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Assam (ăsămˈ), state (2001 provisional pop. 26,638,407), c.30,000 sq mi (77,700 sq km), extreme NE India. Dispur is the capital. Almost completely separated from India by Bangladesh, Assam is bordered by Nagaland and Manipur on the east, Mizoram, Tripura, and Meghalaya on the south, Arunachal Pradesh and Bhutan in the north and west and West Bengal in the west. The terrain consists largely of hill plains and some hilly ranges in the south. The river valleys, particularly those of the Brahmaputra and Surma, contain the richest soil and support most of the people. The rainfall is often excessive.
Tea, grown on large plantations in the piedmont sections, is the principal crop. Rice, citrus fruit, sugarcane, sesame, cotton, and jute are also grown. Industry consists of the processing of agricultural products. Assam is an important oil-producing region with refineries at Digboi and Nunmati. A pipeline delivers oil to Barauni (Bihar state), and Kanpur (Uttar Pradesh). Locally, the Brahmaputra is important for river transportation. Railways supplement the waterway and are linked with other Indian lines by a route through West Bengal. Rail and road transportation are limited, but the completion in 2017 of a 5.7-mi (9.2-km) bridge over the Lohit River (a Brahmaputra tributary) greatly improved strategic road connections to Arunachal Pradesh. Kolkata (Calcutta), in West Bengal state, is the nearest large Indian city. Assam has a highly heterogeneous population. Assamese, a tongue related to Bengali, is the predominant language.
The Ahom dynasty (from which the name Assam probably derives) established its rule c.1400 and held it intermittently for four centuries. Aurangzeb, the Mughal emperor, conquered Assam in 1661–62 but ruled only for a short time. The British assisted the Assamese several times in expelling Burmese invaders. By the Treaty of Yandabo (1826), ending an Anglo-Burmese war, Great Britain acquired Assam; it was administered as part of Bengal until 1919, when it became a governor's province. It was made a self-governing province in 1937. A southwest section (Sylhet) was incorporated in 1947 into East Pakistan. Assam's first university was opened in 1948.
There were serious riots in 1959–60 when Bengal-speaking Hindu refugees, fleeing from Muslim East Pakistan, settled in Assam. More refugees arrived from East Pakistan in 1971. Immigration of Bengali speakers sparked serious unrest in 1989. In 1960 and 1961 the Chinese invaded the North-East Frontier Agency (now the state of Arunachal Pradesh), which is N of Assam, but the Chinese withdrew in 1963. To improve its defenses, India embarked on a vast road-construction program.
Assam lost territory as non-Assamese populations were granted autonomy by the Indian government. In 1963 the Naga hills district was made into the state of Nagaland. The Naga independence movement has maintained its guerrilla struggle. In 1970, Meghalaya was created in the south. Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh, separated in 1972, received statehood in 1987. Meanwhile, in 1979, a group of Assamese launched a guerrilla movement with the goal of independence for Assam. In 1995, India's improved relations with Myanmar led to joint military operations aimed at containing various rebel contingents, each separately seeking independence from India, but fighting has continued. The state has also continued to experience violence between ethnic groups.
Assam is normally governed by a chief minister, a cabinet responsible to a unicameral legislature, and by a governor appointed by the president of India. In 1990, however, Assam was put under direct central government rule.
a state in extreme northeastern India, at the foot of the Eastern Himalayas, primarily in the basin of the Brahmaputra River. The population is approximately 15 million, 7.8 percent of whom are urban. More than 50 percent of the population consists of Assamese and 18 percent consists of Bengalis; 4 percent speak Hindi. In the mountains the peoples and tribes (over 20 percent) speak Tibeto-Burmese and Mon-Khmer languages. The capital is Shillong.
The southern part of Assam is occupied by the Lushai Hills (elevations to 2,157 m), the central part by the Assam Range, and the northern part by a depression along the middle course of the Brahmaputra River, bordered on the east by mountains with elevations up to 4,578 m. The climate is tropical monsoonal, with very damp summers. Precipitation is more than 2,000 mm a year (on the average, more than 10,000 mm a year in the Assam Range), with the maximum in summer. Tropical evergreen and mixed forests cover more than one-third of Assam’s area.
Assam’s place in the national economy is determined by the production of tea (one-half the national output) and oil. About 15 percent of the territory of Assam is cultivated. Tea plantations are concentrated in the upper valley of the Brahmaputra and in the valley of the Surma (172,000 hectares yielded 190,000 tons in 1966–67), Jute (one-fifth of the national output) is cultivated in the lower part of the Brahmaputra Valley. Rice is the main food crop. Almost 30 percent of the cultivated area is irrigated. There is sericulture. The wood industry is based on the lumbering of valuable species and of bamboo. Oil is drilled (2.5 million tons in 1965–66) in the upper part of the Brahmaputra Valley, from which it is sent by pipelines to Digboi (capacity of the refinery is 400,000 tons), Nunmati (the state plant near Guahati, capacity 750,000 tons), and also to Barauni in the state of Bihar. Coal production is about 500,000 tons (1966). Petroleum chemistry is being established. There are enterprises for tea pressing, woodworking, cement production, and so on. Sillimanite is extracted (about 10,000 tons in 1966).
Assam is closely linked with Calcutta in transportation and economic relations.
G. V. SDASIUK
In antiquity and in the early Middle Ages the territory of Assam was called Pragjyotisha, or Kamarupa. A strong feudal state that included part of Northern Bengal was created here in the sixth-seventh centuries. In the 13th century the territory of Assam was conquered by the Ahoms, who came from upper Burma. During 1792–94 it was occupied by the British, and in the early 19th century by Burma. As a result of the Anglo-Burmese war of 1824–26, the territory of Assam was annexed to England’s Indian possessions. In 1921 it became a province of British India. After India achieved independence (1947) and was partitioned into two states (India and Pakistan), the territory of Assam became in 1950 a state of the Republic of India, except for the Sylhet district, which went to Pakistan.