Assamese youth in traditional dress
|c. 15 million|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Bhutan||54,268 (2011)|
|Bangladesh||22,456 (2011)|
|Kamrupi • Goalpariya)|
Majority: Hinduism 75.52%Islam 21.34% • Christianity 2.14% • Sikhism 1%
|Related ethnic groups|
|Bengalis, Tai and Sino-Tibetan-speaking peoples|
The Assamese people are the indigenous people of the state of Assam. This subgroup is often associated with the Assamese language or any other tribal dialect of Assam. They are a physically diverse group formed after years of assimilation of Austroasiatic, Indo-Aryan, Tibeto-Burman and Tai races. The total population of native Assamese speakers in Assam is nearly 13 million which makes up 48.8% of the Assam's population according to the Language census of 2001. Though there is a political dispute over the definition of Assamese people in Assam, in general; the people belonging to the state of Assam along with belonging to an indigenous community of Assam and speaking the Assamese language or any tribal dialect of Assam as his/her first language are referred as Assamese people.
The indigenous Assamese people traditionally include ethnic groups like Ahoms, Assamese Brahmins (including Ganaks), Keots, Kalitas, Koch Rajbongshis, Sutiyas, Moran and Motok, and Assamese Muslims, Assamese Sikhs, Sonowal–Kacharis, Deoris, Thengal–Kacharis and Assamese Christians, Dimasas, Garos, Karbi/Mikirs, Mishing/Miris, Rabhas, Sarania–Kacharis, Tai Phakes (and other Tai groups), Tiwa (Lalung)s, Dom/Nadiyals among others, speaking Assamese or tribal dialects as the first language, are members of this group.
According to 2011 census, Out of 13,257,272 Assamese people, majority of 10,013,013 or 75.52% Assamese people were Hindus, largest minority of 2,830,072 or 21.34% Assamese people were Muslims, and very few 414,187 or 3.14% Assamese people were Christians and Sikhs by religion.
Historically, the definition of the "Assamese people" has remained in a state of flux and this has had strong political repercussions in Assam, especially in the colonial (1826–1947) and post–colonial (after 1947) periods.
The lack of a definition has put stumbling blocks in implementing clause 6 of the Assam Accord, an agreement signed by the activists of the Assam Movement and the Government of India in 1985. 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 finalize the definition in March 2007. To address the clause 6 issue, AASU had announced a definition on April 10, 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. Difficulty in definition is rooted in the heterogeneous nature of inhabitants of the Assam state.
The first usage of the English word "Assamese" is noted in colonial times; based on same principle as Sinhalese, Nepalese and Canarese, derived from the Anglicised word "Assam" with the suffix -ese, meaning "of Assam."
In contrast, Lower Assam (or the Western Assam region) in pre–colonial times (before 1682) was known as "Kamatapur" which was ruled by the Koch dynasty (instead of Asama) and considered a politically, socially and culturally separate unit from the rest of the state.
In the 16th century, the Ahom kingdom was known as the "Kingdom of Acham" to the Mughals; and later, to the British. In 1682, the eastern Kamrup was annexed by Ahom kingdom and the expanded kingdom continued to be called as the "Kingdom of Assam" till 1821 when the Ahom kingdom became part of the Burmese Empire.
Just as "Assam" was associated with the Ahom kingdom till the 19th century, "Asamiya" was used for the subjects and soldiers of that kingdom who belonged to different ethnic and linguistic backgrounds and not solely to the Ahom community.[not in citation given]
After Assam became part of British India, the newly constituted province came to be known as Assam after its largest constituent, and the name Assamese / Asamiya came to be associated with the Assamese language erstwhile known as Kamrupi.
According to Yasmin Saikia, "the group that now identifies as Tai–Ahom were historically seen as the Assamese people. However, the term ethnic Assamese is now associated by the Indian government at Delhi with the Assamese speaking Indo–Aryan and Tibeto-Burman groups (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.
Illegal immigrants from Bangladesh has been a key issue in Assam. Most of the immigrants settle in Assam due to economic reasons and their population is estimated to be between 7-8 million. The issue of illegal influx has a 30-year-old history, starting with the anti-foreigner agitation that began in 1979 under the leadership of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU). In 1985, after hundreds of people died in course of independent India’s biggest mass uprising, the AASU and other agitation groups signed an agreement with the Centre called the Assam Accord. It fixed 25 March 1971 as the cut-off date for detection and expulsion of illegal migrants, meaning anyone found entering India after this date were to be detected and sent back. In the three decades that followed, a few thousand illegal Bangladeshi migrants have been expelled by successive state governments, which included the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), a party that was formed with the mandate of freeing Assam of illegal aliens. Many of these ‘expelled’ people are believed to have come back.[unreliable source?]
According to an Assam government white paper, between 1985 and 2012, 2,442 illegal immigrants from Bangladesh had been expelled from the state. The central home ministry said in 2004 that it estimated a total of five million illegal immigrants in Assam.
Shri Indrajit Gupta, the then Home Minister of India stated in the Parliament on 6 May, 1997 that there were 10 million illegal migrants residing in India. Quoting Home Ministry/Intelligence Bureau source, the 10 August 1998 issue of India Today has given the breakdown of these illegal migrants by States - West Bengal 5.4 millions, Assam 4 millions, Tripura 8 millions, Bihar 0.5 million, Maharashtra 0.5 million, Rajasthan 0.5 million and Delhi 0.3 million making a total of 10.83 millions.
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