Thousands on hunger strike in capital for Cooch Behar

Image: Sapan Kapoor, NewsGram

New Delhi: There is a sea of people at Jantar Mantar sleeping on the roads and the pavements – an unusual scene, especially at this time of the year with blankets and shawls being the only protection shielding them from the chilling Delhi winter. What makes their condition pitiable is that these people (over 5000 in number) from the Cooch Bihar region of West Bengal have been on hunger strike – without food and water – for the past three days demanding a separate state.

Trains filled with these ethnic bonafide Rajbanshi people flocked to the national capital to press their demand for Cooch Behar within the Union of India, carved out of the 10 districts of West Bengal and Assam. In the past two days, as many as 80 protesters have been claimed to be hospitalized due to weakness resulting from the Bhookh Hartal (hunger strike). One person, in fact, swooned in front of this author, who was at once rushed to the hospital.

Rishikesh, a 20-year-old young farmer, has not eaten since December 8. However, he shows an indomitable spirit towards their “legitimate agitation”.

Cooch Behar
Image: Sapan kapoor, NewsGram

NewsGram spoke to Nirmal Roy, the President of The Greater Cooch Behar People’s Association, to understand the issue.

Nirmal Roy
Nirmal Roy, President of The Greater Cooch Behar People’s Association

Roy tells us that like other princely states, His Highness of Maharaja-ruled Cooch Behar joined the Union of India by signing the instrument of accession with the latter on August 28, 1949. Later, Cooch Behar was placed as ‘C’ Camp State in the Indian Constitution adopted on November 26, 1949.

“But on January 1, 1950, our constitutional Cooch Behar state was amalgamated with the ‘A’ Category state of West Bengal by dint of ‘290 A’ British provincial Act of 1935 by Governor General. But this Act was fully abandoned in 1939 during the World War II by the British and was not in existence in 1950. Therefore, the merger of Cooch Behar ‘C’ camp state with the ‘A’ category state of West Bengal was completely illegal and unconstitutional.

“Since that time we have been forced to live in extreme poverty and denied basic necessities as we have no Constitutional identity,” Roy tells NewsGram.

Image: NewsGram
Image: Sapan Kapoor, NewsGram

Roy claims five districts of Cooch Behar, namely South Dinajpur, North Dinajpur, Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Bihar were merged with West Bengal while other five districts – Kokrajhar, Chirang, Bongaigaon, Dhubri, and Goalpara – went with Assam.

Roy’s organization was formed in 1998 and the agitation has been going on since 2000 in this regard. It is, therefore, not their first hunger strike at Jantar Mantar, the officially designated place for protests in the national capital. They first dug their heels in here on August 28, 2006. However, the then UPA government did not pay heed to their demands. Therefore, they decided to step up the agitation in 2011, at Jantar Mantar, where after 20 days of hunger strike by thousands of people, as claimed by Roy, the government opened their doors for dialogue.

Despite repeated assurances by the then Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, Cooch Behar did not become a reality. On the other hand, the UPA yielded to incessant pressure exerted on them and formed the state of Telangana out of Andhra Pradesh.

There had been a series of communication between the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s office and the group. However, the demand remained unfulfilled.

They were back at Jantar Mantar again on March 10 this year demanding special attention in regard to Cooch Behar’s developmental needs as promised by the then Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. After two days of protest, the strike was called off following Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s assurances to “look into the matter”.

“After three months when we communicated with the Home Minister, he informed us that a letter was dispatched to Prime Minister Modi in reference to the formation of Cooch Behar, adding that the final decision in this regard will be taken by the Union Cabinet.” 

However, their repeated attempts to secure a meeting with PM Modi have been to no avail thus far, Roy rues.

Image: NewsGram
Image: Sapan Kapoor, NewsGram