Graziers Vs Cultivators: Clash for ‘Settlements’ in the Brahmaputra Valley, Assam
The present Northeast of India, more precisely the Brahmaputra valley, saw a rapid transformation in the economy with the onset of colonial rule in the early 19th Century Establishment of trade relations-both internal and external- brought the region and its resources into the eyes of the colonial administration. Resource mobilization using unlimited resource exploration soon became the key concern of the colonial regime. But a major problem was the sparse local population with very limited trade and commerce knowledge. In such a setting agriculture was not very helpful in meeting the ever-rising economic requirements which accentuated the need to give a strong incentive to migration, especially from drought-ridden populated regions of India and its neighbourhood. Amongst the early colonial migrants to Assam were the Nepalis who were recruited in large numbers into the colonial military setup. Strangely however even after a century of Nepali migration, the number of Nepali migrants into Assam stood at a mere 90, 000 to 100,000 (one lakh) as per the Census report of 1931. On the other hand, there was a far more rapid migration of landless cultivators from poverty-stricken East Bengal in the early 20th century. Soon the two migrant groups, separated by religious as well as cultural differences but most importantly economic differences soon got embroiled in conflict driven by the increasing requirement for resources. Most of these Nepali migrants after retiring from colonial services settled down in the valley as dairy farmers and cattle grazers. While on the other hand, the mushrooming farm cultivators from East Bengal settled on every vacant piece of land that was not taken. They even intruded into the forest reserves, tribal blocks, and professional grazing reserves. The situation became more serious during the heady days of communal polarization preceding the partition of India.
The present work will try to present a brief history of the Nepali migration into the Brahmaputra valley during the colonial era, and analyse the circumstances leading to the outbreak of conflict between them and the east Bengali migrants during the 1940s. Also, the work will highlight the different stages of this conflict, the position taken by the Sadullah ministry and the Bordoloi ministry on this issue as well as the attitude of the colonial authorities on this vexed question affecting both the communities.
Keywords: East Bengalis, farm cultivators, Nepalis, grazing reserves, encroachment, eviction, Assamese, Brahmaputra valley, colonial, Gurkhas.