Bongal is a derogatory slur used to refer to the Bengali Hindus and Bengali Muslims in Assam. The term lent the name to the infamous Bongal Kheda movement which resulted in an ethnic cleansing of Bengali Hindus from parts of Assam in the 1960s and 1970s. In a broader sense the term refers to anyone who is perceived as a foreigner.


The term may have been derived from 'Bangala', the name of the Mughal province of Bengal. Initially the term might have stood for the people of Bengal, but later it is said to have stood for any foreigner.[1] Because of its geographic location, the approach to the Ahom kingdom from mainland India was through Bengal.[1] Ahom general Lachit Borphukan is said to have referred to the Mughals as Bongals.[2]

Over years of political seclusion, Bongal became a term of suspicion, reproach and contempt.[1] When the British annexed Ahom kingdom to its Indian territories, many Bengali Hindus arrived in Assam by taking up administrative jobs in the government. The Britishers and the Bengali Hindus alike were referred to as Bongals. The Britishers were called Boga Bongal, literally meaning 'the white foreigner' and the Bengali Hindus were called 'Kola Bongal' literally meaning 'the black foreigner'.[3] After the independence, the term continued to be used for the Bengali speaking people. However, it was not used for the Bengalis only. In a broader sense it was used to refer to any group that was perceived to be an outsider.[4]

Bongal Kheda

Main article: Bongal Kheda

In the colonial period, the Bengali Hindus dominated the white collar profession in Assam. This was resented by the Assamese population. After the independence, the Assamese political leadership promoted the concept of Assam for Assamese. Assamese was to be the sole official language of the state. No other non-Assamese group in Assam posed a direct challenge to the Assamese middle class in the white collar profession than the Bengali Hindus. The selection of a Bengali Hindu as the chief of the oil refinery in Guwahati was a graphic example. The resentment led to an organized campaign called 'Bongal Kheda', literally meaning 'drive away the Bongals', which resulted in ethnic cleansing of Bengali Hindus from parts of Assam.[5] The ethnic cleansing started in the early 1960s continued through the sixties into the seventies and eighties. In the seventies it spread to Meghalaya and Tripura.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Fishman, Joshua; Garcia, Ofelia, eds. (6 March 2011). Handbook of Language and Ethnic Identity: The Success-Failure Continuum in Language and Ethnic Identity Efforts. 2. Oxford University Press. p. 244. ISBN 9780199837991.
  2. Barua, Ajit. "Lachit Borphukon". Assam Portal. Retrieved 5 September 2014.
  3. Bareh, Hamlet (2001). Encyclopaedia of North-East India: Assam (Reprint ed.). Mittal Publications. p. 92. ISBN 9788170997894.
  4. Chakravarti, K.C. (30 July 1960). "Bongal Kheda Again" (PDF). The Economic Weekly. Mumbai: Sameeksha Trust: 1193–95. ISSN 0012-9976. Retrieved 5 September 2014.
  5. Horowitz, Donald L. (2001). The Deadly Ethnic Riot. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520224476. Retrieved 5 September 2009.
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