Mrinal Kanti Assam, a prominent member of the Assamese community of Rangamati, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh, expired in the wee hours of January 3 last at his residence. He died of old age related illness at the age of 88 years.
He led the Ahomiya Kalyan Sansad, the only organization representing the Assamese community of Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh for some years and was actively associated with the social activities of the Assamese community of Chittagong Hill Tracts.
His demise has cast a pall of gloom amongst the Assamese community there.
Separated from their motherland for over 150 years, around 300 Assamese families are living in neighbouring Bangladesh under a virtually hostile atmosphere and despite having no link with their state of origin.
In order to assert their identity, they also use the surname ‘Assam’. Apart from that, these people, nearly 1,500 in number, have practically nothing to assert their identity as a distinctive ethnic group in a country, which hardly cares for their development, let alone recognize their culture.
These people live in a village nomenclatured as Assam Basti in Rangamati district of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). The forefathers of this unique community served under the British colonial rulers as soldiers of the Assam Rifles. They were deployed in 1860, along with the Gorkha Regiment personnel, to suppress the rebellion of the tribals, mainly Kukis, living in the CHT.
After successful repression of the rebellion, they were allotted lands as rewards by the British rulers in the Hill Tracts. Though some of those soldiers returned to their homeland, most of them stayed back in Chittagong Hill Tracts. They then adopted the language and culture of East Bengal, which is now Bangladesh.
Though for over a century they adhered to Hinduism, following the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, around 200 families took to Buddhism, while some others took to Christianity, leaving an insignificant minority in the fold of Hinduism. Some of those families also fled to Mizoram and Tripura in the face of atrocities by the Pakistan Army. About 300 families of these people are now living in the three villages of Assam Basti, Garjantali and Majerbasti.
The Assamese people and the Gorkhas living in the Hill Tracts formed the Gorkha, Ahomiya Kalyan Sangstha. The Assamese people also formed their own organization – Ahomiya Unnayan Kalyan Sansad. The Assamese people submitted a memorandum in 2010 to the then Bangladesh Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia pleading for tribal status, job reservation and other facilities for them, but that did not yield any result.
These people are leading deplorable lives under subhuman conditions. Natural disasters such as flooding and cyclones are common occurrences.
The existence of these people surfaced when a three-member delegation from the State, comprising physician-filmmaker Dr Satyakam Phukan, North Guwahati College teacher Tapan Kumar Sarma and businessman Binoy Kumar Sarma visited Bangladesh in 2013 as part of a documentary movie project on detached Assamese people.