Twenty-two literary bodies of the indigenous ethnic groups of Assam have started the year 2020 with respective assured corpus funds for their literary development. If it is something entirely new for a few literary bodies like that of the Bishnupriya Manipuris, for literary bodies like the Axam Xahitya Xabha (AXX), the Bodo Sahitya Sabha (BSS) and their ilk it is only the hefty assured amount that sounds newer. Through this gesture, the State government has broken new ground by bringing the literary bodies of the indigenous minority communities of the State like that of the Bishnupriya Manipuris in the list of beneficiaries. Maybe, for the community being fewer in number the Bishnupriya Manipuri Sahitya Sabha, Assam had to remain inconspicuous over the years.
A seamless social confluence of the indigenous people of Assam is indispensable. An indigenous ethnic group, the Bishnupriya Manipuri makes a perfect case study to this effect. A bit of a history of the community: the community members living in Assam for centuries migrated from Manipur to the Kachari Kingdom and Sylhet along with other Manipuri communities like the Meiteis, Manipuri Brahmins and Manipuri Muslims (Pangals) from early 18th century to 1826 in a number of phases, mainly because of Burmese attack (Sinha KP, R Boileau Pemberton, Capt). The Cachari Kingdom was annexed to the British territories, by a proclamation on the 14th of August 1832. Thus 1832 is essentially a base year for determining ‘indigenousness’ of people living in Cachar. Since the presence of Manipuri population in Cachar was much before British India annexing the Cachari Kingdom to its territories, all Manipuri communities living there are considered indigenous people of Cachar along with the Dimasas and others. Under the British dominion the Cachari Kingdom was placed in Bengal Province till 1874 when British rulers extended the territories of Assam Province by covering Cachar, Sylhet and Goalpara of Bengal Province for ‘military purposes and revenue generation’. However, in 1926 Sylhet went back to Bengal province, but Cachar and Goalpara were not allowed so as to retain the Governor’s Province status of Assam intact (Bhattacharjee JB, Sylhet Resolution). During the partition of India, Sylhet was included in East Pakistan, leaving behind the area under present Karimganj district in India. And that area came under Cachar, and seamlessly merged with Assam.
The social confluence of the Bishnupriya Manipuris with the greater Assamese society has many elements to draw strength from. The source of both the Bishnupriya Manipuri language and the Assamese language being Eastern Magadhi linguistically these two communities are very close (Sinha KP, Kakati Banikanta). It’s very difficult to distinguish the Dhians – a group of Assamese living in some six or seven villages in Cachar – from the Bishnupriya Manipuris as both the communities follow Chatainya Vaishnavism, not eating eggs or meat and erecting similar patterns of houses (Sinha KP). A brief morphological account of the two languages is enough to suffice their closeness. As for examples, the morphemes of a compound tense in the two language are:
hoixilon (√ho + iya + √ax + il + on) (AS)
oxilu (√o + iya + √ax + il + u) (BM)
korixilon (√kor + iya + √ax + il + on) (AS)
korexilu/korixilu (√kor+ iya +√ax+ il + u) (BM)
Here, barring the person markers all other morphemes are identical.
In both the languages negative verbs are formed by prefixing -na/-no with the verb: nakoris (na+ ?kor + is)(BM), nokoriba (no+ ?kor + iba) (AS); nahunis (na+ ?hun+ is) (BM), nuhuniba (nu+ ?hun+ iba) (AS). Only difference is that in Assamese with the negating prefix ‘no’ the first occurrence of the vowel sound of the verb is added, which is not the case with Bishnupriya Manipuri (Sinha Smriti Kumar, Tezpur University). The cultural and ethnic affinities between the two communities can be traced back to 663 AD, if not earlier. ‘It seems that the Kamrupi people who entered Manipur in the company of Mayang Leima or Chingurembi who was married to king Naothing Kjong of Manipur (663 A.D) were the first memorable pioneers of these people’ (Bishnupriya Manipuris) (Sinha KP). There are cultural affinities like women’s garments, observing Bhogali Bihu known as Tila Sankranti among the Bishnupriya Manipuris, erecting community halls called naamghars in Assamese and madapas in Bishnupriya Manipuri, similarities between Manipuri Raago comprising four sounds – tai, ri, na and to – and Assamese Raago comprising three sounds – ta, re and na – sung in traditional Bhaona (Sinha KP). If the distinctive features of each of these two communities make each of them stand tall with separate identity of their own, the similarities help them march ahead in a seamless social confluence. Against such a backdrop, there are no hurdles for the Bishnupriya Manipuri community to be integral part of the greater indigenous Assamese community of the State keeping its individual features intact.
When such striking resemblances and differences of various indigenous ethnic groups of the State are drawn against the greater Assamese society the picture is more or less the same. If some of the groups are culturally more akin, so are some others linguistically and racially. While the differences help the ethnic groups to keep their individual identities intact, the resemblances help them ensure a seamless literary, cultural and social confluence of the greater Assamese society. Won’t such a confluence be ever everlasting? Besides the Axam Xahitya Xabha, each of the indigenous literary bodies of the State needs to play its role to make the dream a reality.