A dangerous and divisive politics is being played in West Bengal by encashing on the division between Rajbanshi people and the supporters of the Kamtapuri language in the north of the state. To understand the complicated history of this language-based movement and politics, one has to examine its complex history.
The native people of the vast areas of the northern part of Bengal (both West and East) and the western part of Assam were known as Deshi Manush (indigenous people). Their dialect was also known as Deshi Bhasa (indigenous language).
The British administrators, researchers, and anthropologists conducted various types of surveys to find out the socio-anthropological details of these people. Different kinds of views have come out of the research and survey works. Some said that these people were Mongoloid, others opined that they were Dravidians, and still others concluded that they were a people of the mixed strain of Aryan-Dravidian-Mongoloid blood. But all of them share the opinion that this group of people, like many others, obtained the name 'Koch' through Sanskritisation; then, through Hinduisation, i.e. further Sanskritisation, they came to be known as Rajbanshis.
The administrator researchers worth mentioning were Buchanon Hamilton(1812), B.H. Hodgson (1849), E.T. Dalton (1872), H. Beverly (1872), H.B Rowney (1872), W.W.Hunter(1876), H.F.J.T Megayer (1890), O. Donnel (1891), H.S. Risley(1891), E.A. Gait (1901), G.A. Grierson (1904), and O. Malley (1911). The name of the Imperial Gazetteer of India (1908) may also be added to the list. Taking a clue from them, Acharya Suniti Kumar Chattopadhyay also contributed to such studies.
All these studies have led to one big question--whether the Rajbanshi and the Koch are the same castes. In fact, the Kshatriya movement in Rangpur subsequently spread throughout the above mentioned vast area and had its origin in this controversy.
'Rangpur Kshatriya Jatir Unnati Bidhayani Sabha' started its movement on the eve of the 1891 census against the order that the caste of this group of people will be recorded as 'Koch'. The demand against the order was that the Deshi people were different from the Koch, both were separate castes, and that this group of people should be returned as 'Bratya Kshatriya'.
Being requested by the District Magistrate, Rangpur, for an opinion about the actual status, Pandit Jadaveshwar Tarkaratna, the President of Rangpur Dharma Sabha, submitted that this group of people were Bratya Kshatriya and they were separate from the Koch. The District Magistrate issued an order to that effect on February 17, 1891, but this was not given effect. The order was not carried out in the 1901 and 1911 census too. Panchanan Barma of Mathabhanga, who practised law at Rangpur court and was the editor of Rangpur Sahitya Patrika, appeared in the scene, and Rangpur Kshatriya Samity was formed in 1910 to lead the Kshatriya movement. The movement stirred the whole area, and the authorities were compelled to come to terms with them. After lots of discussions and consultations, it was agreed that the caste of this group of people would be recorded as Rajbanshi.
The same principle was applied to their spoken language as well. The language of the Deshi people was Deshi, and the same language of Rajbanshi people became known as Rajbanshi. The justification for accepting the name 'Rajbanshi' for the spoken language was strengthened by the publication of G.A. Grierson's report of the Linguistic Survey of India. Grierson was given the responsibility by the British government to conduct surveys on different language groups of the country. According to Suniti Kumar Chattopadhyay, he conducted surveys on 179 languages and 544 dialects of the country and commented respectfully, "These figures are staggering indeed for any single country or state claiming to be a Nation." The survey reports were submitted in 19 volumes, some of them containing more than one part. That is why any practical discussion on the linguistics of any language of India starts with the Linguistic Survey of India.
But what is the content of the Survey report on 'Rajbanshi'? As reported by Grierson, the Survey has reflected that, "It is spoken in the following districts - Rangpur, Jalpaiguri, the tarai area of the Darjeeling district, the Native State of Cooch Behar, together with the portion of Goalpara in Assam, already mentioned. (…) We thus find that the Rajbanshi dialect is spoken by the following number of people: Grand Total 35,09,171."
It is, therefore, quite clear that the name of the language as Rajbanshi has come out from the field survey. Grierson accepted and reported the name of the language the field survey reflected and has not imposed the name without any reason from outside. The name reflected from the field survey was accepted by linguists, anthropologists, sociologists, historians, and sociologists, thereby, the scholars of all fields, and above all, the common Rajbanshis and the intellectuals amongst them. It is only in the 1990s that one Dharmanarayan Barma, a high school teacher from Tufanganj in Cooch Behar district, initiated a dissenting voice about the name of the language.
In 1992, Barma published a book titled 'A Step of Kamta Bihari Language' wherein he suggested the name 'Kamtapuri' in place of Rajbanshi, the spoken language of the Rajbanshis. According to him, the region mentioned above was known as Kamtapur and its language as Kamtapuri. His theory was that this region was known as Kamrup before 1250. King Prithu shifted his capital to Kamtapur in 1250. This capital became known as Kamtapur kingdom from then onwards. In 2011/1418 B.S, he wrote in the journal 'Raydak': "This Kamrup became known as Kamtapur after 1255. The undivided Assam and undivided North Bengal were known as Kamtapur during the regime of Maharaj Naranarayana."
However, Barma's theories are historically untrue. Prithu was king of Kamrup and he died in1228 in the war with Nasiruddin Mamud. How can the question of shifting the capital in 1250 by him arise at all? The kingdom of Maharaja Naranarayana, the son of Biswa Singha, the most renowned king of the Koch-Rajbanshi dynasty, was Koch Bihar/ Cooch Behar and not Kamtapur. And this history of Cooch Behar under the rule of Naranarayana-Chila Ray is widely known.
Dhiren Das, the disciple of Dharmanarayana, refers to yet another history -- the history of Gosanimari. He states, "In the fifteenth century there was a city of the kingdom of Kamrup named Kamtapur, a city full of wealth on the western bank of river Dharla. This area is still dazzling in Gosanimari. This is a huge fort and this was the capital of Kamrup." Unfortunately, this is not supported by historical facts either.
Naturally, the question arises -- why did Barma, not a historian, and his followers put such an absurd claim by distorting the history of the region? We will have to analyse the socio-economic-political development of the region in the 1990s to know the reason for such a claim.
The Kolkata-North Bengal Divide
Since the days of the merger of the state of Cooch Behar with West Bengal, there have been complaints about negligence, exploitation and indifference exercised by the Kolkata-based administration towards the people of North Bengal. These resulted in the non-development of the region in all respects-social, economic and political leading to gross injustice to them. A widespread feeling grew to the effect that people of North Bengal have become victims to such injustice and deprivation. Out of such feelings grew the wrath and anguish of some Rajbanshi intellectuals who organised a socio-politico-economic movement named Uttarkhanda Movement in 1969. The movement, however, could not take deep roots because of the lack of support. This movement was followed by Uttarbanga Tapashilee Jati O Adibasee Students' Organisation(UTJAS), based in North Bengal University.
The Students' organisation also could not muster much support. Then the movement got transferred to some others who, under the leadership of Atul Ray, a clerical staff of North Bengal University, organised the Kamtapur movement under the banner of the Kamtapur People's Party in 1995. The deprivation and injustice imposed by the Kolkata-based administration on the people of North Bengal, particularly the Rajbanshis, was the principal subject of the movement. So, their primary demand was a separate state for North Bengal.
As mentioned earlier, Dharmanarayan Barma, in his book, put forward the demand for the existence of Kamtapur and Kamtapuri language with the help of distorted wrong history. The Kamtapur People's Party took full advantage of this book and tried to garner the support of the Rajbanshis in general by organising wide publicity and political meetings, protests, processions to the effect that the language of the area is known as Kamtapuri, and that Kamtapuri is altogether a different language and it is not a variant of Bengali. Dhupguri and Moynaguri in Jalpaiguri district and Naxalbari and Phansidewa in Darjeeling district became the core areas of their activities.
Thus Kamtapur supporters wanted to colour their movement as the language movement. Assam was stirred by AASU, AMSU and Bodo movements at that time and being influenced by those, the Kamtapur People's Party created its similar extremist wing by the name Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO). So much water had flown through the Teesta, Kaljani and Torsa over time, and the Kamtapur movement got weaker and weaker. The prominent leaders joined the Trinamool Congress (TMC), and others opted for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The theoreticians of the Kamtapuri language, led by Barma, Girindranarayan Ray, Naren Das, Bazle Rahaman, Dhiren Das are now fighting for the name Kamtapuri in place of Rajbanshi by all means putting forward all sorts of arguments. Again, they have expressed their arguments in a recent publication of a booklet of 'Kamtapuri Bhasa Sahitya Parisad'. The view of Barma has been mentioned above. Bazle Rahaman and Dhiren Das extended their arguments in the same tune with their Guru Dharmanarayan.
The argument of Girindranarayan, Professor of English, North Bengal University, goes like this -- "Amongst all these, 'Rajbanshi Bhasa Academy' was formed in 2012 as a step of politics"; "The proposal of Kamtapuri as the name of the language came forward again in another step of politics in 2017; and Kamtapuri Academy was formed." His argument has sufficiently exposed the intention of changing the language name from Rajbanshi to Kamtapuri. Naren Das, who was the principal leader of UTJAS movement and now a Kamtapuri supporter, advanced his argument as follows: "The word 'Rajbanshi' is simply a new one compared to Kamtapuri. The word can be found in Kalika Purana, in the 2nd part of Bhramaritantra, 4th part of Vishnu Purana, Kamateshwari Kulakarika, in the writings of Hamilton Buchanon and George Abraham Grierson." So, in his statement, the word 'Rajbanshi' reflected from the field survey of Grierson is quite old, and the same has been in use at least for 100 years or so as the name of the spoken language. In spite of this, the name is new to Das, and he is bent on giving the language the name 'Kamtapuri'. All these conclude that the proposal has more connotations related to politics than history and linguistics.
Both the BJP and TMC have been trying to cash on such sentimental mores of a section of Rajbanshi upper middle class, who have often believed in the bluffs played by the political leaders and tended to be played in their hands for personal interest. The politicians have bluffed the Rajbanshis through emotional blackmail. Here is an instance of such an action. The BJP leaders have been claiming that the Government of India was going to recognise the Kamtapuri language shortly. The supporters of Kamtapuri believed this and tried to convince the Rajbanshi people in this respect. Naren Das has advocated that the Expert Committee formed by the Central government in 2003, headed by the famous linguist Sitakanta Mahapatra, has recommended 38 languages for recognition after a nationwide survey and the name 'Kamtapuri' appears at serial no. 16 on the list. Dhiren Das has quoted: "The Committee submitted its report in 2004. The report of the Committee is under consideration in consultation with concerned Departments/Ministries of the Central Government-there are demands for inclusion of 38 languages in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. These are (1) Angika, (2) Banjara……….(16) Kamtapuri……….(38) Tulu.”
It may be noted that the Committee has listed alphabetically the names of languages for which there have been demands for inclusion in the Eighth Schedule and serial 16 of the list is Kamtapuri. There is no question of recommendation made by the Committee. The actual position has been made clear in the letter dt.31/82015 of Kiren Rijuju, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs written to S.S.Ahluwalia, Darjeeling M.P that Dr.Sitakanta Mahapatra Committee was formed 'to evolve a set of objective criteria with reference to the inclusion of more languages in the Eighth Schedule'. In fact, there has been an Inter-Ministerial Committee formed for considering the criteria recommended by the Mahapatra Committee and they are yet to finalise the criteria. The question of recommendation is, therefore, a big bluff.
TMC's Politics Over Rajbanshi-Kamtapuri Divide
Still more dangerous and dirtier game has been played by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to create a sharp division amongst the Rajbanshis by encashing the confidence of the supporters of Kamtapuri supporters. The Kamtapur People's Party started the movement against the state administration, demanding a separate state as the solution to their grievances. The party gradually lost ground because of their unjustified claims and joined hands with the party in power during the 2016 Assembly Election.
In 2017, she participated in the meeting of KPP held in Cooch Behar Rasmela Maidan on April 25, and to pamper the sentiment of the meeting, announced that both the languages Rajbanshi and Kamtapuri will be given recognition. Thus she initiated the move for division, and the Kamtapuriwalas did not object. This was an unfortunate event, and this encouraged Banerjee to perpetuate the division amongst the Rajbanshis in 2018 with her move to include both Rajbanshi and Kamtapuri in the list of Official Languages.
Kamtapuri followers have so far been holding that the spoken language of the Rajbanshis is known / to be known as Kamtapuri and not Rajbanshi. The language is one and same, but Banerjee went a step further and declared that there are two languages--Rajbanshi and Kamtapuri. In fact, there are two aspects of her action on bthe Official Language -- (i) she has not followed the Constitutional provision for the act, and(ii) she has distorted the factual position. The Constitutional provisions relating to Official Language are Article 345 subject to Article 346 and 347. Article 347 is the Special provision relating to languages spoken by a section of population of a state; on a demand being made in their behalf, the President may, if he is satisfied that substantial proportion of the population of the state desire the use of any language, spoken by them to be recognised by that state, direct that such language shall also be officially recognised throughout that state or any part thereof for such purpose as he may specify.
She has not stopped here. While making Kamtapuri an Official language, she has declared that Rajbanshi and Kamtapuri are two different languages implying thereby that the speakers of Rajbanshi and Kamtapuri are two different people. This is the first move to divide the Rajbanshis of North Bengal. Her next move is to hit these people on their backbone-to finish the future generations of this community. She has planned to introduce both Rajbanshi and Kamtapuri in a few hundred Primary schools of North Bengal. Rajbanshis are already backward in all respects. In the politico-economic system prevailing in the country today, one cannot expect good opportunities if they do not have education in English or Hindi medium. Even education in a good Bengali medium school or college is found to be deficient in preparing one for competition. What will be the future of those studying in Rajbanshi, a variant of Bengali and not a separate language like Santhali? What course/education will they prosecute after the Primary stage/ will not they face hard problems to study? How are they expected to get admission to good schools? All such questions do not have proper, satisfactory answers.
Atul Ray, the Kamtapuri leader, passed away in June, 2021. Dharmanarayan Barma, the principal theoretician, is happy to have received a 'Padmasree' award from the BJP government. Others have probably been thrilled to learn the announcement by CM Mamata Banerjee. But we are apprehensive that the future of this section of Rajbanshis is simply going to be doomed and the politicians led by Banerjee have successfully planned this for their own interest. Should the Rajbanshis of North Bengal be grateful to them?