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Bongal is a term used in Assam to refer to outsiders in general and Bengali people in particular.[1] The people of East Bengal, which is to the immediate southwest of historical Assam, self-identify as Bangal; whereas the Bengali people from the west are called Ghoti. Assam has been settled by colonial officials (amlahs) from Bengal pre-Independence and Hindu Bengali refugees in the post-Independence periods. The Muslims peasants from East Bengal settled in Assam are now referred to as Miya. The term lent the name to the Bongal Kheda movement of the 1950s and 1960s which sought to drive out non-Assamese competitors and to secure jobs for the natives.[2]


The term may have been derived from 'Bangala', the name of the Mughal province of Bengal. Initially the term might have stood for the people of Bengal, but later it is said to have stood for any foreigner.[3] Because of its geographic location, the approach to the Ahom kingdom from mainland India was through Bengal.[3] During the Ahom rule the word was used in a derogatory manner for foreigners and invaders.[4] Ahom general Lachit Borphukan is said to have referred to the Mughals as Bongals.[5]Over years of political seclusion, 'Bongal' became a term of suspicion, reproach and contempt.[3] When the British annexed Assam to its Indian territories, many Bengali Hindus arrived in Assam by taking up administrative jobs in the government. The Britishers and the Bengali Hindus alike were referred to as Bongals. After the independence of India,the amount of increasing refugees arriving from the region of East Bengal and newly formed East Pakistan escalated tension among the Assamese people and the tribes in the state.[6] By May 1949 the number of total refugees reached two-and-half lakhs increasing up to 2, 740, 455.

Annual Arrival of Refugees in Assam in 1946–1951[7]
Place of Origin Year Number
East Bengal 1946 8,593
East Bengal 1947 42,346
East Bengal 1948 41,740
East Bengal 1949 33,138
East Bengal 1950 1,44,512
East Bengal 1950 (Jan.&Feb.) 3,479
West Pakistan - 647
Total 2,74,455

The Assamese people viewed Bongal was someone who didn't belong Assam, an intruder whose presence threatened to marginalize them socially and politically.[4] The Britishers were called Boga Bongal, literally meaning 'the white foreigner'[4] and the Bengali Hindus were called 'Kola Bongal' literally meaning 'the black foreigner'.[8] In the 19th century Assamese intellectual discourse, anyone other than the people of Assam or the Hill tribes were called Bongals. They were described to be foreigners, uncivilized and filthy. An 1872 Assamese play by Rudra Ram Bordoloi titled 'Bongal Bongalini' lampooned the social problems created by the outsiders i.e. the Bongals, especially who came during the British rule.[9] The Assamese women who preferred to marry the Bongals, referred to as 'Bongalini's (feminine of Bongal), were described as promiscuous women and concubines of the Bongals.[9]

After the Independence, the term continued to be used for the Bengali Hindus. However, it was not used for the Bengalis only. In a broader sense, it was used to refer to any group that was perceived to be an outsider.[10] West Bengal was described as Bongal Desh, literally meaning 'the land of the Bongals' in Assamese.[11]

Bongal Kheda

Main article: Bongal Kheda

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In the colonial period, the Bengali Hindus dominated the white collar profession in Assam. This was resented by the Assamese population. After the independence, the Assamese political leadership promoted the concept of Assam for Assamese. Assamese was to be the sole official language of the state. No other non-Assamese group in Assam posed a direct challenge to the emerging Assamese middle class in the white collar profession than the Bengali Hindus. The selection of a Bengali Hindu as the chief of the oil refinery by the administration was a graphic example. Due to their advanced educational qualifications, the Bengali Hindus were preferred to any other group for the white collar jobs by the government. The resentment led to an organized campaign called 'Bongal Kheda', literally meaning 'drive away the Bongals', which resulted in ethnic cleansing of Bengali Hindus from parts of Assam.[12] The ethnic cleansing started in the early 1960s continued through the sixties into the seventies and eighties. In the seventies it spread to Meghalaya and Tripura.

See also


  1. ^ "The word Bongal is used in a wide sense in Assam. It does not refer to Bengalis alone. It embraces all outsiders." (Chakravarti 1960:1193)
  2. ^ "The movement known as Bongal Kheda sponsored by Assamese job-seekers to drive out non-Assamese competitors, assumed the air of a dignified and respectable agitation(Chakravarti 1960:1193)
  3. ^ a b c Fishman, Joshua; Garcia, Ofelia, eds. (6 March 2011). Handbook of Language and Ethnic Identity: The Success-Failure Continuum in Language and Ethnic Identity Efforts. 2. Oxford University Press. p. 244. ISBN 9780199837991.
  4. ^ a b c Das, Bitasta (4 January 2014). "Chapter 4: Assam Movement, ULFA and Bodo Movement Locating the "Ethnic" in the Assertions". Unravelling Ethnic Tensions: Colonialism, Post colonialism and the Question of Identity in Assam (PDF) (PhD). Manipal University. p. 185. Retrieved 19 October 2018.
  5. ^ Barua, Ajit. "Lachit Borphukon". Assam Portal. Retrieved 5 September 2014.
  6. ^ "Illegal Migration into Assam". Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  7. ^ India, India (1951). "Annual Arrival of Refugees in Assam in 1946–1951". Census of India. XII, Part I (I-A): 353 – via
  8. ^ Bareh, Hamlet (2001). Encyclopaedia of North-East India: Assam (Reprint ed.). Mittal Publications. p. 92. ISBN 9788170997894.
  9. ^ a b Pathak, Namrata (27 March 2015). Trends in Contemporary Assamese Theatre. Partridge Publishing. ISBN 9781482846546. Retrieved 19 October 2018.
  10. ^ Chakravarti 1960.
  11. ^ Dutta, Nandana (11 September 2012). Questions of Identity in Assam: Location, Migration, Hybridity. SAGE Publications India. ISBN 9788132117001. Retrieved 1 August 2017.
  12. ^ Horowitz, Donald L. (2001). The Deadly Ethnic Riot. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520224476. Retrieved 5 September 2009.


Chakravarti, K.C. (30 July 1960). "Bongal Kheda Again" (PDF). The Economic Weekly. Mumbai: Sameeksha Trust: 1193–95. ISSN 0012-9976. Retrieved 5 September 2014.