Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Eco-Political History of Muslims in Assam, India

Assam is the second largest Muslim populated state of India (in terms of percentage) only after Jammu and Kashmir. Muslims constitute about thirty percent of the state population. They are historically concentrated in the south and west Assam in large numbers. Five of the six Muslims majority districts of Assam lie in these regions and also the other districts in these regions have significant percentage of Muslims. Interestingly in Assam it is found that, wherever Muslim political structure once developed, has high percentage of Muslims living there. Besides, the southern and western region, central Assam (mainly in the districts of Nagaon and Marigaon) has significant Muslim populations. Presently the state has almost eighty lakhs Muslim population. History of the origin of this huge numbers of inhabitants does not represent one single period. Almost a quarter of their Islamic origin belongs to 13th to 15thcentury A.D., which is the timing of my study on Muslims Socio-Political History.The history of the Muslims of Assam is important for a comprehensive history of Assam. In fact, the way history of our country is incomplete without the reference of Assam. A history of Assam is also incomplete without the reference of Muslims history. In Assam, Muslim community is heterogeneous in character. Unlike other religious groups of the state, they are also divided culturally, ethnically and linguistically. A systematic study of these different groups, in the light of various sources and conditions is necessary, for the sake of a comprehensive history of state and Muslims in particular. Actually historical processes of conversion in to Islam, settlement of Muslims from outside and the geographical variance of the state paved their division. It is a fact, neither at single point of time Muslims had entered Assam, nor the locals belong to Hinduism and tribal faith embraced Islam at a time. Muslims arrived and settled in different places at different stages of history. Similarly the conversions to Islam occurred at various point of times. The newly settled Muslims (13th to 15th A.D.) of Turk, Afghan, Arabic, Persian and other backgrounds, mingling with the newly converted Muslims, and Non Muslims paved the way for the enhancement of language, Polity, economy and society of Assam. Thus local languages and dialects became filled with new words used by the adventurer. Both Assamese and Bengali languages are fraught with Arabic and Persian words. So Muslims added new dimension to Assam, what every new community develops certain trends and cultural diversities in the society and polity of that land, which in turn enrich the existing one.Language: Assam is a land of languages and dialects, as many as forty-five languages spoken by its communities. It is a mini India in terms of language. There are many ethnic groups, each have their own language, culture and tradition and of course very distinct customs. From a small tribe of four to five thousands Mech, to Bengali the largest ethnic group, every one have their language, culture and dialects. At present Assamese and Bengali are two principle languages of Assam. Assamese is the official language of Brahmputra valley and it is the common language of same valley. People of different languages, dialects used Assamese as the medium of communication with others in Brahmputra valley; many even officially accepted it as their mother tongue. Ahom having their own tribal dialect now speak and used Assamese as their mother tongue. Similarly Muslims of Bengali origin officially used Assamese as their mother tongue; though in their homes speak different Bengali dialects. The reason of Bengali Muslim accepting Assmese is largely because of political compulsion and security.Muslims Relation: Islam starts its journey in India almost from 8th century A.D. Merchants, Sufis and political adventurers basically made it to spread Islam throughout India. Sufis can be called the torchbearers of Islam in India. Moinuddin Chisti, the famous Indian Sufi settled at Ajmer by the end of eleventh century. The Arab merchants, however, brought Islam to the coast of Kerala in 7th century, and by that time a large Muslim society got developed in Malabar.. Similarly the Arab and Persian merchants visited coastal areas of Bengal, places like Chittagong much before the political conquest of northern India by the Turks. According to historians, during pre Turkish period, Sufis and merchants had entered Bengal in many occasions for preaching and trading purposes. Persian and Arab merchants even established important colonies in the contemporary towns of Bengal for commercial and maritime contact much before its conquest by the Muslim forces of Turkish origin (1205-6 A.D). History of Bengal is important for writing a history of Assam because Bengal and Assam being two land bordering states influenced each other’s society and polity for a long period of times. During many times the frontiers of Assam extended into Bengal, similarly the frontier of Bengal penetrated into Assam. Kamrup the old name of Assam was not unknown to Arabs. We find references of the word Kamrud in various accounts of Arab geographers and writers, which discussed trade relationship of Arab with Kamrud. Arab geographerAl Idris mentioned about the import of aloe wood from Kamrud.The word Kamrud is the arabisation of the name Kamrup. The trade relationship of Arabs, tends to believe that Arab Muslims while trading with the coastal Bengal might visited Assam, as latter was well-known to them. We know from Minhajuddin, author of Tabaqat e Nasiri that Muslim traders were frequent to Navadip, the capital of Bengal. So, the people of Lucknawti misunderstood Bakhtiyar Khilji and his small number of soldiers, as Arab horse traders because Arab horse traders were regular to Bengal. Similarly we find evidences of Muslim settlements in Sylhet, which was also known as Khanda Kamrupa before its political conquest by Muslims (1303). It is not confirmed whether thoseGeography: Assam is located in the north east corner of India between the latitudes 28°18´and 24° N, and the longitudes 89°46´-97 E. It covered an area of 78.523 square Kilometers. Assam denote in this study contemporary Assam. However in some cases reference of Syllhet, a district of colonial Assam is imperative. Because the present district of Karimganj has been a part of Syllhet throughout its history. It has the sane society, culture as that of Syllhet. When in 1947 Sylhet was declared a part of Pakistan, Karimganj subdivision was retained with India.
The territory of Ahoms is called Asham in Ain-e-Akbari and Asam in Padshahnaamaa. The same word is applied by, Francis Hamilton in his account on Assam compiled during 1807-8. Assam is apparently the English form of Asam. Again, there are differences of opinion among historians on the origin of the word Asham. According to one group of historian Mughal called Brahmputra Valley in the name Asham, as the land is uneven or peerless and in Sanskrit Asham means uneven. The second opinion is that Ashamoriginated from the word Tai-Ahom, the ruling dynasty of mainly upper Assam. Shihabuddin Talish the noted historian of the Mughal governor of Bangla subah Mirjumla, in his account Fatihat I Ibriyatreferred Asham as, the territory beyond Hajo and Kamrup Sarkar of Mughal Empire. So the term originally been applied to the tract of the country ruled by the Ahom, subsequently used to refer the area under the control of Assam.The upper portion of Barak valley is known as Kachar. According to local dialect Sylheti Bangla, Kacharmeans a stretch of land on the foot of mountains. While the lower portion of the valley comprises undivided Sylhet district which included present Karimganj district of Assam. The picturesque valley of Barak is the natural extension of vast Bengal plain. According to Nihar Ranjan Roy, author of Bangalir Ithihas, Barak and Surma valley is the extension of Meghana valley. There is no natural boundary between these two valleys. That is why the society and culture of East Maimansingh, Plain Tripura is well tied with Sylhet and Kachar that there is no difference exist between the two. It was included in various Kingdoms that had emerged during prehistoric and early historic period like Gauda, Samatata and with the Aryanisation it include as Pratyant. During 6th and 7th century this land became part of Kamrup and later in early medieval period an independent state of Harikala emerged.

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