Recently, the Assam Cabinet announced that Gaon Buras (village headman), village-level functionaries of the district administration, will henceforth be called ‘Gaon Pradhans’.
The institution of Gaon Bura in Assam dates back to the colonial era, when the British appointed the oldest person in the village as the head, who would oversee matters relating to land and revenue in a particular area. The position would usually go to the oldest, most knowledgeable man who had good personal ties with everyone in a village, or a cluster of small villages. In Arunachal Pradesh, too, the Gaon Buras (and Buris) are the most important village-level functionaries.
Post-independence, the government continued with the institution and made the Gaon Bura a formal part of the Assam Revenue and Disaster Management department, increasing his responsibilities, and eventually introducing a small honorarium for the role.
A number of duties are bestowed on the Gaon Bura, beginning with maintaining a population register of the village, maintaining land records, helping mauzadar in revenue collection, notifying circle officers if there is any encroachment on land, helping police investigate crime, among others.
“Another significant duty of the Gaon Bura is that he/she is the one who can issue a ‘Gaon Bura certificate’, a certificate that determines permanent residency in a particular village,” During the updation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), the Gaon Bura certificate became crucial for women (who had no other documents) to establish linkages with their husbands and parents.