People of Assam
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People of Assam

People of Assam
Total population
31,169,272 (2011)[1]
Regions with significant populations
o Om.svg Majority Hinduism o Patch of the 45th Infantry Division (1924-1939).svg Minorities includeTraditional, Panentheistic o Allah-green.svg Islam o Christianity
Related ethnic groups
o Tai-Ahom o Assamese Brahmins (including Ganak) o Assamese Kayastha o Chutiya o Kalita o Koch Rajbongshi o Boro o Biateo Dimasa o Karbi/Mikir o Hmaro mising/Miri o Kuki o Deori o Kaibarta o Motok o Moran o Nath o Kumar o Tiwa (Lalung) o Rabha o Hajong o Nadiyal o Sonowal Kachari o Thengal-Kachari o Sarania Kachari,o Tai Phake(and other Tai groups)
Map showing the zones of assimilation of the people of Assam

The people of Assam inhabit a multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic and multi-religious society. They speak languages that belong to three main language groups: Tibeto-Burman, Indo-Aryan, and Tai-Kadai. The large number of ethnic and linguistic groups, the population composition and the peopling process in the state has led to it being called an "India in miniature".[2]

The peopling of Assam was understood in terms of racial types based on physical features; types that were drawn by Risley. These racial types are not accurate and yield results with a lot of variance, and as a result the current understanding is based on ethnolinguistic groups[3] and in consonance with genetic studies.

Populating Assam and social formations

Geographically Assam contains fertile river valleys surrounded and interspersed by mountains and hills. It is accessible from Tibet in the north (via Bum La, Tse La, Tunga), across the Patkai in the Southeast (via Diphu, Kumjawng, Hpungan, Chaukam, Pangsau, More-Tamu) and from Burma across the Arakan Yoma (via An, Taungup). In the west both the Brahmaputra valley and the Barak valley open widely to the Gangetic plains. Assam has been populated via all these accessible points in the past. It has been estimated that there were eleven major waves and streams[4] of ethnolinguistic migrations across these points over time.


Anthropological accounts of Assam demography is marked by several waves of different racial migration. The Austroasiatic people were the first inhabitants. There are Neolithic sites present all over Northeast including Arunachal Pradesh, Sadiya, Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur, Nagaon, Naga Hills, Karbi Anglong,? Nagaon, Kamrup, Garo and Khasi hills of Meghalaya, etc. which shows the distribution of these early settlers. Most of these people were absorbed by the Tibeto-Burman groups who arrived about 3500-4000 years ago, while a fraction moved to the hills of Meghalaya. This has been repeatedly proved by DNA reports which shows the presence of Austroasiatic genes in the Tibeto-Burman groups like Kacharis (Bodos, Dimasas, Chutias, Morans, Sonowals, Rabhas, Tiwas, Koch, etc.) as well as Karbis, Nagas, etc.[5] The Austroasiatic aboriginal people who settled in the hills of Meghalaya are known as Khasis, Jaintias who settled in the nearby hills.[6] The Tibeto-Burman speaking people arrived through the various passes in the Himalayas located in the North and the East of Assam. Today, these groups form the majority (about 60%) of Assam's population and are identified as the Bodo-Kachari people scattered all over Assam; the Monpa and Sherdukpen peoples of Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh; the Mishings, and Karbis of Central Assam.

Proto-historic and ancient

The third major ingress into Assam are attributed to the Indo-Aryans from North India (Wave 3) into the Brahmaputra Valley after 500 BCE (mostly during the 3rd century AD Varman rule). This signalled the dawn of the proto-historic period and this immigration continued into the ancient and Medieval periods. These were the group of Dravidian Nadiyals came during Kamarupa. In the course of time they assimilated with various Mongoloid ethnic groups and now possess more Mongoloid physical features than Dravidian features. At the end of the ancient period (c1205), the first Muslims (Wave 4), captive soldiers of the defeated Bakhtiar Khilji, settled in the Hajo area.


The next major immigrants were the Tai-Ahoms (Wave 5) when Sukaphaa lead his group into Assam via the Pangsau Pass in the Patkai from South China. The Tai-Ahoms were followed by other Tai peoples who were Buddhists (Wave 6): Khamti, Khamyang, Aiton, Tai Phake and Turung peoples, who settled in Upper Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. This continued well into the colonial times. At the end of the Medieval period, a small contingent of Sikhs gave rise to a minuscule but prominent group.[7]

HbE frequency distribution of Mongoloid origin communities of Assam[5]
S.No Population

from Assam

N(Sample size) HbE


1 Ahom 125 0.304 Balgir 1995
2 Boro 131 0.549 Das et al. 1980
3 Chutiya 62 0.3 Deka et al. 1980
4 Garo 135 0.5 Das et al. 1980
5 Karbi 110 0.227 Deka et al. 1988
6 Koch 164 0.35 Das & Deka 1980
7 Mishing 318 0.403 Sharma and Mahanta 2009
8 Sonowal 106 0.396 Deka et al. 1988
9 Tiwa 27 0.315 Balgir 1995
HbE frequency distribution of Arya-Dravidian origin communities of Assam[5]
S.No Population

from Assam

N(Sample size) HbE


1 Assamese Brahmins 98 0.051 Deka 1988
2 Assamese Muslims 155 0.158 Ahmed Das 1994
3 Assamese Sikhs 107 0.209 Sharma Mahanta 2013
4 Kaibarta 101 0.133 Deka et al. 1988
5 Kalita 104 0.115 Deka 1988
6 Sut 22 0.023 Balgir 1995

Colonial and post-independence

In the beginning of the colonial period in Assam after the First Anglo-Burmese War and the Treaty of Yandaboo (1826), the political instability led to the immigration of Kachin and Kuki people (Wave 7) into the region across the Patkai and Arakan Yoma. They constitute the Singphos in Upper Assam, and the Kuki-Chin tribes in Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao. The beginning of tea plantations in Assam (1835) by the British led to settlements of Mundari speaking people (Wave 8) (Munda, Santal, Savara, Oraon, Gond etc. tribes). The beginning of British administration also led to a large influx of service holders and professionals from Bengal, Rajasthan, Nepal, etc. (Wave 9). To increase land productivity, the British encouraged Muslim peasants from Mymensingh district of present-day Bangladesh (Wave 10) to settle in Assam that began in 1901. The last major group to immigrate are the Bengali Hindu refugees, especially from the Sylhet district of Bangladesh following the Partition of India (Wave 11).

Inputs from these and other smaller groups have gone towards the building of a unique multi-ethnic socio-cultural situation.

A temporal model of Peopling of Assam based on ethnolinguistic groups(The numbers in brackets indicate "waves" as described in the text)
Period Austroasiatic languages Tibeto-Burman languages Tai languages Indo-Aryan languages
Pre-historic (1) Austroasiatic
   - Khasi people
   - Pnar people
Proto-Historic (2) Tibeto-Burman/Eastern Himalayan
   - Bodo-Kachari people including 18 groups
   - Karbi people
   - Mishing people
Ancient (3) Hindus
   - Some Bor Bhuyans(Kayasthas)
   - Some Kalitas
   - Assamese Brahmins
Medieval (5) Ahom
(6) Later day (Buddhist) Tai
(4) Assamese Brahmins, Western Bhuyans, Nath Jogi, Some Kalitas, keot-Kaibarta, Bengalis , Assamese Muslims
  *"Settlements of Brahmins and Nath Jogis from Bengal & Kannauj of various Gotras and Shakha for promotion of Vedic religion and culture".[8]
Colonial (8) Munda peoples Dravidian people (7) Kuki people, Kachin people (6) Later day (Buddhist) Tai (9) Hindus
  - Immigrants Bengalis
   - Immigrants Marwari people
   - Immigrant Gorkhas
Post Independence (10) Bengali Hindu and Muslim immigrants

Social formations

The process of social formation in Assam has been marked by simultaneous sanskritisation and tribalisation (de-sanskritization) of the different groups of people that have settled in Assam at different times, and this process of social formation is best studied in three periods: (1) Pre-colonial, (2) Colonial and (3) Post-colonial periods.[9]

Ethnic groups

Assam is acknowledged as the settling land for a lot of cultures. A number of tribal grouping have landed in the soils of Assam in the course of diverse directions as the territory was linked to a number of states and many different countries. Austro-Asiatic, Mongoloids, and Indo-Aryans had been the most important traditional groups that arrived at the site and lived in the very old Assam. They were well thought-out as the 'aborigines' of Assam and yet at the moment they are essential elements of the "Assamese Diaspora".

The greater Bodo-kachari group encompasses the 18 major tribes of Assam, both plain and hills, viz., Boro, Dimasa, Chutia, Sonowal, Mech, Tiwa, Garo, Rabha, Sarania, Hajong, Tripuri, Deori, Thengal, Hojai, Koch, and others. The ancient land of 'Kirat' is also referred to the land of the Kachari. Bodo Kacharis were historically the dominant group of Assam, who were later dominated in the 1500s by the Tai Ahoms, the ethnic group who along with the Upper Assam Bodo-Kachari groups like Chutias, Morans and Borahis were associated with the term "Assamese". Along with Tai Ahoms, they were other prominent groups that ruled Assam valley during the medieval period, those belonging to the Chutiya, Koch, and Dimasa communities. The first group ruled from 1187 to 1673 in the eastern part of the state, the second group ruled Lower Assam from 1515 to 1949, while the third group ruled southern part of Assam from the 13th century to 1854. Bodos are the dominant group in BTAD. They speak the Bodo language among themselves along with using Assamese to communicate with other indigenous Assamese communities as the lingua-franca.

Most of the indigenous Assamese communities today have actually been historically tribal and even the now considered non-tribal population of Assam were actually tribes which have slowly been converted into castes through Sanskritisation. Actually, more than 70-75% or more of the now considered non-tribal population of Assam actually have Mongoloid roots and origin and thus were historically tribal. Some of the tribal groups were able to enter into the Hindu upper caste society while some of them remained in the tribal or lower caste society. Thus, Assam has always been a historically tribal state.[10]

Ahoms along with Chutiya, Moran, Motok, and Koch are still regarded as semi-tribal groups who have nominally converted to Ekasarana Dharma even though keeping alive their own tribal traditions and customs. Various indigenous Assamese communities in Assam like Chutiya, Koch-Rajbongshi, Moran, Motok, Ahoms etc (all having tribal origin) have slowly been converted into a caste through Sanskritisation.

As per latest developmentMoran, Chutiya, Motok, Tea tribes, Tai Ahoms and Koch have realised the above-mentioned points and have applied for ST status .[11] This will make Assam a predominantly tribal state having wider geo-political ramifications.

See also


  1. ^ a b Government of Assam Census 2011. "onlineassam". Archived from the original on 21 June 2012. Retrieved 2012.
  2. ^ Taher 1993
  3. ^ "The racial traits, reflected through the physical features of individuals, are of such a varying degree that it is perhaps safer to divide the State's population into ethnolinguistic groups." (Taher 1993:202)
  4. ^ Taher 1993. Waves are migrations at a particular point of time, whereas streams were continuous migrations over time, at albeit different rates
  5. ^ a b c Hb E gene is a gene which is exclusively found in the Austroasiatic race and resulted as a mutation. This is actually a detector gene to show the Austroasiatic heritage of different tribes. The Tibeto-Burman tribes of Assam (mainly the Bodo-Kacharis, Karbis, etc) have almost the same frequency of HbE gene as found in the Mon-khmer (Austroasiatic) speakers of Southeast Asia including Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand which 0.4-0.6. In fact, Khasis and Jaintias were found to have only 0.2 of that gene due to the influence of cold climate of Meghalaya.
  6. ^ "Assam's Culture".
  7. ^ Assamese Sikhs in search of their roots, Indian Express Newspaper, 13 March 2009.
  8. ^ North-East India: Land, People and Economy, page #390
  9. ^ Bhagawati 2002
  10. ^ (Baruah & Sanskritisation and Detribalisation in early Assam 2008:116)
  11. ^ "6 Assam tribes may soon get Scheduled Tribes status". The Times of India. Retrieved 2017.


  • Bhagawati, A C (2002) "Ethnic Identities in North-East India", N K Bose Memorial Lectures. Vihangama, IGNCA Newsletter, Vol II, March-April 2002
  • Taher, Mohammad (1993) The Peopling of Assam and contemporary social structure in Ahmad, Aijazuddin (ed) Social Structure and Regional Development, Rawat Publications, New Delhi
  • Guha, Amalendu (1984) Pre-Ahom Roots and the Medieval State in Assam: A Reply, Social Scientist, Vol 12, No. 6, pp70-77

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