The Scheduled Castes and Schedule Tribes Amendment Act, 1976 specifies 14 tribes in the two Autonomous Hill Districts viz. Karbi-Anglong and the North Cachar Hills and nine in the plains districts of Assam as Scheduled tribes.
Numerically, the Bodo-Kacharies are the largest group among the plains tribes.
Besides the above mentioned tribes, the Nepalis, the ex-tea garden labourers, the Muslims - both Assamese and Bengali, the Hindu Bengalis, the Hindu Assamese, the Buddhists have been living in this region since the coming of the British. Therefore, this region may be called the cauldron or the melting pot of different races having different languages and customs.
Long before the arrival of the British, the population of this region was scanty but after the British took over the charge of this district, the tea-tribes and the Bengali people had migrated to this region as labourers and clerks respectively.
Apart from this, owing to inter-district migration also the population of the region rose up. The local people particularly the Bodo-Kacharis began to feel that they had been exploited politically, socially, economically, linguistically and culturally by the outsides.
The Bodo-Kacharis are numerically the largest plains tribe of this region. The word, 'Bodo-Kachari' is used to include the splinter groups like Sarania, Mahalia, Sonowal-Kacharis, Thengals, Brahmas and the Burmans.
The Bodo-Kacharis of Assam belong to the Tribeto-Burman group of the Indo-Chinese race. Similarly, the other tribes of Assam belong to the Mongoloid stock expect the Khasis who speak a language of Monkhomer group of Australia. The Rabhas, the Garos, the Koches, the Tiwas- all belong to the Mongoloid stock. The Assamese call them Kacharis and they are known as Meches in Bengal..
The word 'Bodo' has been derived from the word 'Bod' which means Tibet. Most probably, the people of this region entered this region through Bhutan passes. They are called Kachari because they lived in the 'Kassar' or below the Himalayan range.
Originally, the Bodos were a linguistic group and the word 'Bodo' is used in ethnic sense also. The Bodos had no script of their own. Therefore, their language remained as a dialect but since 1930 their language has been developing fast. The Govenment of Assam introduces Bodo M.I.L. in the Higher Secondary level in 1930. The Gauhati University introduced a Diploma Course in the Bodo language. Recently, Bodo-MIL was introduced in Cotton College also .
Though, the Bodo-Kacharis, the Rabhas, the Garos, the Hajongs belong to the Mongoloid stock, their morphological features are different from one another. The Kacharis are the tallest and have a medium face while the Rabhas have broad face. Besides, the Rabhas and Garo noses are much more broad than those of the Kacharis.
The Bodo-Kacharis of Darrang district are, to some extent different from those of other districts, according to the famous scholar Rev. S. Endle. as stated by Rev. S. Endle, the Bodo-Kacharis of Darrang district were not tall or handsome. They almost looked like the Nepalis who are shorted and stouter. they were fit to work in the field or factory. They were not capable of performing intellectual activities. They also lacked sharp memories. But all these views were expressed by Endle nearly a century ago. At present his views do not hold good as many changes have taken place in many respect.
Secondly, the same author is of the opinion that the Bodos of this region were very sincere and truthful. In his book entitled The Kacharis the author records the case of a Bodo Peasant of Mazikuchi Mouza who killed a co-worker out of rage. He appeared in the Court and as there was no witness, he was asked by the magistrate to deny his guilt, but the accused refused to do so.
The Bodo society is patriarchal with some features of matriarchal society. For example, if a man dies without paying the bride-money, the daughter in absence of the wife or wives can inherit the property of the deceased.
Unlike the general caste people, a groom did not go to the bride's house. But now-a-days, this system has become obsolete. 'Donkharnay Haba' and 'Raikhas Haba' are no more amongst the Bodo-Kacharis. The non-tribals never agree to offer a girl for marriage to a boy of different religion but the Bodo-Kacharis recognise a marriage between Hindu and Christian Communities.
Moreover, as the Bodo-Kacharis of this region have been living along with the non-tribals generation after generation, they have been influenced by the non-tribals and vice-versa. The non-tribals have accepted many ingredients of the Bodo culture.
Originally, the Bodo marriage continued for seven days and seven nights and so soon as the marriage ended the family had to face abject poverty. They overspent money for eating and drinking. But now-a-days the Bodos do not overspend. The marriage ceremony according to Braha Cult is very simple. The Bodo priest performs the marriage ceremony reciting mantras written in the Bodo language. In the wedding ceremony of the Brahmas only tea and sweets are served to the guests.Like the caste-Hindu people they also arrange feast at night for the groom and his party.
A hundred years ago, there was not much difference between the tribal people and the low caste Hindus so far as their habits of drinking and eating were concerned. The tribal people of this region rear pigs, cocks, hens etc. but the Hindus do not. Of course, piggery and poultry farms are run by the Hindus on commercial basis.
At present, both the tribals and non-tribals like fish, meat, roasted fish, dried fish. The Bodo-Kacharis do not take beef. Even killing or injuring cows is regarded as on offence in their society. However, some of the Christian Bodos take beef.
Both the tribals and the non-tribals accept 'Kharicha', 'Kahudi-Kharali', chewing of 'Tamol Pan'(beetle nut) with lime, varieties of creepers such as 'Vadailata', 'Lai', 'Babori', 'Khutora' the offshots of pumkin and bottlegourd creepered as present the menu.
There is still an aversion to milk among some Bodo-Kacharis. This aversion is due to the fact that milk has an opposite and harmful reaction if taken along with rice-beer.
They have weakness for rice-beer which is not harmful. This is mainly served at the time of marriage, at the Bihu festival and at the time of planting and harvesting. They also take 'Phatika' or distilled rice -beer.
Fifty years ago , the Bodo-Kacharis of this region were very backward. There were no roads, no schools, no colleges, no hospitals, no drinking water. The people took water from ponds and rivers. Therefore mortality rate was higher. Malaria and Kalazar (black fever) were the killer diseases of a area. There were only two roads - one is Mangaldai- Bhutiasang road the other is Makenzi road. The British constructed these roads only to approach the tea gardens. There were no village roads to reach the main roads. The cultivators could not bring their products of agriculture to market. The village 'Mahajans' (merchants/landlords), who are mainly outsiders purchase their goods at a throw-away price.
The Bodo women are generally illiterate. But they are very good weavers. They still make 'Gamocha' (sort of Towel), 'Urnai' etc. in their handlooms. At present the literacy percentage of Bodo women is increasing.
After independence, the number of Lower primary Schools stand at 226. There are 4 colleges, 6 Higher Secondary Schools in the Sub-division of Udalguri. Though the numbers of qualified Bodos has, no doubt, increased but for want of job opportunities they have become frustrated and rebellious.
Actually after the Fifth Five year Plan both the Central and State. Governments have laid much emphasis on the development of the tribal people. An integrated development project was opened at Udalguri to accelerate thebdevelopment of the tribal people. The Tribal Development Authority is there at the State level to extend financial assistance to the tribal people. Apart from these, tribal sub-plans have been envisaged for the development of the tribal people.
The tribal people of this region have been given security in connection with their land. Previously, one could easily purchase tribal land and got the mutation of land. But at present, the Government of Assam has made the original Act of Land Revenue Regulation of 1886 (amended by Gopinath Bordoloi's Ministry) more strict by another important. Now, non-tribals cannot purchase land from tribal people without the permission of the Deputy Commissioner. Similarly, tribal people also cannot sell land to non-tribal people without the permission of the Deputy Commissioner. These strict rules were necessitated to protect the tribals from the onslaught of the non-tribals. During last 30 years, one third of the tribal land was transferred to non-tribals. The non-tribal both Assamese and non-Assamese managed to acquire tribal land by different means.
In short, the relentless demographic pressure created by large-scale and continuing immigration has depressed the rural economy of the region. Therefore, it has identified the twin problems of poverty and unemployment.
But there is no denying the fact that in spite of different schemes envisaged for the development of the tribal people, the tribal people of this region have not yet made satisfactory progress. In this entire area, there are six tribal doctors, one engineer, two officers of ACS rank, a few lecturers and a few government employees of third grade.
The political consciousness of the tribal people of this region arose during the British rule. It was Rabi Ram Kachari from Harisinga who become the first tribal MLA of this region. He is well known for his courage. After him, seven persons became MLAs from this community.
Another important tribe of this region is the Rabhas who also belong to the Mangoloid stock. they also had come down from the Himalayan range. A batch of them entered the district of Goalpara and settled down there. another batch of them settled down in the undivided Darrang district.
According to Kalaguru Bishnu Prasad Rabha, the original name of the Rabhas was Koss or Koch and they had spoken the Koch language. On the other hand, Dr. Birichi Kr. Baruah is of the opinion that the 'Rabhas constitute a section of the major ethnic group known as the Bodo people who form a substantial portion of the Assamese population.'
According to Major Playfair, the resemblance between the Garos and the Rabhas is so great that the two communities constitute the same group.
Unlike the Bodos, the Rabhas of Darrang are not bilingual. they do not know Rabha language. they speak Assamese. According to the Census Report of 1971 the population of the Rabhas of Darrang is 18,000 only.
According to Rev. S Endle, there is a slight different between the Rabhas and Bodos of Darrang district. The Rabhas consider themselves slightly superior to the Bodos. A hundred years ago, if a Rabha boy married a Bodo girl, the groom had to arrange a feast to satisfy the members of his 'Khel' (Clan). There are 11 kinds of Rabhas but only Pati Rabha and Totla Rabha are said to have been living in Darrang district.
The Madahis are also a branch of the Rabhas. They constitute a micro-minority because some of them identify themselves as Madahi Koches. Like the Rabhas, they also speak Assamese. But the Madahis have been already recongnised as Scheduled Tribe.
The Saranias who constitute a splinter group of the Bodo-Kacharis do not know Bodo language. All Saranias are tribal but all Saranias are not Bodo-Kacharis. Some Rabhas also became Sarania in this region by taking 'Saran' from the Goswamis and Mahantas. In Upper Assam, Tiwas and Chutias were converted to Hinduism by this process. when a tribal takes Saran, he has to discard certain of his old habits, adopts Hindu usage and becomes a Sarania.
The rapid progress of proselytisation took place between 1650 and 1800. Many well-to-do Bodos of Kamrup and Darrang district were promoted to the Koch. In fact, the Saranias were promoted to the Madahis and the Madahis were promoted to the 'Saru' Koch and after some generations, the 'Saru' Koch could become a 'Bor' koch.
The Koches who have been living in this region along with the Bodos also belong to the Mongoloid stock. The great Koch king Maharaj Naranarayan has been described by the great scholar S.P. Chatterjee as a great Bodo king.
The Koches have also similarities with the and the Koches of Goalpara district resemble the Bodo-Kacharisso much so that it is difficult to separate them from each other.
Though the Koches stand next to the 'Kewt' in the caste Hindu hierarchy, they are described as semi-Hindu tribe by Rev. S. Endle.
Recently, the Government of India introduced a bill in the Lok Sabha to recognise the Koch-Rajbongshi as Scheduled Tribe but the bill is hanging in balance.
There are seven kinds of Koches in Assam and the aristocratic Koches are conspicuous by their appearance. According to a survey, population of the Koch-Rajbongshi of Udalguri sub-division is 30,000 only.
Another group which deserves special mention is the tea garden community. During the second half of the Nineteenth Century, when the British started tea cultivation on a large scale in Assam, they were faced with the problem of dearth of labour. Hence, they brought in people from other parts of the country -from Orissa and Bihar and from as far as Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
These people ultimately settled down in the State, and successive generations not only intermingled among themselves but also assimilated much of the Assamese culture to develop a lifestyle of their own. Some of them left the tea estates and found other occupations. Today, with their attractive dances (Jhumur) and songs, and their close rapport with the tea plant, they have a distinct culture of their own.