The indigenous Koch Rajbanshi people of North Bengal trace their lineage and history to the great warrior King Biswa Singha who had established the Koch Kingdom in the early 15th century. Thereafter, under the able leadership of his sons King Naranarayan and legendary General Chilarai, the Koch Kingdom became an Empire covering much of present-day North-Bengal, Assam, parts of Meghalaya, Eastern Bihar, including parts of Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.
The freedom loving people of Koch Rajbanshi continued to remain independent even after 1947 with their own Kingdom or Princely State with the name of ‘Koch’ or ‘Kuch Bihar’ till 1896 and thereafter as ‘Cooch Behar’ under British Raj, with its own army, currency, etc., till its accession and subsequent merger with the dominion of India on 28th August 1949. After which Cooch Behar was made into a Chief Commissioner’s Province with effect from 12th September 1949.
Thereafter there was a tussle between West Bengal and Assam to merge Cooch Behar in their respective province, even though the independent Koch Rajbanshi people were inclined towards neither and wanted their own separate state. But a sinister design was hatched at Kolkata and Delhi in order to deprive the indigenous Koch Rajbanshi people from self-governance, thereby merging Cooch Behar with West Bengal in the most illegal and unethical manner.
Since its illegal merger with West Bengal, the indigenous Koch Rajbanshi people have been demanding and agitating for a separate state of ‘KAMATAPUR’ (or A greater Cooch Behar state) consisting of the Koch Rajbanshi majority districts of Cooch Behar (Koch Bihar), Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling (Plains) including North Dinajpur, South Dinajpur and Malda, wherein there is sizeable Koch Rajbanshi population, by bifurcating the said areas from West Bengal.
The Koch Rajbanshi people who are primarily of Mongoloid origin are the native and indigenous people of the above mentioned areas, wherein they have been inhabiting since time immemorial. They are racially, ethnically, culturally and linguistically different from the Bengali people residing in the eastern region called Bengal and later came to be known as East Pakistan. The Bengali people who got divided on the basis of religion and thereafter formed West Bengal and Bangladesh, are in fact the settlers on the native land of Koch Rajbanshi people.
The Left Front which ruled West Bengal for more than three (3) decades from around 1977 to 2011, in a most systematic manner and through a program of suppression, repression, racial discrimination, suppressed the native Koch Rajbanshi people politically, economically, culturally, linguistically, racially and ethnically. The democratic Kamatapur Movement for a separate state in North Bengal within the Indian Union was met with state sponsored terrorism under the Left Front rule, with the ultimate aim of cleansing the native Koch Rajbanshi people.
Recently the post-poll violence just after the 2021 West Bengal Assembly Election results were out Koch Rajbanshi villages were attacked resulting in death, injury, damage to property and displacement of hundreds of indigenous Koch Rajbanshi people. They had to flee for their lives leaving their land, house, other belongings and take shelter in the neighbouring state of Assam, becoming refugees in their own homeland since time immemorial.
It has become abundantly clear to the Koch Rajbanshi people, that, they will not be able to live peacefully and with dignity in their ancestral land unless they would be bestowed with political power and unless they have their own state, as long as political power remains in Kolkata, wherein Koch Rajbanshi people neither have due representation nor much of a say in governance.
The strategically and highly sensitive narrow stretch of land known as the ‘Siliguri Corridor’ which connects the North-East India to the rest of India falls within the North Bengal districts, wherein the indigenous Koch Rajbanshi people are in majority. And as recently as 2017, the Indian Army had a major standoff with the Chinese Army at Doklam located not very far off, on the north of the Siliguri Corridor, wherein China is aggressively building roads, airstrips and other military installations.
The ‘Siliguri Corridor’ which is about 60 km in length but a meagre 22 km in width at its narrowest point is a vital strip of land, which has to be defended by India at all costs. Proper and urgent safeguarding of the aspirations, political and other rights of the indigenous people of this sensitive area, can only safeguard this geo-strategically important region of India, surrounded by China, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, as any hostile population within India’s territory or population ideologically aligned with aggressive neighbouring countries will have an irreversible adverse impact on India’s National Security.
The Koch Rajbanshi people have fought and defended this stretch of land from all foreign invaders for more than 500 years. Therefore, it has become imperative for the creation of a separate state of ‘Kamatapur’ by bifurcating North Bengal from the state of West Bengal, to ensure that the identity and political rights of the Koch Rajbanshis, including the Adivasis, Gorkhas, among others are preserved as well as in the interest of National Security.
As major concerns of National Security and Integrity are intricately linked with the empowerment of the indigenous Koch Rajbanshi people, the Government of India would do well not to procrastinate on the matter of granting Statehood to its sons of the Soil by constituting ‘Kamatapur State’.
(The views expressed above are that of Centre for Koch Rajbanshi Studies and Development)