A general belief about the history of Adivasis in Assam is simultaneous
with the history of Tea Gardens. Historians and Sociologist never tried to link the
community beyond the establishment of tea Industry. But there is sufficient
evidence that adivasis are connected to north east even before the establishment
of tea industries in Assam. The Santhal colonies of west Assam is evidence that
Adivasis were not brought to Assam only for Tea Industries. (Thus leveling them
as tea tribe is not valid.)
The connection and relation of Adivasis and Assam and northeast can be
traced back to immemorial dates. The first settlers of Assam were the Khasis and
Synteng 6 . In the article “The Races of North east India”7 Stephen Fuchs says
that linguistically these tribes belong to the Austo-Asiatic or Mon-Khamer.
Through their language they formed a link between the Munda tribe of further
west in central India as well many other tribes in Burma and Indo-China border.
They resemble them culturally also; they erect stone monuments in the name of
their dead ancestors like the Mundas and Hos of Chotanagpur. Historians say
that once upon a time Kol-mundas and Khasis were living together in the north
east, and Khasis adopted the language of kol-mundas .8
Some believe that the Khasis were not cultivators therefore, Mundas
called them “Ka –si” (in Mundari meaning not ploughing-non cultivator)9 . The
earliest ruler according to legend was Mahiranga . The legend also tells us about
Marang Buru10 . Kamrupa temple and Kamrupa devi has relationship with the
magic prayer of Santhal where the recitation of Kamrup Guru said again and
again.11 The great ruler Naraka12 Sur was the son of Janaka. Janaka had a
daughter Sita who was married to Lord Ram. Sita’s name is kept so because
Janka found her during ploughing the land. Only in Mundari the meaning of Sita
fits with the statement (Si- tan meaning ‘si’-plough ‘tan’ –(do)ing )13 .Therefore
Janka was Munda hence sita and Naraka were munda. Hence there is a lot of
possiblity to relate adivasis with the north east. Dr.Grension believed that the
Adivasis have gone to Chotanagpur through noth east.
Assam came under East India company on 24th February 182614 through
the Treaty of Yandabo between king Hpogyidoa and East India company. During
the collonial period Adivasis were again brought as slaves to the tea plantation of
Assam. I say slave because slavery was abolished only in the year 1843 from
IMMAGRATION OF ADIVASIS TO ASSAM
Why did Adivasis come to Assam?
There were two major factors for migration of Adivasis to Assam.
Firstly, there was scarcity of laborers in Assam. The tea industry grew so fast
that there was great demand for Laborers. The planters appointed Arkatis as
Agents to recruit Laborers. Government also supported Planters with the black
laws of workmen’s Breach of contract Act 1859. Agents were sent to collect
Laborers from different parts of the country. The agents lured and forced the
innocent tribals to sign agreements16. Catholic Mission Co-operative Society
established by Fr. Hoffman also encouraged Adivasis to go to Assam. This
same agency was approached by the Government for recruiting Laborers.17
Thus through this Agency a large number of Adivasis were sent to various
places including Assam.
Secondly, the situation in Chotanagpur also contributed to the extreme
miseries of the Adivasis. They suffered very badly in terms of alienation from
their lands. Chotanagpur became hopeless and non-promising land for
Adivasis when colonial rule imposed land taxation and captured the forest
resources and minerals. The replacement of –collective ownership of land by
private ownership use for profit which was facilitated by the land tenure system
. The major reasons for migration of Adivasis were-(1) Land tax introduced by
Major Wilkinson, the Governor General’s Agent in the year 1837(Land tenure),
8 anna on the plough. Adivasis had no money to pay. They never used money.
(2) Famine and epidemic during the year 1896-1900. (3) Unrest and insecurity due to several wars between British and Local leaders (Birsa Munda ulgulan
(Revolt) , Sidu & Kanhu ‘Hul’ (Revolt).)
First batch of Adivasis came to assam in 1941. But they all died due to famine and diseases. In 1858-59 about 400 labours were brought to Assam.
This increased to 84,915 on May 1863. Thus lakhs of people were brought to Assam. This number increased as the areas of tea plantation increased. During
this time Large number of Adivasis died due to diseases18 .
Adivasis were brought from Chotanagpur and other places through the
legal provisions for Workman’s Breach of Contract Act XII of 1859 and its
amended act of 1865, where workers could be punished for striking work and
where the minimum wage was also stipulated for the workers. There were two
systems of recruitment. The first was called Arkatti system, the other Sardari
system19 . In Sardari system, the labourer who already requited went to different
area and brought labourers. In the year 1842 Assam Tea Company opened a
steam boat Service between Guwahati to Kolkata. The labourers were brought
by steamer. In 1889 railway was introduced. Labourers were brought by train.
It is to be noted that these Adivasis migrated to Assam not for their
personal gain or to exploit resources of Assam for their gain(like other
emigrants ) but they were forced to come for building the tea industry and
other infrastructure which gave Assam a strong economical base.