Koch male and female 1972.jpg
Koch male and female (1872)
Regions with significant populations
 India (Assam, Meghalaya)
              India36,434 [1]
Related ethnic groups
Garo people, Khasi people , Rabha people , Mech people

The Koch are a small trans-border ethnic group of Assam and Meghalaya in India and northern Bangladesh.[5] The group consists of nine matrilineal and strictly exogamous clans, with some of them preserving a hitherto sparsely documented Boro-Garo language called Koch, whereas others have switched to local varieties of Indo-Aryan languages.[6] It is a Scheduled Tribe in Meghalaya, India.[7][a] Koches want to preserve language and culture and heritage.[9]

The Koch people in this group are those who have preserved their languages, their animistic religions and follow non-Hindu customs and traditions.[4] They are related but distinguished from the empire building Koch (the Rajbongshi people) and the Hindu caste called Koch in Upper Assam which receives converts from different tribes.[10]

Etymology of Koch

According to Tabaqat-i-Nasiri, western Kamrud (Kamrup) was inhabited by the Koch, Mech & Tharu.[11] In Yogini Tantra, Koches were called as Kuvachas.[12] According to Fatiyah-i-Ibriah, Cooch Behar was inhabited by Koch.[13]

Groups and Clans

The Koch people consist of nine ethno-linguistic groups: Tintekiya, Wanang, Koch-Rabha/Kocha, Harigaya, Margan, Chapra, Satpari, Sankar and Banai. These groups are generally endogamous, with very little intermarriages till recently. Each of these nine groups have matrilineal and strictly exogamous clans called nikini.[14] The matrilineal rules of the Koch are not as rigid as the Garo and the Khasi peoples.[15]

The group that is known as Kocha in Assam's Dhubri and Kokrajhar districts, identify with the Rabha people, and are also known as Koch-Rabha. Since the name Koch in Assam is associated with the caste Koch, this identity allows the Kocha people to benefit from state support that are open to the Rabha but not to the Koch.[16] Advisor of Koch Development Council, writer and social worker Indramohan Koch said that the government of Meghalaya accorded ST status to Koch People while the Assam Government had not recognized them as Koch but ST status had been given in the name of Rabha.[17]


Main article: Koch language

The UNESCO report mentions Koch language as "Definitely Endangered".[18] The Koch language is spoken in the states of Assam (Goalpara, Nagoan, Dhubri, Kokrajhar, Chirang, Bongaigaon, Barpeta, Baksa, Udalguri, Karbi Anglong, Golaghat districts) and Meghalaya (West Garo Hills, South-West Garo Hills, South Garo Hills and East Khasi Hills districts). It is also spoken in some parts of North Bengal and in Bangladesh.[18] The different Koch groups are associated with different varieties of the Koch language[19]—at home and within their own group they use their own mother tongues; within the Koch groups they usually use the Harigaya variety which is understood by many other Koch groups; and outside the community they use Hajong, Assamese, Bengali, Garo, Hindi, and English.[20] The relationship between the six Koch speech varieties are rather complex. They represent a dialect chain that stretches out from Koch-Rabha in the north to Tintekiya Koch in the south. This is diagrammatically represented as — Koch-Rabha (Kocha)→ Wanang→ Harigaya→ Margan→ Chapra→ Tintekiya, where the adjacent dialects exhibit more lexical similarity than those at the ends.[18] Among the nine endogamous groups, six have retained their own language; whereas the Satpari, Sankar and Banai speak either an Indo-Aryan variety called Jharua, or Hajong (which is also sometimes referred to as Jharua).[21]


The original homeland of the Koch is assumed to be in Tibet from where they populated the present-day Western Assam and North Bengal.[22] In Takabat-i-Nasiri, which contain records of Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji expedition into Kamrup in 1205 A.D, mention that the people inhabiting between the country of Lakhanawati (Gauda) and Tibet were the Kunch (Koch), Mej/Meg (Mech) and Tiharu (Taru).[23][24] In Persian history, these population (Koch, Mech, Tharu) possessed the physiognomy of the Turks and the Mongols and their language was different from the rest of the subcontinent.[25]

Notes and references

  1. ^ In Meghalaya, Koches are government notified scheduled tribe.[8]
  1. ^ "Census of India Website : Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India" (PDF).
  2. ^ "C-16 Population By Mother Tongue - Assam". censusindia.gov.in. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  3. ^ "Census of India Website : Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India". Retrieved 11 August 2020.
  4. ^ a b "The Koch included in this report are those who preserved their tribal dialects, animistic religion and non-Hindu cultures and traditions." (Kondakov 2013, p. 5)
  5. ^ "Koch is a people group mainly found in the Indian states of Meghalaya and Assam and in northern Bangladesh. The Koch people call themselves Kocho (in Meghalaya) or Kocha (in Lower Assam). The number of Koch in Meghalaya is about 25,000 people (Census 2011). (Kondakov 2020, p. 1)
  6. ^ "The clans are matrilineal and strictly exogamous (Koch 1984:180), i.e. marriages are not permitted within the same clan. The first six groups have preserved their original Tibeto-Burman forms of speech while the remaining three have long switched to local Indo-Aryan varieties." (Kondakov 2020, p. 1)
  7. ^ The STs in Meghalaya are predominantly rural (84.4 per cent). Individual ST wise, Koch are overwhelmingly confined to rural areas (97.2 per cent), followed by Raba (92.6 per cent), Hajong (91.4 per cent), and Garo (88.7 per cent). On the contrary, higher urban population has been registered among Synteng (28.2 per cent) and Khasi (18.6 per cent).
  8. ^ Census of India.
  9. ^ "Koch union seeks to preserve culture". www.telegraphindia.com. Retrieved 11 July 2019.
  10. ^ "The Koch of western Meghalaya also claim relationship with those empire-building Koch. On the other hand, Koch is known as a Hindu caste found all over the Brahmaputra Valley (Majumdar 1984: 147), and receives converts to Hinduism from different tribes (Gait 1933: 43)." (Kondakov 2013, p. 4)
  11. ^ Salam (1902), p. 65.
  12. ^ "The Yogini Trantra, which was composed in Assam itself in about the 16th century, refers to the Koches as kuvachas" (Nath 1989, p. 3)
  13. ^ "Cooch behar was inhabited by Makh (Mech) and Kuj (Koch). Raja belong to First tribe" (Salam 1902, p. 11)
  14. ^ Kondakov (2013), p. 5.
  15. ^ Kondakov (2013), p. 7.
  16. ^ Kondakov (2013), p. 6.
  17. ^ "Rajbongshis misinterpretating Koch History : All Assam Koch Students' Union". The Sentinel. 30 October 2020. Retrieved 19 March 2022.
  18. ^ a b c Datta Majumdar, Satarupa (11 December 2020). "Ethno-Linguistic Vitality of Koch". The Buckingham Journal of Language and Linguistics. 12 (1): 55. doi:10.5750/bjll.v12i.1874. S2CID 230569881.
  19. ^ "Even at the time of Grierson's work early in the twentieth century it was noted that each group of the Koch spoke a different dialect (Grierson 1903: 96). The fact was later documented by D.N. Majumdar and S.N. Koch, and is now supported by the findings of this survey." (Kondakov 2013, pp. 7–8)
  20. ^ Kondakov (2020), p. 1.
  21. ^ Kondakov (2013), p. 8.
  22. ^ Nath (1989), p. 4.
  23. ^ "From there, he [Bakhtiyar Khalji] was tempted to invade “Bhutan and Tibet” and went against Assam, calle Kamrud (sic, with a “d”). The description of his disastrous campaign provides us with some information about the populations (Siraj 1881: 560-1): In the different parts of those mountains which lie between Tibbat and the country of Lakhanawati are three races of peoples, one called the Kūnch [N66], the second the Mej (Meg), and the third the Tihārū; and all have Turk countenances.They have a different idiom, too, between the languages of Hind and Turk [N77]." (Jacquesson 2008, p. 16)
  24. ^ "(A)n account of the two expeditions of Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji to the kingdom of Kamarupa (ancient assam) in the first part of the 13th century, noted that during that time this region..Kamarupa was inhabited by Kunch(Koch), Mej/Meg (Mech), Tiharu (Taru) tribes of Turks countenance. S.K Chatterji in this connection rightly observes that their Mongoloid features and speech made a distinct impression upon the Turks, who were also members of the same race" (Nath 1989, p. 3)
  25. ^ "(W)e read in Persian history that these races [Koch, Mech, Taru] had Turki countenances (i.e slanting eyes, snub nose, high cheek-bones and yellow complexion of the Mongols), and they spoke a 'different idiom' from the language of India proper" (Chatterji 1951, p. 101)