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The challenging transition from “Terrorism” to Tourism The case of the Bodo Community around Manas Nationalpark, Bodoland, Assam, India Background

The Bodos



odo people have settled all over Northeast India and parts of Nepal. They represent one of the largest ethnic and linguistic groups of the Brahmaputra valley.[7] According to the 2001 census, they „were the largest recognized plain tribe in Assam comprising 1.2 million people or 5.3% of the total population of Assam.“[8] „Due to perception of negligence of the Bodo areas by successive Governments in Assam since independence, influx of migrants from other parts of Assam, West Bengal, Bihar and Bangladesh, which led to alienation of tribal land, though prohibited by the Assam Land Revenue (Rules and Regulations) 1886“ the Bodo started searching a separate Bodo identity.[9]

© R. Loose

he Northeast of India comprises the states of Assam, ArunachalPradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura.[1] They are connected to the rest of the country only through a narrow funnel, nicknamed the ‚chicken neck‘.[2] Here the borders of India‘s adjoining countries Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal converge to a few kilometers. The corridor is the major gateway to the Brahmaputra valley with Guwahati, the capital of Assam, being the nodal point for trade and communication for the entire Northeast. On the one hand, politically, the region „has earned the dubious distinction for persistent underdevelopment and growing insurgency“.[3] After the independence of India and the restructuring of the Subcontinent, the various ethnic groups of the Northeast are still in a self-finding process. Demands for independent states or territories still are uttered politically, and in some cases these movements have resulted in the creation of extremist groups. Those take advantage of the situation that „any disturbance in the Brahmaputra Valley and/or its adjoining hills brings the activities in the whole of the N.E. Region to a stand-still position.“[4] On the other hand, in terms of tourism, the region is promoted as a „paradise unexplored“.[5] The area is characterized by a diverse landscape with the Brahmaputra valley plains and the surrounding mountain plateaus. This diversity reflects in the abundant flora and fauna and in the presence of more than 150 distinct tribal groups with their rich cultural heritage. The „polite and hospitable people“ are classified as a „virtue of the NE-region“.[6]

From March 1987 to February 1993 the All Bodo Student Union (ABSU) led an agitation for a separate homeland for the Bodos within the Indian Union.“[10] This movement led to the installation of the Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC) in 1993. According to the Bodos, the „BAC failed to fully meet the aspirations of Bodos and ABSU again lunched an agitation denouncing the accord and demanding creation of a separate state.“[11] In December 2003, the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT), a militant movement, established in June 1996, „renounced violence and surrendered along with arms and ammunition at Kokrajhar, marking an end to seven years of insurgency. On the following day, an interim 12-member executive council of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) was formed in Kokrajhar.“[12] The underlying Memorandum of Settlement was to secure „to assure all ethnic groups of development, equality, security and growth with stability“.[13]

Once a war dance, today a cultural programme performed for tourists by the Bodo women and thus conserved as a cultural asset.

The challenging transition from „Terrorism“ to Tourism - The case of the Bodo community around Manas Nationalpark, Assam, India (Marcus Bauer, 2007)

The latest Bodo accord brings the promise of a lasting peace in the Bodo areas and to a larger extent across the Assam Valley. Its impact in other sites should also not be ruled out for a major group has shown that power flows from political wisdom and realism, not just from the barrel of a gun or through angry rhetoric. B O D O L A N D TE R R I T O R Y COUNCIL But the time of insurgency had left scars in the region. During the movement the Bodo community depended a lot on forest resources and the rather impenetrable areas served as a hide-out for militants. Moreover, the established national and international poaching network took advantage of the unstable situation. Manas Nationalpark with its dense forestation, grasslands and rich wildlife, was badly affected.

Manas Nationalpark



On a gentle slope in the foothills of the Himalayas, where wooded hills give way to alluvial grasslands and tropical forests, the Manas sanctuary is home to a great variety of wildlife, including many endangered species, such as the tiger, pygmy hog, Indian rhinoceros and Indian elephant. UNESCO WO R L D HERITAGE CENTER Today efforts are undertaken to enlarge the Protected Area by „promoting the nomination of the Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan as a future World Heritage site and part of a transboundary park to improve the protection of the whole Manas ecosystem on both sides of the border.“[17] © Sujan Chatterjee

n 1985, UNESCO honored the „great physical beauty“ and the „great natural diversity“[14] by adding the Manas Sanctuary to the World Heritage. The Protected Area supports „22 scheduled

The Manas Maozigendri model – a Blueprint for Community Conservation

species, and it is the richest in species of all Indian wildlife areas“.[15] Parts of it had been a forest reserve since 1907, and in the 1970s it was declared a Sanctuary for the Rhino and a Project Tiger Site. In 1990 the Sanctuary was upgraded to a 52,000 ha large Nationalpark [16], only two years before the UNESCO took the dramatic step to add it to the „List of World Heritage in Danger“.

The Bengal Florican is a ‚critically endangered‘ species with habitat in Manas and a major beneficiaries of the Bodos‘ community conservation efforts..

he importance of Manas started being discussed [18] as soon as the peace process started and in December 2003 a few ABSU youths from the Chapaguri Kokilabari Anchalik Committee decided to form a society to create a Bird Conservation area in their part of Manas, namely the eastern part of the core area of Manas Tiger Reserve under Bhuiyanpara range. The Tiger Project management supported the idea and the first action was to stop the sale of meat of wild animals in the nearby market known as Lakhi Bazar and the procuring of timber from the forest. The people had faith in the ABSU youths and this was the start of a new movement. The youths had managed to initiate surrender of local hunting arms (country guns known as gazimara, spears, traps, catapults etc.) by the poachers from the adjoining villages and patrol their area of Manas to keep away poachers and timber extractors. In 2005, the movement took a larger shape with the involvement of NGOs and people from the travel trade, principally Help Tourism. A strong platform, the „Manas Maozigendri Ecotourism Society“ (MMES) was established. The main motivation was to free Manas from the UNESCO list of „World Heritage Site in Danger“ and bring back its past glory. Several departments were formed, with volunteers undertaking the different jobs to make the community conservation a success in the eastern core area of the Manas Tiger Reserve and create a ‘Bodo Buffer’. Help Tourism after extensive discussions with the volunteers and several departments set up goals for MMES: • Free Manas from UNESCO List of „The World Heritage in Danger“ • Confirm Conservation of Manas in Totality as a World Heritage Site. • Address to people‘s livelihood in vil-

The challenging transition from „Terrorism“ to Tourism - The case of the Bodo community around Manas Nationalpark, Assam, India (Marcus Bauer, 2007)

© M. Bauer

lages around the protected areas & non reserves of the area • Organize developmental works in the villages concerning the conservation, social, cultural, medical & agricultural aspects. • Revive the traditional conservation cultures of the Bodos • Develop better trans-border relation with Bhutan The area that the youths patrolled and could control was named the Manas Maozigendri Conservation Area, following the name of the local stream Maozigendri taken from the Bodo legend. The youths along with villagers developed patrolling roads, protection camps etc with the participation of the villagers. The surrendered poachers have been engaged in patrolling and some of the educated youths have been volunteering for important species monitoring program, which includes Bengal Florican, Great Hornbill, Python, Elephant, Tiger and Capped Langur. To get the confidence of the fringe villagers, the volunteers run awareness programs, medical camps, garment banks etc. and have taken to ecotourism development for a better livelihood process and global recognization. Hospitality, handicrafts, cultural demonstration, wildlife experience etc. are being developed gradually. The development of ecotourism was not only considered to be a major livelihood process but also as a support of the conservation initiative. Recognization has started coming but there is long way to go and support is needed to develop this as a model for ‘community participation in conservation’. The Tiger Project authorities and the BTC are paying remuneration for the ex-poachers on patrol duty and have provided radio wireless sets to be in touch with the park authorities from the field. The responsibility of the centenary closing ceremony for the Manas Reserve had been given to MMES, and in 2006 the MMES initiative was

Conservation Camps safeguard the entry points to Manas Nationalpark and serve as a coordination point for local and visiting volunteers.

awarded with the INTACH environmental award. The process has not been very smooth, the poaching and illicit tree felling lobby has every now and then attacked the volunteers, the protection camps and even instigated adjoining villagers to destroy the protection camps. The BTC being a newly formed council, and being much dependent on the state has often discontinued to pay the patrolling volunteers due to financial crisis. The Tiger Reserve authorities having no resolution or policy to give the volunteers a full fledged legal status to protect their own backyard forests, which happens to be the core of the Tiger Reserve, it is difficult for them to support them with arms and radio wireless systems that were needed for a fully professional park management .

Ecotourism aspects


ear Koklabari a small resort with five cottages, and kitchen cum dining, the Manas Maozigendri Jungle Camp, was built with maximum usage of local material and manpower. People from the near-by village has been trained up as staff to cater for the tourists

and to provide guiding. Moreover, two existing buildings were designated as guest houses, providing basic accommodation facilities for 20 guests. Additionally, 20 families have been trained up to offer homestays. During their stay in the area, visitors are registered as temporary members of MMES and they participate in the conservation activities undertaken by MMES volunteers. In addition to the excursions to the Park, educational programmes have been worked out to introduce the guests to the Bodo culture and tradition, including music and dance, local bamboo and silk weaving craftsmanship, or processing of the local rice beer ‚Zu mai‘. The stay in close contact with the Bodo community moreover introduces the visitors to the religion of Biodivinity, the Bodos‘ rituals of worshipping nature. The successful model implemented by MMES led to the establishment of several more initiatives of the same pattern around the Protected Areas of Manas, like in Zumduar, Ultapani, Kalamati, Bansbari. Till date approximately 1000 volunteers are engaged in nature protection and ecotourism activities.

The challenging transition from „Terrorism“ to Tourism - The case of the Bodo community around Manas Nationalpark, Assam, India (Marcus Bauer, 2007)

© R. Loose

References: [1] Sikkim is the eight state of Northeast India, but is not reflected in this text due to differing geographical location. [2] The origin of the corridor dates back to the year of India‘s independence in1947 when after the division of Bengal the area was separated into the Indian state of West-Bengal and East Pakistan, which in 1971 became the independent state of Bangladesh. The purpose of the establishment was to allow India access to the state of Assam with the Brahmaputra valley. [3] P.R. Bhattacharjee and P. Nayak: Vicious circle of insurgency and underdevelopment in North East India, p.1

[4] ibid, p.3 [5] India tourism campaign launched in 2006 id=135292

[6] Mrinmoy K Sarma: A ‚paradise unexplored‘

[7] See:

Today visitors can actively join hands with the Bodo in their effort to remove Manas Nationalpark from the list of World Heritage in Danger.

[8] Parliament of India Rajya Sabha, 102nd Report on the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2003 & The Constitution (99th amendment) Bill, 2003



ourism currently gets prominent attention as an important factor for the sustainable development of the East Himalaya, e.g. by Asian Development Bank (ADB). The MMES initiative and the Bodos′ path towards peace and stability – both major requirements for tourism – can be cutting-edge prototypes for the whole Northeast of India. Nevertheless, successful tourism development is still hampered. Bad communication, especially the lack of important link roads, poor telecommunication facilities, shortages in electricity supply and power cuts are obstacles that derive from overall weaknesses regarding regional development. Lack of training and qualified staff is a factor that can be influenced from within the communities with basic external support. But the most challenging influence is the bad reputation the region still suffers from. Efforts are undertaken towards improving the image. But as long as external information on the region, especially by the Foreign Offices of the major tourism source countries, is negative, broad spill-over effects of the promising role model is unachievable. The situation is paradox: The same go-

vernments support the development of the region and initiate biodiversity conservation programmes on the one hand. And on the other hand they are advising their tourists to consider their need to travel thus condemning their own development projects. A closer look at the ground reality in the different parts of the region and more detailed information was advisable and is technically feasible.

[9] ibid. [10] Sudhir Jacob George: The Bodo movement in Assam – Unrest to Accord, Asian Survey, Vol. 34, No. 10 (Oct., 1994), pp. 878-892 %3C878%3ATBMIAU%3E2.0.CO%3B2-5&size=LARGE&ori gin=JSTOR-enlargePage

[11] Bodoland Territory Council website

[12] South Asia Terrorism Council outfits/bltf.htm

[13] Bodoland Territory Council website

[14] United Nations Environmental Programme, World Conservation and Monitoring Center

[15] ibid. [16] ibid. [17] ibid. [18] All information about the MMES project derives from a personal site visit in October 2005, regular mail updates on the project progress (mostly documented on, and a personal discussion about the project with Mr. Raj Basu, MD and founder of Help Tourism, Siliguri in October 2007

Marcus Bauer is a freelance consultant and journalist with focus on tourism and South Asia. He holds a master‘s degree in Sustainable Tourism Management and a Diploma in Travel and Tourism Management. October 2007

The challenging transition from „Terrorism“ to Tourism - The case of the Bodo community around Manas Nationalpark, Assam, India (Marcus Bauer, 2007)

From Terrorism to Tourism  

The case of the Bodo people in Manas Nationalpark, Assam, India

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