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Assamese people in Myanmar, Bangladesh facing adversities

By Ajit Patowary
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GUWAHATI, June 11 - Compared to their Myanmarese counterparts, the Assamese people living in Bangladesh are facing more adversities. However, life for the people of Assam-origin in Myanmar is not so smooth either. Penury is a constant companion of these people in both the countries.

The forefathers of the Assamese people living in Myanmar landed in that country either as captives of the invading Burmese (Myanmarese) army or as domestic helps of Assamese princess Hemo Aideo, about two centuries back, between 1817 and 1821. Their descendants today have two names � one Assamese and the other Burmese.

The ancestors of the Assamese people living in Bangladesh were part of an Assam Rifles contingent that was sent to suppress the �Kuki Raids� in the Chittagong Hill Tract (CHT) in 1860. Their descendants are using �Assam� as their surname to assert their Assamese identity.

Two representatives of the Assamese people living in Myanmar and three representatives of their counterparts in Bangladesh have arrived in the city and are eagerly waiting for a meeting with the people here, which is being organised by the nascent Association for Historically Dispersed People of Assam (Ashdipa) at Shilpgram here tomorrow.

Talking to this correspondent, Ashok Assam (65), president of the �Assamiya Unnayan Kalyan Samsad�, a voluntary body formed on March 1, 1994 to work for the uplift of the Assamese people of CHT, said that the Assamese people of CHT are now facing serious threats to their existence. These people today have 163 families and their population is around 800.

The expanding habitats of the Bengali Muslims are squeezing their traditional areas and they are also facing serious threat to their cultural identity. Economically, these people are very backward and they have only three government job holders among them. Many of their youths are engaged in lowly paid contractual jobs with NGOs.

Although Adivasi Forum, a non-government organisation, had named these people as tribals, the Bangladesh government is yet to recognize them as such. And this has deprived them of their own district council. District councils are formed by the Bangladesh government to accelerate the development of tribal people. Moreover, these people are also deprived of the reservation facilities in government jobs, educational institutions, etc.

The Assamese people of CHT today long for support from the governments of Assam and India to keep their identity intact, as repeated pleas made to the successive Bangladesh governments have failed to deliver any good, said Ashok Assam. Timothy Assam (39), who has accompanied the septuagenarian president of the Assamiya Unnayan Kalyan Samsad, also echoed the same feelings. Bijoy Assam (33), an LP school teacher, has accompanied Ashok and Timothy.

Ashok said that the people of Assam-origin today expect support from the State government in matters of learning Assamese language and culture and the Hindu religious practices. Or else, their identity is at stake, he said.

Assamese woman Bidyawati (58) and her niece Chandramala have also arrived in the city from Mandalay city in Myanmar for a get-together tomorrow. They are accompanied by Madhurya Gopal Bhattacharya, a Mandalay-based priest of West Bengal origin, as their guide.

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Assamese people in Myanmar, Bangladesh facing adversities

GUWAHATI, June 11 - Compared to their Myanmarese counterparts, the Assamese people living in Bangladesh are facing more adversities. However, life for the people of Assam-origin in Myanmar is not so smooth either. Penury is a constant companion of these people in both the countries.

The forefathers of the Assamese people living in Myanmar landed in that country either as captives of the invading Burmese (Myanmarese) army or as domestic helps of Assamese princess Hemo Aideo, about two centuries back, between 1817 and 1821. Their descendants today have two names � one Assamese and the other Burmese.

The ancestors of the Assamese people living in Bangladesh were part of an Assam Rifles contingent that was sent to suppress the �Kuki Raids� in the Chittagong Hill Tract (CHT) in 1860. Their descendants are using �Assam� as their surname to assert their Assamese identity.

Two representatives of the Assamese people living in Myanmar and three representatives of their counterparts in Bangladesh have arrived in the city and are eagerly waiting for a meeting with the people here, which is being organised by the nascent Association for Historically Dispersed People of Assam (Ashdipa) at Shilpgram here tomorrow.

Talking to this correspondent, Ashok Assam (65), president of the �Assamiya Unnayan Kalyan Samsad�, a voluntary body formed on March 1, 1994 to work for the uplift of the Assamese people of CHT, said that the Assamese people of CHT are now facing serious threats to their existence. These people today have 163 families and their population is around 800.

The expanding habitats of the Bengali Muslims are squeezing their traditional areas and they are also facing serious threat to their cultural identity. Economically, these people are very backward and they have only three government job holders among them. Many of their youths are engaged in lowly paid contractual jobs with NGOs.

Although Adivasi Forum, a non-government organisation, had named these people as tribals, the Bangladesh government is yet to recognize them as such. And this has deprived them of their own district council. District councils are formed by the Bangladesh government to accelerate the development of tribal people. Moreover, these people are also deprived of the reservation facilities in government jobs, educational institutions, etc.

The Assamese people of CHT today long for support from the governments of Assam and India to keep their identity intact, as repeated pleas made to the successive Bangladesh governments have failed to deliver any good, said Ashok Assam. Timothy Assam (39), who has accompanied the septuagenarian president of the Assamiya Unnayan Kalyan Samsad, also echoed the same feelings. Bijoy Assam (33), an LP school teacher, has accompanied Ashok and Timothy.

Ashok said that the people of Assam-origin today expect support from the State government in matters of learning Assamese language and culture and the Hindu religious practices. Or else, their identity is at stake, he said.

Assamese woman Bidyawati (58) and her niece Chandramala have also arrived in the city from Mandalay city in Myanmar for a get-together tomorrow. They are accompanied by Madhurya Gopal Bhattacharya, a Mandalay-based priest of West Bengal origin, as their guide.

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