Assamese people

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Assamese people
Assamese couple in traditional attire.jpg
Assamese youth in traditional Bihu attire
Total population
c. 15.3 million[1]
Regions with significant populations
Assamese Bengali letter A (red).png Assamese
Om.svg Hinduism
Related ethnic groups
Bodo-Kachari people, Indo-Aryan peoples, Tibeto-Burman and Tai peoples of Assam

The Assamese people are an Indo-Aryan ethnolinguistic group[5][6][7] that speak the Assamese language,[8] and live primarily in the Indian state of Assam, especially in the Brahmaputra valley. The use of the term precedes the name of the language or the people.[9] It has also been used retrospectively to the people of Assam before the term "Assamese" came into use.[10] They are an ethnically diverse group formed after centuries of assimilation of Austroasiatic, Tibeto-Burman, Indo-Aryan and Tai populations,[11] and constitute a tribal-caste continuum[12]—though not all Assamese people are Hindus and ethnic Assamese Muslims numbering around 42 lakh constitute a significant part of this identity [13] The total population of Assamese speakers in Assam is nearly 15.09 million which makes up 48.38% of the population of state according to the Language census of 2011.


The name "Assamese" is of British colonial coinage. Assamese is an English word meaning "of Assam"[14]—though most Assamese people live in Assam, not all the people of Assam today are Assamese people.


The Government of Assam faced difficulties in defining Assamese people for Assam Accord, due to linguistically and culturally heterogeneous population. Though there is a political dispute over the definition of Assamese people, in general; the people belonging to the state of Assam are referred sometimes as Assamese people or more appropriately as People of Assam.[15][16] The lack of a definition has put stumbling blocks in implementing clause 6[17] of the Assam Accord, an agreement signed by the activists of the Assam Movement and the Government of India in 1985.[18] Since a legal definition is important to provide "constitutional, legislative and cultural" safeguards to the Assamese people, the Government of Assam had formed a ministerial committee to finalise the definition in March 2007.[19][20] To address the clause 6 issue, AASU had announced a definition on 10 April 2000 which was based on residency with a temporal limit: All those whose names appeared in the 1951 National Register of Citizens and their progenies should be considered as Assamese.[21][22][23]

Despite the lack of a legal definition, social scientists consider the Assamese identity to constitute a tribal-caste continuum that has been the result of a historical process.[12]


Origins of the nationalistic identity[edit]

Assamese as a nationalistic identity was seeded when the Ahom kingdom came under repeated attacks from the Bengal Sultanate in the early 16th century and the people banded together under Suhungmung (1497–1539) to resist a common enemy. The kingdom not only succeeded in resisting the invasion, but a general pursued the invaders to the Karatoya river and freed most of the Kamrup and Kamata regions.[24]

The process of identity formation sped up during the rule of Pratap Singha (1603–41) when the Mughals began repeated incursions from 1615 and the Battle of Saraighat in 1671; and finally the Battle of Itakhuli (1682 CE) when the Ahoms took direct control over western Brahmaputra valley.[25] Many Muslim soldiers and professionals who had accompanied invading armies or immigrated peacefully since the 13th century, including those from the 16th century, were given power and eminence by the Ahom kings, and they in turn helped the Ahoms in repelling the Mughals.[26] This was also the time when the Assamese language progressively replaced the Ahom language in the court and outside.[27] As a result of the Ahom kings increasingly patronizing Hinduism alongside the proselytizing activities of Ekasarana Dharma since the 16th-century—a large section of the Bodo-Kachari peoples converted to different forms of Hinduism in the 17th-18th century and a composite Assamese identity comprising caste-Hindus, tribals and Assamese Muslims began to form.[28]

On the eve of British colonialism, the writers of that time included everyone in the Brahmaputra valley into the group called "Assamese".[29]

Tribe-Caste continuum[edit]

Social movement due to state formations[edit]

Scholars believe that with the arrival of Indo-Aryans in Assam, there was a simultaneous sanskritisation and deshification processes[30] beginning in the 5th–8th century during the reign of the Varman dynasty of Kamarupa;[31]—and all Assam's kings were originally non-Indo-Aryan who were gradually Sanskritised.[32] This enabled many of the common folks to follow the ruling classes into sanskritisation and also bring along with them elements of their own local customs and religions.[33]

Social movement due to Ekasarana religion[edit]

The Ekasarana dharma that emerged in the 16th century and the proselytising activities of the Sattra institutions created a path for individuals of tribal origins to traverse the tribal-caste continuum. Tribal people could take initiation at a Sattra—and a neophyte would be called a modahi if he still took liquor. A modahi successively advanced to the Sarania group (also called saru-koch), Koch, Bor-Koch, Saru-Keot, Bor-Keot and then a Kalita.[34] At the end of this tribal-caste continuum were the Brahmins and often the pontiffs of Sattra's were Brahmins called Goswamis. Some of these Goswamis were a few generations earlier Kayasthas, and some Kayastha pontiffs were earlier tribal and low caste.[35] It is this process by which many groups such as Chutia, Borahi, Moran, Deori, Boro peoples to become Assamese peasants, especially in Upper and Central Assam; and it was noted that some kayastha sattradhikars were originally Morans, Kaibartas, Chandalas, Tantis[36] and Sankardev had himself instated gurus from Muslim, Kaibarta, Nagas, and Garo communities.[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mikael Parkvall, "Världens 100 största språk 2007" (The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007), in Nationalencyklopedin
  2. ^ "Abstract of speakers' strength of languages and the mother tongues - 2011" (PDF). Retrieved 3 November 2019.
  3. ^ "Assamese rockstar in Bangladesh challenges CAAcophony | Guwahati News - Times of India". The Times of India.
  4. ^ "Mission roots brings Assamese Sikhs to Punjab". The Times of India. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  5. ^ "As an socio-ethnic linguistic community, Assamese culture evolved through many centuries in a melting pot syndrome." (Deka 2005:190)
  6. ^ "All this suggests that Assamese nationalism was a post-British phenomenon. As an ideology and movement it took shape only during the second half of the 19th century, when such questions as the preservation and promotion of the mother-tongue, jobs for the sons of the soil and concern over colonial constraints on development, began to stir Assamese minds." (Guha 1984:54)
  7. ^ "Assamese micro-nationalism began in the middle of the nineteenth century as an assertion of the autonomy and distinctiveness of Assamese language and culture against the British colonial view of Assam as a periphery of Bengal." (Baruah 1994:654)
  8. ^ Saikia, Yasmin (2004). Fragmented Memories: Struggling to be Tai-Ahom in India. Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0822386162. the group that now identifies as Tai–Ahom were historically seen as Assamese people. However, the term ethnic Assamese is now associated by the Indian government at Delhi with the Assamese speaking Indo-Aryan group (comprising both Hindus and Muslims) of Assam. The latter group is the majority people of Assam, while the Tai-Ahom people were a dominant minority during the Ahom Rule
  9. ^ "Assamese language and literature played a major role in forming the Assamese cultural mind even before they came to be known as Assamese." (Deka 2005:192)
  10. ^ "Yet once the community adopted Assamese as its name, even their ancient language started to be referred to as Assamese." (Deka 2005:192)
  11. ^ Yasmin Saikia (9 November 2004). Fragmented Memories. ISBN 978-0822333739.
  12. ^ a b (Sharma 2009:355)
  13. ^ "Assam's Muslims: Why some have been declared 'indigenous' and some left out". 11 July 2022.
  14. ^ (Grierson 1903:393). Also, -ese is the English suffix with etymological roots in the Latin -ensis—"[u]sed to form adjectives and nouns describing things and characteristics of a city, region, or country, such as the people and the language spoken by these people." wikt:-ese.
  15. ^ "Assamese People" definition rocks Assembly, The Hindu". Special Correspondent. 1 April 2015. Retrieved 15 September 2017.
  16. ^ "Meet the Axomiya Sikhs". The Tribune. Chandigarh. 24 March 2013.
  17. ^ Clause 6 of Assam Accord: "Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social and linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people."
  18. ^ Assam dithers over Accord, The Telegraph, 15 July 2004.
  19. ^ 1.40 lakh aliens deported since 1971 Archived 29 May 2007 at the Wayback Machine, The Assam Tribune, 27 March 2007
  20. ^ Move to define Assamese people Archived 29 May 2007 at the Wayback Machine, The Assam Tribune, 31 March 2007
  21. ^ Hussain, Wasbir (24 April 2000). "Of natives and aliens". The Hindu.
  22. ^ AASU joins 'Asomiya' debate, The Sentinel, Guwahati, 1 April 2007
  23. ^ AASU flays Barman, Prafulla Mahanta, The Assam Tribune, 1 April 2007
  24. ^ "The idea of a composite Assamese or Asomiya 'jati' or nationality took shape during the later part of the Ahom rule. This process had started during the first Muslim invasion from neighbouring Bengal in the 16th century when the people were brought under an Ahom or Assamese banner against the common enemy. Not only were the Ahom successful in repelling the Muslim invasions, but by the 1530s the Ahoms had freed the greater part of Kamrup and Kamata from Muslim occupation and "extended their dominion right up to the Karatoya in Murshidabad in the west and almost to close proximity of Dacc". (Misra 1999:1264)
  25. ^ "During the rule of the Ahom monarch, Pratap Singha (1603-41) consolidation of the Assamese community was further sped up because of the common fight against Mughal incursions and encroachment on Assam territory. The Ahom victory over the Mughals in early 1616 was followed by the defeat of the Mughal army led by Ram Singh in the Battle of Saraighat in March 1671" (Misra 1999:1264)
  26. ^ "The Ahom rulers gave positions of power and eminence to the Assamese Muslims and the latter took active part in resisting successive Mughal attempts to overrun the region. The assimilation of this segment of Muslims into Assamese society was so complete that the historians who accompanied the Mughal expeditions into Assam noted that they were more Assamese than Muslim." (Misra 1999:1264)
  27. ^ "Incidentally, literate Ahoms retained the Tai language and script well until the end of the 17th century. In that century of Ahom-Mughal conflicts, this language first coexisted with and then was progressively replaced by Assamese (Asamiya) at and outside the Court." (Guha 1983:9)
  28. ^ (Misra 1999:1264)
  29. ^ "[T]he demographic break-up of the Assamese society on the eve of British entry into the province may be said to have included the different ethnic groups brought within the Hindu fold, the caste Hindus, the plains tribal communities and the relatively small number of Assamese Muslims." (Misra 1999:1264–1265)
  30. ^ "Here I will follow the lead of Wendy Doniger, who suggests that the development of Hinduism as a whole in South Asia was not simply a process of Sanskritisation, that is, the absorption of non-Hindu traditions into the brahminic system; rather, it also involved a process of ‘Deshification’, that is, the influence of local (deshi) and indigenous cultures on brahmaic religion and the mutual interaction between Sanskritic and deshi traditions." (Urban 2011:233)
  31. ^ (Sharma 2009:356)
  32. ^ "Virtually all of Assam's kings, from the fourth-century Varmans down to the eighteenth-century Ahoms, came from non-Aryan tribes that were only gradually Sanskritised."(Urban 2011, p. 234)
  33. ^ (Sharma 2009:355–357)
  34. ^ (Sharma 2009:358)
  35. ^ (Sharma 2009:359)
  36. ^ (Sharma 2009:359)
  37. ^ (Cantile 1984:177)