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Chakma-Tanchangya, Assamese languages and cultures very similar: Dr Phukan

By Ajit Patowary

GUWAHATI, Sept 18 - New revelations have come up on the relations between the Assamese and the Chakma-Tanchangyas.

Guwahati-based general surgeon Dr Satyakam Phukan, who has been doing intensive research on Assamese and its allied languages for the past about two-and-a-half decades, has found that GA Grierson, the editor and compiler of the Linguistic Survey of India, had made a big mistake when he concluded that the Chakma-Tanchangya language is a mere dialect of Bengali language.

However, in this respect, Dr Phukan is not alone. There are several Chakma researchers like Alexander (Abhoy) Chakma, who also claim that Chakma and Assamese are very akin in their word, syntax and other features. Alexander Chakma has prepared a long list of the similarities between Chakma and Assamese languages.

A good number of Chakma people spoken to by this correspondent also expressed similar views.

But, Dr Phukan lamented that while Chakma-Tanchangya and Assamese are found to be closely related, till date no institutional scholar in Assam has come up with any comparative study on the languages and cultures of these people.

The basic grammatical structure and the larger proportion of the Chakma-Tanchangya vocabulary are very similar to Assamese. Assamese language differs with Chakma-Tanchangya only in the area of phonology, maintains Dr Phukan.

The general surgeon further maintains that the facts that surfaced till now are more than enough to prove the presence of a strong Assamese and Chakma-Tanchangya linguistic and cultural connection.

The Chakmas and the Tanchangyas are the two tribes with very little differences. They are aboriginal to the area of Chittagong Hill Tracts and the Rakhine State of present- day Bangladesh and Myanmar respectively. Although the Tanchangyas are at times identified as a sub-tribe of the Chakmas, they now prefer to identify themselves as a distinct tribe. However in terms of their languages, their similarities are more than the differences and their dialects are almost always mutually intelligible.

By religion, both are Buddhists. But the Tanchangyas follow many animistic practices, prevalent in their community prior to their conversion to Buddhism. In all probability, the Chakma-Tanchangyas are a people of Kamrup origin, maintains Dr Phukan.

In analysing the ethno-linguistic roots and connections of the Chakma-Tanchangya people, the points taken into consideration by Dr Phukan include � language, physiognomy, cultural elements and traditional oral history of the Chakma-Tanchangya people, history recorded by the scholars of other communities like the British, the Mughals and others.

He observed that the Chakma-Tanchangya language can be called one of the closely allied languages of Assamese. The other languages so allied to Assamese are Hajong and Bisnupriya.

In support of his assertion, Dr Phukan has provided a table on his website (http://drsatyakamphukan. to exhibit the similarities between Assamese and Chakma-Tanchangya languages.

Being in close contact with the Bengali people for centuries, a section of them has imbibed many Bengali words and expressions. But these influences could not alter the basic structure and vocabulary in general, which is, without any controversy, almost wholly similar with Assamese, said the general surgeon.

Culture: Being almost overwhelmingly a Hinayana Buddhist people, the Chakma-Tanchangyas have imbibed all the cultural elements of that school of Buddhism. A very small number of Chakmas in the recent times have converted to Christianity.

However, one cultural element has persisted amongst them, which pre-dates the time of conversion and adoption of Buddhism. This is the festivity known as the Biju/Bisu among the Chakma-Tanchangyas, which is much akin to the Assamese Bihu. The Chakma-Tanchangyas are the only other people in the world, who have a Bihu-type culture, maintains Dr Phukan.

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