1. The Gethsemane Forest Reserve 

1st August, 2021
Bhairobkundo, Udalguri

The Gethsemane Forest Reserve falls at the tri-junction of the Bhutan, Arunachal and Assam border and covers an area of 22 sq kms fed by the Dhansiri and Daifam rivers and is a part of the Bodo Territorial Region (BTR).

The region has witnessed a history of violence in a fight for a separate territory meant to be carved out from Assam state since 1967. The Plain Tribes Council of Assam (PTCA) had demanded, since its inception in1967, for a separate union territory for the Bodo and other plain tribes to be called Udayachal. With the failure of PTCA, the All Bodo Students Union launched the Bodo Movement in 1987 with the demand for a separate state to be called Bodoland.

The Bodoland Accord signed on Feb 20, 1993 and its creation of Bodoland Autonomous Council failed to satisfy the aspirations of the Bodos. In its 28th Annual Conference held at Langhin Tiniali, Karbi Anglong from 3rd to 5th March 1996, the All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) disowned the Bodo Accord and revived its demand and movement for a separate state of Bodoland. This second phrase of the ABSU movement was marked by violence both directly related and unrelated to the agitation and was mostly directed by the ideological differences between the NDFB (National Democratic Front of Bodoland) and ABSU. This phase also marked the formation of the BLT (Bodo Liberation Tigers) in 1996. The rise of factions from within the larger movement led to a lot of infighting and fratricidal killings among the NDFB and BLT cadres. The violence and the infighting continued until the signing of the Memorandum of Settlement (MOS) between the Govt of India, Assam and the BLT on Feb 10, 2003 which led to a self-governing autonomous council called Bodoland Territorial Council.

The decade long violence resulting from infighting and the failure of govt policies made the people from the community who had largely contributed to the movement get disillusioned of their leaders. These people who had been driven by Upendranath Brahma (Bodofa - Father of the Bodos) and his ideals of self-help and mass movement, realised that only through community action they could redefine and have control over their identity and regain their old tradition of living in peace and harmony. That is when the 35 individuals credited for the man-made forest, who were initially youth members of All Bodo Students Union (ABSU), they earmarked land for farming inside the reserve forest and took a chance at self-resiliency.

The subsequent efforts of these 35 individuals with the help of their community members have now created a lush green forest by planting over 1.4 million saplings over the past fifteen years and have proved an inspiration for youngsters, who have come forward to create a forest and also earn a livelihood from it and set a successful example of environmental conservation through their hard work.

In 2016, the men formed Gethsemane Joint Forest Management Committee (JFMC) as a governing body bringing six village sub-committees under its umbrella. The JFMC won a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ from Kaziranga Wildlife Society in 2016 and restoration award from Balipara Foundation in 2017.

The archival images share a reflective imagery trying to reconnect with the philosophies of The father of the Bodos, Upendranath Brahma and his ideals of self-help and mass movement and how it is instrumental in reviving rural economies. The images are also a way to acknowledge the resolve and the commitment of the many villagers who despite the many socio economic challenges stood firm in restoring a lush green forest of over 750 hectares of land.