save generations to come to learn about a community incorrectly.
For once and for all let the message go out that Bodo is a community and by no stretch of imagination can it be said that the Bodo/Boro people or Bodo/Boro community at large have indulged in any kind of activity to equate them with a dreaded outfit or even present the community as an outfit. For it is a community and not an outfit.
By Rajni Basumatary