Assam (; Ôxôm) is a state of India in the north-eastern region. Located south of the eastern Himalayas, Assam comprises the Brahmaputra Valley and the Barak river valleys along with the Karbi Anglong and the North Cachar Hills with an area of 30,285 square miles (78,438 km2). Assam is surrounded by six of the other Seven Sister States: Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, and Meghalaya. Geographically Assam and these states are connected to the rest of India via a strip of land in West Bengal called the Siliguri Corridor or "Chicken's Neck". Assam shares international borders with Bhutan, Burma and Bangladesh; and cultures, peoples and climate with South-East Asia – elements in India’s Look East policy. Assam became a part of British India after the British occupied the region following the First Anglo-Burmese War of 1824–1826.
Assam tea is produced here along with petroleum and Assam silk. The state has conserved the one-horned Indian rhinoceros from near extinction, along with the pygmy hog, tiger and various species of birds. It provides one of the last wild habitats for the Asian elephant. The economy is aided by wildlife tourism while the Kaziranga and the Manas National Parks are designated as World Heritage Sites. Sal tree forests are found in the state, which as a result of rainfall looks green all year round. This rain feeds the Brahmaputra River, whose tributaries and oxbow lakes provide the region with a hydro-geomorphic and aesthetic environment.
Assam state and adjoining regions have evidences of human settlements from all the periods of the Stone ages, but there is no archaeological evidence of Bronze- or Iron-Age culture. The hills at the height of 1,500–2,000 feet (460 to 615 m) were popular habitats probably due to availability of exposed doleritic basalt, useful for tool-making.
According to a late text, Kalika Purana (c. 9th–10th century AD), the earliest ruler of Assam was Mahiranga Danav of the Danava dynasty, which was removed by Naraka who established the Naraka dynasty. The last of these rulers, also Naraka, was slain by Krishna. Naraka's son Bhagadatta became the king, who, it is mentioned in the Mahabharata, fought for the Kauravas in the battle of Kurukshetra with an army of kiratas, chinas and dwellers of the eastern coast.
Samudragupta's 4th century Allahabad pillar inscription mentions Kamarupa (Western Assam) and Davaka (Central Assam) as frontier kingdoms of the Gupta Empire. Davaka was later absorbed by Kamarupa, which grew into a large kingdom that spanned from Karatoya river to near present Sadiya and covered the entire Brahmaputra valley, North Bengal, parts of Bangladesh and, at times Purnea and parts of West Bengal.
Ruled by three dynasties Varmanas (c. 350–650 CE), Mlechchha dynasty (c.655–900 CE) and Kamarupa-Palas (c. 900–1100 CE), from their capitals in present-day Guwahati (Pragjyotishpura), Tezpur (Haruppeswara) and North Gauhati (Durjaya) respectively. Country was 10,000 li (6000 km) in circuit and capital city Pragjyotishpura was about 30 li (18 km). All three dynasties claimed their descent from Narakasura, an immigrant from Aryavarta.
In the reign of the Varman king, Bhaskar Varman (c. 600–650 AD), the Chinese traveler Xuan Zang visited the region and recorded his travels. Later, after weakening and disintegration (after the Kamarupa-Palas), the Kamarupa tradition was somewhat extended till c. 1255 AD by the Lunar I (c. 1120–1185 AD) and Lunar II (c. 1155–1255 AD) dynasties.
Three later dynasties, the Ahoms, the Sutiya and the Koch. The Ahoms, a Tai group, ruled Upper Assam for nearly 600 years (1228–1826 AD) while the Sutiya rulers (1187 -1673 AD) held the regions on the north bank of Brahmaputra with its domain from Vishwanath in the west to Parshuram Kund in the east in Upper Assam and in the state of Arunachal Pradesh. The Koch, a Tibeto-Burmese, established sovereignty in c. 1510 AD. The Koch kingdom in western Assam and present North Bengal was at its zenith in the early reign of Naranarayana (c. 1540–1587 AD). It split into two in c. 1581 AD, the western part as a Moghul vassal and the eastern as an Ahom satellite state. Since c. the 13th century AD, the nerve centre of Ahom polity was upper Assam; the kingdom was gradually extended till Karatoya River in the c. 17th or 18th century. It was at its zenith during the reign of Sukhrungpha or Sworgodeu Rudra Simha (c. 1696–1714 AD). Among other dynasty, the Kacharis (13th century-1854 AD) ruled from Dikhow River to central and southern Assam and had their capital at Dimapur. The rivalry between the Sutiyas and Ahoms for the supremacy of eastern Assam led to a series of battles between them from the early 16th century till the start of the 17th century, which saw great lost of men and money. With expansion of Ahom kingdom, by the early 17th century the Sutiyas areas were annexed and since c. 1536 AD Kacharis remained only in Cachar and North Cachar more as an Ahom ally then a competing force. Despite numerous invasions, mostly by the Muslim rulers, no western power ruled Assam until the arrival of the British. Though the Mughals made seventeen attempts to invade they were not successful. The most successful invader Mir Jumla, a governor of Aurangzeb, briefly occupied Garhgaon (c. 1662–63 AD), the then capital, but found it difficult to control people making guerrilla attacks on his forces, forcing them to leave. The decisive victory of the Assamese led by the great general Lachit Borphukan on the Mughals, then under command of Raja Ram Singha at Saraighat (1671) had almost ended Mughal ambitions in this region. Mughals were finally expelled from Lower Assam during the reign of Gadadhar Singha in 1682 AD.
The discovery of Camellia sinensis in 1834 in Assam was followed by its tests in 1836–37 in London. The British allowed companies to rent land from 1839 onwards. Thereafter tea plantations mushroomed in Eastern Assam, where the soil and the climate were most suitable. Problems with the imported labourers from China and hostilities of native Assamese resulted in migration of forced labourers from central and eastern parts of India. After initial trial and error with planting the Chinese and the Assamese-Chinese hybrid varieties, the planters later accepted the local Camellia assamica as the most suitable one for Assam. By the 1850s, the industry started seeing some profits. Industry saw initial growth, when in 1861, investors were allowed to own land in Assam and it saw substantial progress with invention of new technologies and machinery for preparing processed tea during the 1870s.
Despite the commercial success, tea laborers continued to be exploited, working and living under poor conditions. Fearful of greater government interference, the tea growers formed the Indian Tea Association in 1888 to lobby to retain the status quo. The organization was very successful in this, and even after India’s independence, conditions of the laborers have improved very little.
In the later part of the 18th century, religious tensions and atrocities of nobles led to the Moamoria rebellion, resulting in tremendous casualties of lives and property. The rebellion was suppressed but the kingdom was severely weakened by the civil war. Political rivalry between Prime Minister Purnananda Burhagohain and Badan Chandra Borphukan, the Ahom Viceroy of Western Assam, led to the invitation to Burma by the latter, in turn leading to three successive Burmese invasions of Assam. The reigning monarch Chandrakanta Singha tried to check the Burmese invaders but he was defeated after fierce resistance.
A reign of terror was unleashed by the Burmese on the Assamese people, who fled to neighbouring kingdoms and British-ruled Bengal. The Burmese reached the East India Company's borders, and the First Anglo-Burmese War ensued in 1824. The war ended under the Treaty of Yandabo in 1826, with the Company taking control of Western Assam and installing Purandar Singha as king of Upper Assam in 1833. The arrangement lasted till 1838 and thereafter the British gradually annexed the entire region.
Initially Assam was made a part of the Bengal Presidency, then in 1906 it was a part of Eastern Bengal and Assam province, and in 1912 it was reconstituted into a chief commissioners' province. In 1913, a legislative council and, in 1937, the Assam Legislative Assembly, were formed in Shillong, the erstwhile capital of the region. The British tea planters imported labour from central India adding to the demographic canvas.
After a few initial unsuccessful attempts to free Assam during the 1850s, the Assamese joined and actively supported the Indian National Congress against the British from the early 20th century, with Gopinath Bordoloi emerging as the preeminent nationalist leader in the Assam Congress. Bordoloi's major political rival in this time was Sir Saidullah, who was representing the Muslim League, and had the backing of the influential Muslim cleric Maulana Bhasani.
The Assam territory was first separated from Bengal in 1874 as the 'North-East Frontier' non-regulation province, also known as the Assam Chief-Commissionership. It was incorporated into the new province of Eastern Bengal and Assam in 1905 after the partition of Bengal (1905–1911) and re-established in 1912 as Assam Province .
The 'Assam Postage Circle' was established by 1873 under the headship of the Deputy Post Master General.
At the turn of the 20th century, British India consisted of eight provinces that were administered either by a governor or a lieutenant-governor. 'The Assam Province' was one among major eight provinces of British India. The table hereafter shows the major original provinces during British India covering the Assam Province under Administrative Office of Chief Commissioner.
The following table lists their areas and populations (but does not include those of the dependent Native States):
With the partition of India in 1947, Assam became a constituent state of India, But the district of Sylhet of Assam (excluding the Karimganj subdivision) was given up to East Pakistan (which later became Bangladesh).
The government of India, which has the unilateral powers to change the borders of a state, divided Assam into several states since 1970 to satisfy national aspirations of the tribal populations living within the then borders of then Assam. In 1963 the Naga Hills district became the 16th state of India under the name of Nagaland. Part of Tuensang was added to Nagaland. In 1970, in response to the demands of the tribal peoples of the Meghalaya Plateau, the districts embracing the Khasi Hills, Jaintia Hills, and Garo Hills were formed into an autonomous state within Assam; in 1972 it became a separate state under the name of Meghalaya. In 1972, Arunachal Pradesh (the North East Frontier Agency) and Mizoram (from the Mizo Hills in the south) were separated from Assam as union territories; both became states in 1986.
Since the restructuring of Assam after independence, communal tensions and violence remain there. Separatist groups began forming along ethnic lines, and demands for autonomy and sovereignty grew, resulting into fragmentation of Assam. In 1961, the Government of Assam passed a legislation making use of the Assamese language compulsory. It was withdrawn later under pressure from Bengali speaking people in Cachar. In the 1980s the Brahmaputra valley saw a six-year Assam Agitation triggered by the discovery of a sudden rise in registered voters on electoral rolls. It tried to force the government to identify and deport foreigners illegally migrating from neighboring Bangladesh and changing the demographics. The agitation ended after an accord between its leaders and the Union Government, which remained unimplemented, causing simmering discontent.
The post 1970s experienced the growth of armed separatist groups like United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB). In November 1990, the Government of India deployed the Indian army, after which low-intensity military conflicts and political homicides have been continuing for more than a decade. In recent times, ethnicity based militant groups have grown. Regional autonomy has been ensured for Bodo-Kachari community in Bodoland Territorial Council Areas (BTC), for the Karbis in Karbi Anglong and for the people of Dima Hasao district after agitation of the communities due to sluggish rate of development and general apathy of successive state governments towards indigenous communities.