A River Runs Through It: Life by the Jia Bhoroli, a tributary of the Brahmaputra, in Assam

From its origin in the Tawang border district in Arunachal Pradesh to its final meeting with the Brahmaputra by Kolia Bhomora bridge, the 264-km long Jia Bhoroli river nurtures flora and fauna and sustains the livelihood of local communities. Gaon Connection brings you stories from this lesser-known river of Assam.

Simanta Barman
| Updated: December 10th, 2020

A boatman at dusk. Photo: Simanta Barman

Tezpur, Assam

“You must be going to the river?” the girl asked. She looked about 10 years of age, older than the other three children accompanying her. It was a bright autumn day, the sky was clear blue and a gentle breeze comforted in Korokani village, 13 kilometres from Tezpur and 178 kilometres from Assam’s capital Dispur. 

“My name’s Rukhsana,” she said, and walked along, sharing her whereabouts. The others shyly followed, giggling occasionally. At the turn of the road where the river came into full sight, they parted with smiles.

For someone like Rukhsana, born and brought up by the riverside, the Jia Bhoroli, a tributary of the mighty Brahmaputra river, is an inseparable part of her day-to-day life. She might not even know of the river’s existence beyond the periphery of her life. But the river knows, as it has caressed countless of Rukhsanas by its banks.

Passengers aboard a ferry. Photo: Simanta Barman

Originating from the Tawang border district in Arunachal Pradesh, it flows as the Kameng river before reaching Bhalukpong in Assam, where it takes on the name Jia Bhoroli or Jia Bharali. Jia means ‘alive’, and that’s an apt name for a river that, on its descent, spirals its way through jungles and along the banks of several tribal villages before finally meeting the Brahmaputra by Kolia Bhomora bridge, about 13 km from Korokani.

The Nameri National Park falls right on its way. The entire flora and fauna of the forest reserve is dependent on the Jia Bhoroli and its tributaries such as the  Diji, Dinai, Doigurung, Nameri, Dikorai and Khari. The eco-tourism club inside the park is called Jia Bhorelli — it is said the British could not pronounce Bhoroli!

A mesmerizing sunrise by Jia Bhoroli. Photo: Simanta Barman

As the river passes the Nameri Forest Reserve — where it teems with the famed Mahseer fish — the landscape gradually changes and the charchaporis come into light, especially during the winter. Char-chaporis are small riverine islands that shift with the ebb and flow of the river. 

The majority of the residents here are Miya people, descendants of Bengali Muslims, who were said to be brought to Assam by the Britishers. They live on the char-chaporis and by the banks of the Brahmaputra and its tributaries.

The river in full glory. Photo: Simanta Barman

Abdullah and his family live in Korokani by the Jia Bhoroli and are witness to its movements over the years. “You see the large embankment and the road there? The river used to flow by there,” he told Gaon Connection. “There used to be hundreds of villages till that point, called Jamugurihat, about 10 kilometres from here. In 1998, a flood wreaked havoc and swept away several villages. The river shifted westward and villages kept disappearing. We are among the few remaining ones,” Abdullah said. 

Villages sprung up by the Jia Bhoroli because of the abundance of fish. Many families, including Abdullah’s, moved here for the same reason. “The men would go in groups even at night, lamps in hand, to catch fish and would return with bagfuls. Now, it is not the same,” Abdullah’s mother Jahera Khatun, who is in her late sixties, told Gaon Connection

“In the 1960s, the river was far from here and narrower. So, fish were aplenty. We’d have more than enough for the family and to sell. Now, the river is wider and the fish density is less. The fishermen have also moved on to other occupations now,” said septuagenarian Iman Ali, Abdullah’s cousin. Ali can’t see very well now, but has been witness to the river’s fury and tenderness for over five decades. 

Fishermen with fishing nets. Photo: Simanta Barman

Like every other river in Assam, the Jia Bhoroli turns violent every monsoon, causing devastating floods and submerging houses. But Abdullah’s village Korokani and adjoining villages such as Dikoraijan and Napaam are less affected. A possible reason could be the geo-bags with iron nets along the banks, pointed out Abdullah. The geo-bags are filled with sand and bound tightly with an iron net-like structure and go several feet beneath the water. 

“The Tezpur University administration forwarded applications to the authorities to take action before it is too late and the river erodes our village too. They worked on it from 2013 to 2015 and I carried out work for about a 300-metre stretch in our village,” Abdullah, who now works at a brick factory, told Gaon Connection. The central university lies a mere three kilometres from the river. The brunt of the river’s movement is visible in the villages lying 500 metres to the south of Korokani. They are yet to be protected by geo-bags.

Abdul Mozid (middle) with his elder brother Abdul Barek (left) sitting by the river as Surab Ali (right) dips his angle. Photo: Simanta Barman

Sexagenarian Abdul Mozid lives in Bihiyagaon, a village along Jia Bhoroli, which is affected by the annual floods. “This year, it affected more than 80 families in our village,” Mozid, who used to farm earlier, told Gaon Connection. “I had a makeshift shop by the embankment. When the rain got heavy this year, I removed my shop before the flood got to it. Luckily, my sons are earning and I am not dependent on this. It would have been a nightmare otherwise, like it is for others,” he added.

Flood and erosion-wrecked Bihiyagaon village. Photo: Simanta Barman

Bihiyagaon village and Panchmile, which literally means ‘fifth mile’ is a locality near the village. Both experience heavy flooding every year. This year, the state disaster management authority issued a red alert for the area as the water level rose to its maximum. Authorities promised to put in place several measures once the water level subsides, but nothing has been done till now, Mozid said. The geo-bag project is yet to reach his village and Panchmile. The Panchmile market is situated by the Mora Bhoroli (meaning ‘dead Bhoroli’ from the time the river was stopped from spilling over into the village). But, this year, the flood waters almost touched Mora Bhoroli. “The villagers rushed overnight to block it from breaking,” added Mozid.

A ferry across Jia Bhoroli river. Photo: Simanta Barman

But, life by the river is full of irony. The floods also provide a livelihood for many. It offers a healthy catch of goruwa fish (devil catfish). Mozid pointed towards Mokua chapori. “That chapori used to be mostly inhabited by the Assamese Gorkha community people and partly by the Miya people. They all left for safer places, but the land remained. The land is very fertile and farmers cultivate here in the winter — most of the fresh vegetables sold in the Panchmile market are from there,” Mozid told Gaon Connection

Winter is also when the local ferries ply between the banks of the Jia Bhoroli. The villagers use it to visit nearby villages and the ferries carry tales of life and hope, but also of despair. 

Fazar Ali undoing the anchor on the return journey. Photo: Simanta Barman

Hanufa’s family is among the 426 families evicted from Sootea in December last year, because they had ‘encroached’ on government land. They claim otherwise, having lived there for 12 years. Hanufa and her husband Fazar Ali shifted to Dikoraijan with their children. “One cannot leave a place overnight. I don’t know if we will ever get back there. So, whenever we miss the place, we hop onto the ferry and visit Sootea,” she told Gaon Connection. Her home is no longer hers and she’s yet to fit into a new village, but the calming movement of the ferry lulls her into temporary comfort. 

The passengers smile, despite the chilly wind. As dusk sets in, fish jump up and dive into the water lit a burnt gold by the setting sun. They too probably bear stories, like those on the ferry. Till the river flows, these stories live on.