Progressing with protests

Assam?s bongaigaon is today identified as a place where protests and progress go hand-in-hand, says Gokul Bhagabati

There are two main stories on how Bongaigaon got its name. The first story says that the surrounding hilly and forest areas were full of wild (bon) cows (gai). The villagers used to assemble from time to time to drive them away for protecting their crops. Thus, the area came to be known as Bon-Gai-Gaon. According to the second story, there lived a poet named ?Bong? (Bong Roy) who could induce laughter with his oral composition, and in return he collected grains or coins voluntarily offered by the people. The place, thus, got identified as the village of Bong, that is Bong-er-Gaon.

Today, however, Bongaigaon is identified as a place where protests and progress go hand-in-hand. If articulation of grievances can be marked as a sign of social progress, then Bongaigaon has left other cities far behind. True to India?s essence, this district in western Assam constitutes of diverse ethnic communities, different languages and distinct religions. Most social groups in Bongaigaon, which was part of the undivided Goalpara district till 1989, seem to have mastered the art of expressing their angst and wishes, with Koch Rajbongshis, the most dominant community in the district, being most vocal. ?The influence of Rajbongshis is felt strongly in Bongaigaon district,? says Paremswar Sutradhar, member of the State Advisory Council for the Scheduled Castes.

Frequent protests seem to have stood as a stumbling block in the path of economic development of the district inhabited by over a million people. According to Pardip Sharma, owner of Byanjan Hotel, ?Bongaigaon is wonderfully located to offer huge business opportunities of every kind. It is well connected by both railways and roads to most parts of Assam. One can also reach West Bengal and Meghalaya very easily from Bongaigaon. But due to frequent bandh calls by different organisations, it is difficult to take your business to the next level.? He also laments the presence of several insurgent groups in the district, saying it discourages entrepreneurs from venturing into new projects.

There is, however, no stopping for Bongaigaon. To cope with the housing needs of the increasing population, three seven-storied buildings are being constructed under the ?Sangram Niloy? scheme. ?A good number of real-estate players from different parts of the country are now showing interest in building housing societies in Bongaigaon,? says Tejesh Tripathy, a local journalist. He adds that the cost of land has doubled within a couple of years because the non-tribals from the adjacent Chirang and Kokrajhar districts are considering Bongaigaon as a safe haven.

The fact that Bongaigaon Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd (now BGR-Bongaigaon Refinery), with which many have identified the district all along, is no longer part of the Bongaigaon district, has irked many. However, the establishment of a carbon factory (Brahmaputra Carbon) in the New Bongaigaon Industrial Estate is now generating employments for the local youth.

Sharma informs that a new carbon factory is also coming up at the Saprakata area. Sutradhar says that the opening up of a number of automobile showrooms and fast expansion of the mobile network have helped many of the hitherto unemployed young get new employment avenues.

If Chevrolet is doing brisk business, Hyundai and Hero Honda are not far behind. Tripathy points out that if New Bongaigaon Coach Factory, which was originally planned to be set up during Indira Gandhi?s time, actually materialises, a huge opportunity will open up for the unemployed. The re-opening of the Ashok Paper Mill at Joghighopa, for which the All Assam Students Union is actively agitating, is also expected to open a new window of opportunities. However, it?s the New Bongaigaon Industrial Estate, aluminum factories, railway workshops and the Birjhora Tea Estate that initiated the Bongaigaon growth story.

Looking at the overcrowded buses at the pick hours, one knows that many people from the neighbouring areas are coming here to earn their livelihood. However, not everybody comes here for job. Some come to shop and a lot more to do some business transactions. The increasing number of travellers has also led to the mushrooming of small and mid-sized hotels. ?The hotel business is doing particularly well in the district. After all, Bongaigaon endows the travellers a sense of security that neighbouring districts like Kokrajhar or Chirang cannot,? says Sharma.

Thanks to the State Health Ministry, if getting an ambulance is just a call away in the district, establishment of a number of quality private healthcare centres have also kept a lot of woes away, if not diseases. To provide state of the art facilities to the residents, Apollo Hospitals is also said to have tied up with the Indian Railways to set up a healthcare centre in New Bongaigaon.

?If we look at the education sector, Bongaigaon has made some progress,? says DN Roy Singhal, Lecturer, Department of Bengali, Kanya Mahavidyalaya. ?However, the best students always try to go out in search of better education and career.? According to Tripathy, ?The courses in Bongaigaon Polytechnic are very limited. Although the ITI (Industrial Training Institute) in Bongaigaon has most of the trades, the shortage of faculty has been a persistent problem.?

?We are definitely witnessing a wind of change in Bongaigaon. The way people are shopping and dressing themselves up has undergone a sea change within a short period of time, thanks to the setting up of Shivali Complex or Prakash Mega Mart. With Koutons, Cotton County, Barcelona and such other brands venturing into the town, we don?t have to go to Guwahati to buy a pair of branded shirts,? says Debashish Kashyap, who has returned to his home town after completing his studies from the University of Delhi.

And if the increasing pace of life is adding some stress, one can take a few hours out to do some boating in Koyakujiya Lake near Abhyapuri, the cultural centre of Bongaigaon, or just an evening stroll in Bongaigaon Eco-Park near the Bongaigaon College.

Whenever I visit Bongaigaon, I stroll along the busy road overlooking the Prakash Cinema Hall, reminding me of my adolescence romance. With the penetration of personal computers and invasion of CDs and DVDs, this theatre has closed down, leaving the Mayapuri Hall to single-handedly shoulder the responsibility of screening movies. Down with mixed feelings, I croon a Bob Dylan song and walk along the road wondering how the life has changed ? for good and bad.

Source: The Pioneer, Delhi, Sunday, Sunday, 8th August 201
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