Last modified: 2010-12-11 by ian macdonald
Keywords: rabha hasong | rabhaland |
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image by Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 3 November 2010
"Rabha is a little known Scheduled Tribe community of West Bengal and Assam
and Meghalaya. The language/dialect spoken by the Rabha people is also of the
same name. In West Bengal, Rabha people mainly live in Jalpaiguri district
and Cooch Behar district. Moreover, almost, 70 per cent of them live in
Jalpaiguri district. In Assam, the Rabhas live mostly in Goalpara and Kamrup
districts. The whole area of Eastern and Western Dooars, may be termed as the
cradle land of the Rabhas.
The Rabhas adhere to a form of Hinduism called Vaishnavism which repudiate the caste privileges. About 2 % are Christians, mostly Baptists. The British took the Rabha homeland from Burma in 1826 and administered it first as a part of British Bengal, then as part of Assam Province since 1874. Because the Rabhas were not willing to do the plantation work, the British were bringing impoverished immigrants to harvest rubber, cinchona, hemp jute and tea. Soon, the Rabha homeland shrank even more, when the British allowed the Muslim Bengali farmers and the Nepalese to settle there. During the WW II, the Japanese tried to court the Tibeto-Burman tribes, but the Rabhas remained loyal and contributed to the Allied war effort. Following India's independence in 1947, the Assamese were making every effort to stump out the tribal cultures and languages. In 1950, small group of Rabha students first suggested the idea of separation from Assam and creation of Rabha-majority state within India. By the 1960s and 70s, Assam, besieged by the guerrilla wars, civil disobedience, strikes and legal challenges, unraveled and several new tribal states were carved out of its territory - Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh. This incited the demands of the smaller tribes to achieve the same.
In 2000, the Assamese legislature passed a bill creating the Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council, but limited only to the district of Goalpara. It doesn't satisfy most of Rabhas and the relatively moderate factions want more territory included in the Rabha Hasong Autonomous District, while the radical ones demand outright independence. One of the radical Rabha organization is Rabha National Security Force (RNSF) allied with United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/states/assam/terrorist_outfits/rnsf.htm
James B. Minahan (Encyclopedia of the Stateless Nations - Ethnic and National Groups Around the World - volume III) presents the flag of Rabkhaland and describes it as:
"The Rabha flag, the flag of the national movement, has three horizontal stripes of white, a center stripe of a traditional design in red, yellow and white, and a lower red stripe."
Having seen the news photos of this flag, I have no doubts about the authenticity of it.
Chrystian Kretowicz, 15 April 2009