The political status of Cooch Behar had been gradually turned from a kingdom to a district town. Previously it was a part of a bigger Kingdom of Kamrup in ancient times; known as Pragjyotishpur. The present Assam, Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, Dinajpur and Rangpur (now in Bangladesh) were the parts of Kamrup. The Kingdom- Kamrup was divided into four parts such as Ratnapith, Kampith, Subarnapith and Soumarpith. The present Cooch Behar was the part of Ratnapith. During the period of 16th century the Cooch Behar turned into an independent state and in 1773, it became a revenue paying estate of the British. Finally, on 28th August 1949, Cooch Behar became a part of lndian domination; and a district of West Bengal on 1st January 1950. Although it is big question how central territory (linguistically and culturally different from West Bengal/Bengal) became a district of a state.
Different dynasties ruled this region; Koch dynasty ruled from 151 0 A.D. to 1949. Before the advent of Koch dynasty, Khen dynasty ruled this region. Biswa Singha, an adventure Koch chief laid the foundation of his kingdom in about A.D. 1510 on the ruins of the kingdom of Kamata. His son and successor Naranarayan (A.D 1540-1587) was not only the greatest of the Koch kings, but also he was one of the illustrious rulers of North East India of his times. Several Muslim rulers like Hussain Shah, Mir-Jumla invaded this land. Political relations with the Mughal emperors were also established.
The population of Cooch Behar was divided as Asiatics and non-Asiatics (as per census 1872). Again, Asiatics were classified into two groups- Natives of India and British Burma, and other than Natives of lndia and British Burma. Natives of India and British Burma were again divided into five groups such as Aboriginal Tribes, Semi-Hindu Aboriginals, Hindu, Vaishnav (a religious group) and Muslims. Further, Hindu into eleven occupational groups viz., High caste (Brahman, Chhatri or Rajput), Intermediate ( Baidya, Kayastha ), Trading (Marwari, Banik, Khatri, Oswal ), Pastoral ( Goala, Gareri), Agricultural (Barui, Koeri, Kaibarta, Kurmi, Kolita, Mali), caste engaged in personal service (Dhawa, Dhanuk, Dhobi, Kahan, Napit), Artisan ( Kamars, Kumar, Swamakar, Sutradhar, Sunri, Tali, Weavers ( Jugi, Tanti ), labour ( Nuniya), Boating and Fishing ( Manjhi, Nalua). Thus the composition of population in Cooch Behar was a heterogeneous in nature.
Naheb Ahilkar, Cooch Behar state, Shri Harendra Narayan Chaudhury ( 1903) made a classes of the population of Cooch Behar.
He divided the whole population into three major groups viz Aryan race, subject tribes, and aboriginal tribes besides the Muslims. Secondly, he observed that each group had a number of subgroups having different social status. Thus the people of the Aryan race were divided into three subgroups like high caste hindus, low caste hindus and the unclean caste. Brahmin, Kshatriya, Baidya and Kayastha were included in the high caste hindu.
The low caste hindus were grouped into two categories viz Navasaks or pure functional sub-castes and the unclean castes. Barui, Baniya, Gowala, Halwai, Kaibarta, Kahar, Kumar, Kumar, Mali, Moira, N[lpit, Sadgope, Tanti & Teli were included in the low caste hindu group and were placed above the unclean caste and below the high caste . The third group, the unclean caste included the Dhopa, Hari, Taliya, Munchi, and Patni.
The subject Tribes were divided into two subgroups viz clean hindu and unclean hindu. Khen, Morangia, and Rajbanshi were included in the former subgroup. Bediya, Daoi, Dom, Namasudra or Chanda/ and Nuniya were included in the latter subgroup. In the third category Garo and Mech were included in the aboriginal tribe. Besides these, there were a good number of Muslims who were not included in the above categories. Most of the high castes like Brahmins, Baidyas and Kayasthan were migrants who either hold service under the state, or carry on, business in the country. There were some native brahmins and kayasthas. They had migrated from Bengal and Assam. Most of the native Brahmins belonged to the vaidic class. They were the descendants of those who were brought from time to time into the country by the Khen Kings of Kamatapur and Maharajas- Biswa Singh, Naranarayan and Prannarayan of the present dynasty from Kaunaj, Mithila and Assam ( Chaudhury 1903: 121 &122). However the Koch Rajbanshi formed the major ethinic group in the region. Next to the Koch Rajbanshi there were Muslims.
The Koch Rajbanshi (Major Ethnic group)
Around 63% population was Koch Rajbanshi (Hindu) as per Hunter, 1872. There has been an age-old controversy of their identity. To some scholars, Rajbanshi belonged to Mangolian stock. While others identified them as Dravidian. “Rajbanshi a Dravidian caste of Northern Bengal, originally Koch, but now claiming to be an outlying branch of Kshatriyas” (Risley: 1998 :183 ). The Koches were of Mongoloid origin having close affinities with other bodo tribes like the Meches, Rabhas, Dhimals, Hajongs, and Garos. But in course of time and in some limited areas, they intermarried the Dravidians and gave birth to a mixed Mongolo-Dravidian race but having preponderant Mongolaid characters (Nath :1989 :4), Chatterjee (1998) identified Rajbanshi as Indo -Mongoloid Bodo people or mixed Austric-Dravidian- Mangoloid People. “…. during the days of Visva Singha and Naranarayana, they are proud to call themselves Rajbanshis and to claim to be called Kshatriyas” ( Chatterjee : 1998: 112). The Koches were ·also designated both as Rajbanshis and Bhangakshatriyas. Most of the scholars agreed that the Koch tribe after adopting Hinduism, claimed themselves as Rajbanshi Etymological, Rajbanshi means men of the royal lineage. They identified themselves as Kshatriyas.
Around 30 percent of the total populations were muslims (mainly converted Koch Rajbanshi hindu over a period of time) as per census in 1891. Penetration of Muslims started during the period of thirteenth century when Bakhtiar Khilji invaded Tihet. Several Muslim rulers also attacked this region. Mir Jumla occupied Koch Behar in the year 1661. However, establishment of political relations with Muslim rulers helped to immigrants. Along with the process of migration there were also instances of conversion of the local population. Dalton (1873) also expressed the same view.
However, the Muslims themselves were not homogeneous. The Muslims of Cooch Behar constituted with Sunnis and Shia. Numerically the former was the majority. The local converts and immigrated muslims Were known as Nashya and Bhati respectively. Most of them belonged to Sunnis sect. Among the muslims of Coach Behar the Ashraff or Miyan enjoyed the higher status than that of the Ajlafs or Garosthi. Ajlafs belonged to the Nasya group and were associated with agriculture.
Courtesy: Thesis/Bijaybihari S., 2001; Book- TCSAILRS/H.N. Chaudhury, 1903