Identity and Underdevelopment: On Conflict and Peace in Assam Gurudas Das

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Identity and Underdevelopment: On Conflict and Peace in Assam
Gurudas Das
Identity and underdevelopment are the two basic issues that kept have Assam on the boil for long. The problem with identity has arisen due to the incongruity between the aspiration of the ethnic Assamese to make Assam a “nation province” of the Assamese and the historically developed multy-ethnic social base of territorial Assam of today. The relentless strides made towards homogenization and realization of the goal of making Assam a nation-province of the ethnic Assamese during the 1950s and 1960s not only aggravated the ethnic cleavage structure developed during colonial period but also developed new cleavages along the ethnic faultlines leading to the reorganization of Assam in 1972. Although the diversity of ethnic cleavages has reduced in post-reorganized Assam due to the reduction of demographic heterogeneity and has made the ethnic Assamese the single largest community, their aspirations to make Assam a nation-province have remained unfulfilled.
In fact the idea of a nation-province for the ethnic Assamese is basically an unrealizable goal within the present political boundary of Assam primarily because of the fact that these two boundaries, viz., ethnic and political, do not coincide. The political boundary of Assam not only includes the ethnic Assamese but also the Dimasas of N C Hills , Karbis of Karbi Anglong, Bodos, Koches, Miris, Chutias, Kacharis, Deoris, Rabhas, Lalungs, Morans, and other indegenious populations and Muslims, Hindu Bengalis and tea tribes in Brahmaputra Valley. Thus, historically evolved geographic and demographic structures in Assam are not in conformity with the claim of making Assam a nation province for the ethnic Assamese. While members of a multy-ethnic society like Assam have multiple identities, i.e., one can simultaneously be a Bodo, an Assamese and a Christian, adoption of singular identity and trying to magnify it only leads to inter-group conflicts and identity disintegration. Identity politics in Assam has many facets rooted in remote as well as recent social history of Assam.
With the adoption of the three language formula for the state of Assam, i.e., Assamese as official language for the Brahmaputra Valley, Bengali for Barak Valley and English for N C Hills and Karbi Anglong and later on Bodo for the Bodoland area, the ethnic Assamese nationality seems to have realized the futility of their aspiration of making Assam a nation-province for themselves. As the politics of identity, instead of paying any dividends, has reduced the territorial boundary of Assam further, the implications of the presence of a large migrant Muslim population in the Brahmaputra Valley itself, which the ethnic Assamese consider to be their homeland, has become obvious. Having overcrowded Bangladesh across the border, the perceived threat of being overrun by the Bangladeshi migrants looms large in the psyche of the ethnic Assamese.
This paper argues that the root cause of inter-ethnic conflicts and assertion of identities by various ethnic and tribal groups lies in the solitary approach towards identity adopted by the ethnic Assamese in Assam. Efforts to make Assam a nation province for the ethnic Assamese have ignited the identity conflicts, which, in turn, have accelerated the transformation from multiculturalism to plural monoculturalism. The paper seeks to explain the triadic linkages among identity, insurgency and economic underdevelopment based on Assam experience. It also seeks to suggest options available for the resolution of identity conflicts in Assam.

Evolution of Multi-Ethnic Social Base in Assam: The Age of the Ahoms
The process of fusion that has worked in making the modern Assamese identity for about 750 years since the days of Sukapha (1228), the first Ahom king, till independence (1947) is well documented in the annals of history. The rise of Ahoms in the Brahmaputra valley at the cost of the Bodos, Chutiyas, Cacharis, Marans, Moamarias and Koches had set in the process of inclusion of the latter identities into the former either through conquest or through cross cultural social bonding like marriage. As the territorial boundary of the Ahom kingdom expanded overtime, the degree of assimilation of the defeated social groups mentioned above into the Ahom identity started weakening with the distance from the seat of power. The identities of the invaded groups did not vanquish altogether rather they remained dormant often as a sub-category of the broader Ahom identity. While this process of fusion was under operation, shifting of “Ahom identity” towards “Assamese identity” was also taking place particularly under the influence of the Brahmins who had been brought into the kingdom by the rulers of Assam particularly from Navadweep, the cultural citadel of the then Bengal. Brahmanical rituals gradually got prominence even in the courts of the Ahom kings and the tribal belief system was increasingly on the wane.
Sankar Dev’s Bhakti Movement has created the “cultural life world” of the Assamese identity. While the Ahom kings created the political boundary, which varied with the stature of the king, the more powerful the king the wider the size of the kingdom, it was the rise of Sankardev’s neo-Vaishnavite movement during the 16th century which began to melt the different social formations into a singular Assamese identity. It may be noted that the neo-Vaishnavite movement had grown in spite of the initial opposition by the Ahom kings and had finally dragged the royal authority to identify themselves with it. The movement had gained so much popularity that some of the Ahom kings later used the Vaishnavite institutions as cultural ambassadors of the royal court for inculcating loyalty among the people of newly acquired territory a la Christianity by the western powers and Islam by the Muslim rulers. Thus Brahmanical variety of Hinduism and neo-Vaisnavism together, both based in Aryan religious scriptures like Bhagbat Gita, Ramayana, Mahabharat, Upanishads and Purans, constituted the “belief system” of the Assamese identity which is primarily rooted in Hindu heritage. The influence of the “cultural life world”, created by the neo-Vaishnavite movement, was so strong that the Ahom nobility had embraced it in order to legitimize their rule. In course of time, “Tai”--the royal language--was replaced by “Assamese”, tribal religious practices and rituals were replaced by Hindu/neo-Vaishnavite practices, the identity of the “Ahom” became a part of the broader “Assamese” identity.
Although the neo-Vaishnavite movement had a great potential to mobilize people across caste and creed to form an Assamese national identity, its assimilative capacity narrowed down in the post Sankardev phase as Brahmanical castist social philosophy crept into the satriya institutions as well as segmentation of the movement into different denominations. As a result, the boundary of the Assamese identity based on religious and cultural markers, which are largely the offshoots of the neo-Vaishnabite movement including the Assamese language, was stiffened making the way for the Christianity to had sway in the hills during the colonial period.
When the Ahoms invaded the territory of the Morans, Bodos and Chutiyas during the 13 th century and consolidated their rule in the eastern part of the Brahmaputra Valley centering around the present Sibsagar district, Sen dynasty had been overrun by the Turk Sultanate (1203) and Muslim power continued to grow in Bengal. Even before the Koch kingdom, comprising of Western part of the Brahmaputra Valley and Northern part of Bengal, which, for a considerable time, acted as the buffer between the Sultanate of Bengal and the Ahom kingdom, came into being, Muslim invaders from Bengal under the leadership of Ikhtiar Uddin Mahammad Bakhtiar Khilji (1205-06), Giasuddin Bakhtiar (around 1226), and Ikhtiar Uddin Malik Ujbeg Tugrilkha (1254-55) tried in vain to invade Kamatapur (Choudhury : 1982). However, at last, Hussain Shah defeated the last Kamata king Nilambar in 1498 A D and occupied Kamatapur. Shah’s son ruled the country for quite sometime centering Hajo before being vanquished by war with the Ahom kings (Gait: 1981). The void created out of the defeat of the Muslim ruler had later been filled by the rise of the Koch kingdom (1515) on the edifice of erstwhile Kamatapur. There had been several encounters between the Ahoms and the Koch kings as well as between Musilm invading forces from Bengal and the Koch kings of western Assam during the 16th century. Again, for a considerable period, western Assam was under the occupation of the Muslims.This “eastern thrust” of the Muslim invading forces gained considerable strength during the 17th century with the consolidation of the Mughal power in Delhi. Mughals replaced the Sultanate in Bengal and ruled it through the governor. Althrough the 17th century, Mughal governors of Bengal sent. one after another, expeditions to invade Assam. During the second half of the 17th century, Mughal forces under Mir Jumlah even succeeded to capture Garhgaon, the capital of the Ahoms. By the end of the century, with the capture of Gauhati by the Ahom king Gadadhar Singh in 1682, the Mughal interest in the western Assam had been completely wiped out. Aurangzeb’s preoccupation with south India and the weakening of Mughal empire following his demise in 1707 had caused the “eastern thrust” to wither away.
The purpose of browsing through the history of the Muslim invasions into Assam is to drive the point home that the two century long interactions (1498-1682) between the Muslims and different powers in western Assam in particular and the Ahoms in general has , no doubt, left some legacies in terms of accommodation of some Muslim population by way of war captives, engaging in trade and commerce and settling down in the valley.

During his Kamatapur campaign, Hussain Shah encouraged many Muslim warriors to settle down at Hajo and he built , perhaps, the first masjid at Rangamati.( Choudhuri: 1982). The Muslim population which settled in the Brahmaputra valley either by compulsion or by choice was gradually mingled with the multi-ethnic social fabric of the then Assam. Muslim settlers were engaged by the Ahom kings as security guards, workers in kings’ fire arms manufacturing as well as minting workshops ( Choudhuri: 1982). Muslims were good at making copper utensils and this industry was monopolized by them in medieval Assam. They were also employed to carry out finer artistic works in temples. Tailoring was another profession in which Muslims were good at. Their Bengal connections helped them to carry out trade and commerce across Assam and Bengal. In fact, prior to the arrival of Marwari traders during the colonial period, Muslim traders used to play a significant role in this sector. Some of the early Muslim settlers were also worked as musicians and singers, shoe makers and japi manufacturers ( Barua:1989).

Besides the Sultanate and Mughal invading forces, preachers of Islam in general and Sufism in particular had also visited the Brahmaputra valley during the medieval period. The activities of different peers and fakirs like Jamaluddin Tabriji during the 13th century, Giasuddin Aulia during the 14th century and Azan Fakir during the 17th century had led to the internalization of Islam as one of the components of local medieval culture. It may not be out of place to mention here that Ahom king Surampha (1641-1644), also known as Bhaga Raja, had even conferred land grants to Azan Fakir. Although the Ahom kings vigorously fought against the Muslim invasion all through their reign till the end of 17th century, there is no single instance of their war against Islam. In fact, Sufism and Sankardev’s neo-Vaishnavite movement progressed hand in hand in medieval Assam. Many Muslims became the disciple of Sankardev and some of them like Chand Khan, Joyhari, Haridas and Dheli Darji are well known for their contribution to the growth of neo-Vaishnavite movement in pre-colonial Assam ( Barua:1989). Even Sankardev himself referred to the existence of the “Turuk”(meaning the Muslims) population in Assam during his time (Neog:1985). When the Muhammedan chronicler Shihabuddin visited Assam with the Mughal invading army led by Mir Jumla during 1662-63, he noted that the Muslims settled here had assimilated themselves to such an extent that except the name nothing was left of Islam with them (Gait: 1981, Neog:1985).
Thus, it is needless to mention that the society in feudal Assam was not a monolithic one. Centering around the political power of the Ahom kings and Sankardev’s neo-Vaishnavite movement, people of other faiths and origins adjusted themselves in the medieval social order of Assam. Although the political power was in the hands of the Ahoms who called themselves Tais, but whom the indigenous people called Asam (unequalled) (Gait: 1981, Kakati: 1995) and later this exoethnonym was ascribed to the teritorry under their rule, which subsequently expanded to include the whole of the Brahmaputra valley, the social space was studded by numerous indigenous groups of people as well as early Muslim settlers. Political loyalty to the Ahom kings, gradual adoption of symbols of Asamiya culture including language and neo-Vaishnavite religion of Sankardev had gradually drawn these groups nearer to Asamiya identity. The modern names like Assam and Assamese are the anglicized names of Asam and Asamiya ( Kakati: 1995) which Britishers used for the kingdom of the Ahom kings and the people therein respectively following the annexation of the Brahmaputra valley in 1826.

Evolution of Multi-Ethnic Social Base in Assam: The Colonial Era
Before the natural process of ethnic fusion undergoing during the feudal era (1228-1826) could galvanize into the emergence of a singular Assamese identity, annexation of, and subsequent administrative experimentation with, Assam (1826-1947) by the colonial ruler had added altogether different dimensions having far reaching consequences for the Assamese nationality formation and inter-ethnic relations in both colonial and post-colonial Assam. The boundary of the multi-ethnic social base was further widened with the incorporation of new territories within the political boundary of Assam as well as induction of different groups of people from various parts of British India.
Following the victory in the first Anglo-Burmese war in 1826, although western Assam was immediately annexed to the British India, eastern Assam was brought only under direct colonial rule in 1839. Since then for about 35 years Assam remained under the umbrella of the Bengal Presidency till the administrative reorganization of 1874. During this early phase of colonial rule, British introduced Bengali as the court language of Assam at the cost of the linguistic identity of the Assamese in 1837, which sowed the seeds of Assamese-Bengali inter-ethnic conflict till the restoration of Assamese in 1874. Although the Assamese language was restored to its rightful place in 1874, the inter-ethnic hostility continued althrough the colonial period and even spilled over to the post-colonial era. with Assamese history writing interpreting this fact as the machinations of the Bengalis in general and Bengali bureaucrats in particular (Neog: 1962, Sarma:1965; Sarma:1972; Weiner:1978). However, the gains from the restoration of Assamese as the official language was more than nullified by the addition of three Bengali dominated areas of Goalpara, Sylhet and Cachar (While North Cachar was transferred to Assam in 1854, the remaining part of the Cachar plains which was a part of Dacca Division was transferred to Assam in 1874) to the reconstituted Assam in 1874 which was taken out of the administrative umbrella of Bengal Presidency and elevated to a Chief Commissionership. In this reconstituted Assam, Assamese became the minority with 38.30 per cent (1871 Census) of the total provincial population (Kar: 2005). As the districts of Sylhet, Cachar and Goalpara had a large Muslim Bengali settler, their attachment led to the sudden rise of Muslim population in the colonial Assam. In fact while the Muslims constituted only about 6 per cent of the total population of the five districts of the Brahamaputra valley ( Darrang, Kamrup, Lakhimpur, Nowgong and Sibsagar), following the attachment of Sylhet, Cachar and Goalpara, their number had increased fivefold to constitute about 30 per cent of the total provincial population (1871 Census) (Kar: 2005).
The Assamese identity was further threatened with the constitution of the province of Eastern Bengal and Assam in 1905 following the partition of Bengal as part of the colonial strategy to crush the growth of nationalism in Bengal. As Eastern Bengal was dominated by the Muslim Bengalis, Assamese people became miniscule minority in this newly formed province. However, this arrangement was short lived and Assam got back its pre-1905 status with the annulment of partition of Bengal in 1912. Although Assam was made a governor’s province in 1921 and continued to remain so till 1947, no new territories were added to it any longer. Following the Sylhet referendum in 1946, Assam got rid of the Bengali dominated Sylhet which largely paved way for the claim to make Assam a nation province of the Assamese (now being the single largest community). However, both Goalpara and Cachar remained parts of Assam thereby making both the Hindu and Muslim Bengalis constituents of the polity of Assam. Thus territorial reorganization had simultaneously expanded the political boundary as well as multi-ethnic social base of colonial Assam.
Besides British political interest in territorial reorganization, colonial administrative and economic interests also brought the Bengalis, both Hindu and Muslims, Marwaris, tribal people from central Provinces to Assam. Hindu Bengalis were brought to run the British administration as well as to provide professional services. Muslim Bengali peasants were settled particularly in western rural Assam as peasants. Marwaris came as comprador to British capital and made a deep penetration in state’s trade and commerce. Tribals from Cental Provinces particularly from Chotanagpur region were brought to work in the tea gardens in eastern Assam. Besides these groups, Nepalese came as soldiers of the colonial army and Biharis as manual labour force to work in construction activities. The story of migration of different ethnic groups in colonial Assam is well documented

( Hussain: 1993; Barua: 1999; Kar: 1990; Weiner:1978; Nag:1990, Das :1996; Das: 2002) and we do not intend to repeat the same. However, it is important to note that of all these groups, large immigration of the Muslim peasants into the wastelands of western Assam and the tribals into the tea gardens of eastern Assam had radically changed the demographic composition of colonial Assam. While the Muslim population in Assam was a little more than 2 lakhs in 1881 (Nag: 1990), following the addition of Sylhet, Cachar and Goalpara as well as settlement of Muslim peasants in the wastelands, this number had gone up to 35 lakhs (Kar: 1990) on the eve of independence. Thus, just before the Sylhet referendum, Muslims constituted 34 per cent of the provincial population while the Hindus were 39 per cent (Kar: 1990). From 1902-03 to 1937-38, a total of about 17 lakhs of tea labourers were brought in Assam (Guha: 1977).

Thus, colonial Assam no longer remained the homeland of the Assamese. Although tea labourers (popularly known as Adivasis or tea tribes) remained isolated and did not transform themselves into a political community, Muslim Bengalis under the banner of Muslim League contested for political power against the Assamese Hindus organized under the banner of Indian National Congress in colonial Assam. Assamese nationalism, articulated by the ethnic Hindu Assamese middle class, thus, had to have a three pronged struggle viz. struggle against British colonialism, struggle against Muslim political and territorial interests and struggle against Hindu Bengali domination in cultural and professional spheres, in colonial Assam. These struggles had created, on the one hand, some sort of centripetal forces which helped the indigenous communities like the Bodos, Chutiyas, Cacharis, Morans, Muttaks and Deuris to increasingly gravitate towards Assamese nationalismand simultaneously, on the other hand, centrifugal forces which intensified Hindu-Muslim conflict particularly during the first half of the twentieth century. All other ethnic equations were over shadowed by the Hindu-Muslim conflict in colonial Assam. In fact, it was the Assamese political leadership who, by opposing to group Assam with Bengal, as proposed in the Cabinet Mission Plan and supported by the Muslim League, had in a way ultimately saved Assam as well as the North Eastern States for India. Thus, besides being anti-colonial, strong anti-Muslim as well as anti-Bengali currents were embedded in the ideology of Assamese nationalism.

Evolution of Multi-Ethnic Social Base in Assam: The Post-Colonial Era
The inter-ethnic relations based on religion and language and the cleavage structures developed during the colonial era took a new turn following the partition and independence. Muslims in Assam in general and Brahmaputra valley in particular had to compromise with their fate and provincial Muslim league was dissolved and the followers joined en masse in the congress (Kar: 1990). Following the transfer of Sylhet to East Pakistan, Muslim population in Assam had reduced to 25 per cent (Kar: 1990) which further declined to about 22 per cent immediately after the 1950 communal riot. Henceforth, Muslim politics in Assam was rechristened as minority politics shedding away the pro-Pakistan position and seeking integration with the host society.
Multi-ethnic social base of Assam was further widened with the inclusion of ‘excluded” and “partially excluded” hilly areas inhabited by the tribals. The Naga hills, Lushai/Mizo hills, Khasi hills, Garo hills, Jaintia hills and Mikir hills—all were added to Assam as it was viewed as the “last outpost of Indian civilization in the east” by the mainland political leaders. Thus, post-colonial Assam expanded both in terms of territory and population making its name a misnomer where ethnic Assamese became merely one of the numerous ethnic groups having no clear majority in the provincial population.

Assamese National Aspiration and the Politics of Identity
Although the multi-ethnic social base that has historically evolved in Assam stood on the way of making Assam a nation province for the Assamese, following the rules of the game of carving out provinces in independent India based on ethno-linguistic identity, ethnic Assamese elites vigorously strived for it. The expediencies of electoral politics as well as the aspiration for making Assam a nation province for the Assamese led to the widening of Assamese linguistic identity in order to accommodate the Muslims of Brahmaputra valley as well as the tea tribes within the fold of Assamese nationalism. Muslims of Assam were rechristened as Na Asamiya (New Assamese) and encouraged to barter their identity for security by way of reporting Assamese as their mother tongue in census returns in order to strengthen the claim to make Assam the nation province for the Assamese. It may be pointed out that, at this stage, the Congress-led ruling elites in Assam tacitly encouraged the immigration of Muslim Bengalis from East Pakistan. As the immigrant Muslim Bengalis readily shifted their ethnic identity in favour of the Assamese, they became useful not only as a ‘safe vote bank’ but also to realize the majority claim of the Assamese (Das: 2001a).

It may also be noted that this game plan of the ethnic Assamese elites also suited the needs of the immigrant Bengali Muslims. They came to Assam in search of a lebensraum. Faced with strong push factors at home arising out of a ‘failed state syndrome’ in East Pakistan, economic security for them was much more important than their cultural symbols. In fact, their decision to barter their cultural identity against economic security was also essentially political. While indicating this, it is not intended to deny the fact that this has also created a space, albeit limited, for naturalized assimilation of the new generations of immigrant Muslims. But primarily, the relationship between the two communities may, at best, be described as a marriage of convenience. The immigrants needed a living space and the ethnic Assamese elites needed their political support to stake a majority claim in multi-ethnic Assam (Das: 2001a).

But this strategy of assimilation that had been attempted through the practice of majoritarian politics did not work. The segmented social space in post colonial Assam, instead, presented an altogether different political reality. Majoritarian politics practised in a multi-ethnic society led to unequal development of various socio-economic formations, particularly of the minorities and peripheral groups (Das:2001a).

It may not be out of context to note that, while the process of unequal development within a homogeneous society leads to class-cleavages, the same process, within a multi-ethnic society, leads to ethnic cleavages. While class cleavages do not pose any territorial threat in terms of separation or secession, the ethnic cleavages do pose a threat, particularly when different ethnic groups are territorially concentrated. And the geo-political location of a territory, undoubtedly, plays a crucial role in setting the political goal of a deprived segment. While the separatist goals are feasible, irrespective of territorial location, secessionist goals are more feasible for the communities living along international borders (Das:2001a).

Be that as it may, the relentless efforts made towards homogenization and realization of the goal of making Assam a nation-province during the 1950s and 1960s had resulted in unmanageable discontent among various groups, which ultimately led to the reorganization of Assam in 1972 along ethnic lines. It has already been discussed elsewhere (Das: 2001b) that both external security threats to India’s north east arising out of the consequences of cold war rivalry and internal insecurity arising out of imposition of the linguistic identity of the ethnic Assamese in post colonial multi-ethnic Assam had intensified the inter-ethnic rivalries to such an extent that reorganization of the province had been considered to be the best option by the Indian state. Naga hills were taken out much earlier in 1963 to form the province of Nagaland and under the 1972 reorganization plan, Garo, Khasi and Jaintia hills were taken out to form Meghalaya and Lushai hills were made the province of Mizoram. Thus the post colonial territorial gain was lost in post-reorganized Assam.

Although the diversity of ethnic cleavages has reduced in post-reorganized Assam, the faultlines continue to persist. Though the 1972 reorganization has reduced the demographic heterogeneity and rendered the ethnic Assamese as the single largest community in Assam, their aspirations to make Assam a nation-province has remained unfulfilled. Instead, a new dimension came into sharp focus in post-reorganized Assam, i.e. the steady ingress of the Muslims into the political power structures. It is, indeed, an irony of the politics of ethnicity in Assam that the immigrant Muslims, who had been instrumental in making Assamese the single largest community at one point of time and helped them to advance the claim of making Assam a nation-province, are now viewed as the principal threat to the political security of the ethnic Assamese in the State. In approximately 23 electoral constituencies out of a total of 120 Legislative Assembly segments, Muslims are now believed to enjoy majority support. In another seven constituencies, they are the deciding factor (Das: 2001a).

In order to counter the growing electoral strength of the Muslims whose strategic support is no longer important in post-reorganized Assam, the ethnic Assamese elites wanted to get rid of them and, thus, demanded their deportation by setting 1951 as the cut-off year. The anti-foreigner agitation or the Assam Movement (1979-85) has, thus, lent support to our hypothesis that Assam’s policy of assimilation of the immigrant Muslims had been a tactical move intended to gain mileage over other ethnic groups in multi-ethnic Assam during the 1950s and 1960s. They were used as pawns in the number game to realize the aspirations of the ethnic Assamese. And with the failure of the strategy of assimilation in realizing the goal of making Assam a nation-province, the attitude of ethnic Assamese towards immigrant Muslims changed. From a constituent of the Assamese linguistic community, they were suddenly branded as foreigners in Assam (Das: 2001a). Besides language, religious and racial attributes were emphasized to define the identity of the Assamese in social and political discourse of the Asamiya ethnic civil society movements and organizations ostensively to bracket the Muslims in Brahmaputra valley.

In spite of sensitizing some of the security concerns arising out of fresh illegal immigration of Bengali Muslims from Bangladesh, the Assam Movement has failed in realizing its goal as far as the deportation of immigrant Muslims is concerned. Like the agenda of making Assam a nation-province, the ‘deportation- goal’ was also unattainable, given the constitutional and legal framework of the country. On the contrary, the ethnic ideology of the movement has made it amply clear that the inclusion of a group within the “Assamese ethnic boundary”, or for that matter its exclusion (from it), is defined exclusively by the interest of the ‘ethnic Assamese’. Linguistic symbols alone are not sufficient to claim Assamese identity. Rather, non-existence of an ‘other’ cultural / sub-cultural base has become the prime criterion. The Movement, thus, in a way, drew an implicit boundary in a hitherto open-ended process of Assamese nationality formation. The exclusionist ethnic ideology of the Movement alarmed ethnic minorities and encouraged them in a compelling way to construct their identities in rigid terms in order to claim politico-territorial autonomy in their respective traditional homelands. Besides, the Bengalis of Barak valley, who have all along opposed the Assamese idea of making Assam a nation-province, the Bodos, Karbis and Dimasas have also started pressing hard for complete autonomy. The Tiwas, Deuris, Lalungs and Koch Rajbanshis have also made conscious efforts to dissociate themselves from the Assamese identity. Thus, instead of mellowing down in post-reorganized Assam, the residual faultlines have widened further (Das: 2001a). The “singular identity” approach, as Sen (2006) has described it, adopted by the ethnic Assamese has led to the narrowing down of their ethnic boundary which, in turn, has created multiple identity boxes paving way the emergence of “plural monoculturalism” in place of “multiculturalism” in post colonial Assam.

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