Brahmaputra   studies



Mobility of land and of population in Bokakhat town (Assam)

see corresponding research topic

text and photographs by Joëlle Smadja

One of our areas of research is the Bokakhat locality (Golaghat district) in the centre of Assam, which is exemplary in many respects. Surrounded by the Brahmaputra to the north, Kaziranga National Park to the west, the hills of Karbi Anglong to the south, this town which dates from the 1960s is inhabited by 15 or so communities living in well-defined neighbourhoods, each with places for assembly and worship. Some of these communities were displaced by the 1950 earthquake, others by the extension of the National Park.


Bokakhat is an excellent site for the study of contact between groups, distinctive signs, languages, territorial conflicts (sometimes between humans and animals), relations between the hills and the plain, in particular between the plain and the Karbi Anglong hills, but also among the Misings, who originate from Arunachal and who share a common ancestor and similar religious belief with their relatives in Arunachal.        

  Mising villager from Bokakhat, Assam      Mising house in Bokakhat, Assam

Maps of the distribution of the population over Bokakhat have already been drawn up. Field enquiries, place name records and the ongoing study of electoral rolls, allow us to narrow down the study of the peopling of each hamlet and of its mobility since 1950. The aim of this research is to understand how, in this very densely populated environment conditioned by many tough constraints, the different groups of the population use space and manage resources; how, according to their specificity, they adapt or not to the environment conservation measures taken above all by the administration of Kaziranga National Park. This study will also help us to understand how groups of population define themselves, in comparison to one another; what exchanges take place (between the Misings and the Nepalese, for instance, who often share the same hamlets); how do these groups define their territory which are the object of various demands (autonomous territory of the Misings, of the Karbis...).

14 15 16
The toponymy tells us, for example, that in Bokakhat town, a hamlet is called Bhatti Walla (“those of the lamps”). This hamlet was founded by some Biharis. Up until the 1950s they were entrusted with lighting the banks of the Brahmaputra to help boats transporting tea leaves from Assam to Kolkata. Their descendents still live in this hamlet (which was moved due to flooding) and they still possess some objects that testify to this period, such as this hat and this logbook.

About Us | Site Map | Privacy Policy - Copyright | Contact Us | ©2007 CNRS - Brahmaputra studies