Bodo Women, Politics, Resistance

Monjib Mochahari  || 7 March 2016]

For too long period, Bodo politics has been under the cloud of patriarchal influence. Like the rest of the country, Bodo women have been relegated to the position of a homemaker. In Bodoland, except Pramila Rani Brahma who is currently associated with Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), till date, no woman could negotiate or even enter the political arena although Bodo women played crucial roles during agitation for a separate homeland inthe late 1980s. This year, however, there is a little transition in Bodo politics. For the first time, two prominent women activists have braved against the odds to take up the political challenge in coming Assembly polls seriously.

Human tights activist and president of All Bodo Women Justice Forum, Anjali Prabha Daimari is all set to contest from 69 Udalguri constituency, and entrepreneur and editor of The Opinion (a quarterly news magazine), Pratibha Brahma fielded by newly formed United People’s Party (UPP) is a potential candidate for Kokrajhar East assembly constituency.”People are happy about their decision to embrace a new political life. We have been waiting for capable women to venture into politics to give proper directions to our soceity and thousands of young Bodo girls who do not see any role model even today. This should bring change in our approach to politics,” says a women teacher in Udalguri district. However, there are gigantic challenges before they could even strike the electoral battle which is currently under the realms of male dominance. “Whichever party and ideology they represent, it is crucial to give chance two these promising women activists to script a new political innings in Bodoland,” says Philista Mochahari, who lost her son during Bodo movement in the late 1990s.

Bodo movement regained vigorous momentum beginning 1987 under the banner of influential All Bodo Student’s Union (ABSU). It provided a crucial platform for the involvement of Bodo women in the struggle for a separate homeland – Bodoland. The active participation of women in large numbers and with such commitment was probably the first in postcolonial India in any struggle for an ethnic autonomy where women became an integral part of a nationalistic struggle. Upendranath Brahma, who is now celebrated as the Father of the Bodos, did visualise that the political struggle under his command would not make much headway without mass public support especially of women who almost constitute half of the Bodo populations. This reality, including other factor led to the formation of All Assam Tribal Women Welfare Federation in May 1986, renamed as All Bodo Women Welfare Federation in (ABWWF) in 1993, to look after the interest of Bodo women in areas such as economic needs, civil rights and overall development.

The idea is to bring and unite women under a common platform with a common ideology to fight for ensuring human rights and justice of Bodo women in the spheres of socio-economic, political and educational, cultural and for their emancipation from social and domestics drudgery. And, thus enabling them in rendering transformative services to the promotion, welfare and preservation of the indigenous self-identity of all Bodo groups. Simultaneously, it was crucial to fight against unimaginable state barbarism, atrocities and human rights abuse during the Bodo agitation. Later, a section of women even joined the Bodo Volunteer Force (BVF), but their activities were restricted to carrying messages and dissemination of secret information to male counterparts and providing basic nursing to injured cadres of ABSU and BVF activists. However, their wholehearted support to men in the course of action was not much in the limelight. It is widely known that:

During the Bodo agitation thousands of innocent people specially the women and children were trapped between the law enforcing agencies and the revolutionary group. At this junction, repressive measures of the Army and paramilitary forces increased enormously. Women were easy victim. Many innocent girls as well as women lost their chastity and some were even killed due to widespread incidents of rape and sexual harassment by the police force. Therefore, the ABWWF was born out to confront the army and police personnel against their actions.

Against the state atrocities, ABWWF became a formidable force during the Bodo movement to counter the state against threat to their male counterparts of being persecuted or shot security forces. They acted like a wall between repressive state forces and Bodo agitators. They organised the masses, participated in protest rally, gheraoed, dharna and campaigned against alcoholism, challenged polygamy etc. What could be termed as the most successful achievement of ABWWF was the struggle against the Assam police in Gauhati High Court over the notorious Bhumka Gangrape case which was won (Brahma, 2001). Nonetheless they also became victims in the hands of the state paramilitary forces. On 12 May 1998, Gaide Basumatary and Helena Basumatary of Zumduar village in Kokrajhar district were shot by the Assam Police. Gaide’s three months old baby- Rombha, succumbed to her death after a couple of weeks after here mother’s death. Helena was a student of class nine.

There are hundreds of cases of Bodo women being victimised by the state forces. However, it is ironical that women’s role in Bodo political movement has been declining since the premature death of Upendranath Brahma in May 1990, in whose vision, women were essential if Bodoland was to materialised. Since the BAC accord, ABWWF’s voice in Bodo politics has diminished to the extent of being exceedingly inaudible. It is fact that that after the BAC accord in 1993, women were expected to relinquish their involvement in public activities. Only a few high profile women like Pramila Rani Brahma could successfully resist this assumption and held public office, but majority complied silently. There are two basic reasons proposed to explain this phenomenon: the successive women leaders were followers with no political commitment and ideals and second, there was lack of support from its parent organisation (ABSU). It has been observed that women’s participation in decision making bodies and the subsequent governance in BTC remain highly unsatisfactory even though political space for women’s participation in Bodo politics has been created. So, it is a long to Bodo women politically. But two women, who are now contesting the Assam legislative polls, creates a feeling of liberation among among.


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