Karimganj District is an administrative district in the state of Assam in India. The district headquarters are located at Karimganj.
The early history of present district of Karimganj, Assam, is hazy and obscure. With available source materials and evidences, it is difficult to construct a chronologically comprehensive account of early history of the region. Only a broad outline, with major gaps, can be attempted.
From the Nidhanpur copper inscriptions issued by King Bhaskarbarman, it is learned that the region has been within the Kamrupa Kingdom for about a hundred years since the 6th century. The Aryanisation of the region under the leadership of the pioneer immigrant Brahmins with plough-based agriculture as economic basis had its beginning during this period. From the Kalapur copper plates issued by Samata Marundanatha, it is learned that in the 7th century, this region, along with foothills of North Cachar Hills had passed on to the Samatata Kingdom of the Eastern Bengal. Of course, there is no direct evidence to prove it. In the 10th century, King Srichandra of the renowned Chandra Dynasty of Eastern Bengal incorporated the entire region within his Vanga Kingdom. During this period, the Chandrapura Matha or monastery, situated at Panchakhanda (8 miles From Karimganj town, now in Bangladesh), became a very reputed centre of learning. According to the renowned historian D.C. Sarkar, the Chandrapura Matha was the greatest centre of Hindu-learning in the entire Eastern India of the early period. From two Bhatera inscriptions of Govindakeshava Deva and Ishana Deva, it is learnt that there was an independent Srihatta Rajya in the 12th century within which the entire Karimganj District along with a major portion of the Cachar plains were incorporated.
When Shah Jalal, a Muslim Sufi Saint from Yemen, conquered Sylhet in 1328, Srihatta, along with a major portion of Karimganj district, passed to the Bengal Sultanate. A portion of Karimganj district comprising the present thana area of Patharkandi was under the control of the Tripura King at that period. However a large Persian force led by a man called Mirza Malik Muhammad Turani captured the town of Badarpur within this region in the late 14th century. Turani crowned himself king and married Umavati, the daughter of the defeated governor of the town, a Khasi Chief named Pura Raja. The family continued to expand their rule over the next few generations until their descendant, Malik Pratap Raja, eventually conquered the entirety of Patharkandi. However, during the reign of Hussain Shah (1483–1519), this region – at that time known as Pratapgarh – also came under the Sultanate. There are two inscriptions – one of Hussain Shah, and another of his son Mahmud Shah, found respectively at Kaliganj and Suprakandi – to show that Bengal sultanate had complete sway over this entire region. The region, along with other parts of Sylhet, was incorporated within the Mughal Empire in 1576 during the reign of Akbar. According to Ain-I-Akbari, most of the areas of the district were placed under the Pratapgarh Revenue Mahal of the Silhat Sarkar of the Mughals. The district continued to be part of the Silhat Sarkar and Bangla Suba of the Mughals.
British Era and Freedom Movement
In 1785, the diwani of the Bangla Suba was taken over by the British East India Company and the District of Sylhet, of which Karimganj was a part, passed on to the British. However, up to 1786, the British could not establish their hegemony over the entire region. A local Zamindar, Radharam, brought under his administrative control, a vast region of Southern Karimganj, and local people started calling him Nawab Radharam. His blatant defiance of British authority brought the matters to a head, but Radharam survived two successive expeditions of the British contingents. Ultimately, a reinforced contingent succeeded in capturing him after defeating his forces. While he was being carried to Sylhet by the Company soldiers, Radharam reportedly committed suicide. It is only with his fall in 1786 that the British could establish their complete authority in the region around Karimganj.
In November 1857, three companies of the 34th Native Infantry stationed at Chittagong mutinied and they subsequently emerged in the south-east of the Sylhet District. At Latu village of present Karimganj district, these rebel soldiers encountered a contingent of the Sylhet Light Infantry under the command of Major Byng. The sepoys were defeated, but Major Byng was killed. At Malegar hillock of Latu village, the graves of the fallen rebels are still venerated by the local people.
In 1878, the British administration designated Karimganj town as the headquarters of the newly created sub-division of Karimganj. Before the Partition of India in 1947, Karimganj District was a sub-division of greater Sylhet District. Many tallukas and zamindari estates were located here. The estate of the erstwhile Zamindars of Hasanpur, in Badarpur is also situated in Karimganj.
The later history of Karimganj remains incomplete without the mention of Abdul Matlib Mazumdar (1890–1980). In 1946, when India was still under British rule, he became an MLA and also Cabinet Minister of Assam.He was one of the prominent Muslim leaders of eastern India to support Hindu-Muslim unity, opposing the partition of India on communal lines. Mazumdar along with Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed (who later became the 5th President of India) became the most prominent Muslim opponents of the demand for a separate Muslim state of Pakistan, especially in the eastern part of the country. Mazumdar started legal practice at Hailakandi Bar in 1925 and spread his network in the adjacent Silchar and Karimganj areas. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru visited Hailakandi in 1939 and 1945 respectively at the invitation of Mazumdar to strengthen the freedom movement as well as the Congress party in southern Assam. It was Netaji who initiated establishment of contact between Moulana Abul Kalam Azad and Matlib Mazumdar for gearing up nationalist Muslims against a growing Muslim League in the region.The Muslim League proved its might in the Muslim-dominated areas of India in 1937 elections. To counter the rising popularity of Muslim League, he successfully organised the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind movement in Assam. Jamiat was an ally of the Congress having a mass following among the nationalist Muslims. In the very crucial 1946 General Elections just on the eve of India’s independence, he wrested the Muslim majority Hailakandi seat from the hold of Muslim League. That victory virtually sealed the hopes and aspirations of the Muslim League to include southern Assam in Pakistan. It may be mentioned here that in that election, the bulk of the Muslim nominees of the Indian National Congress including Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed (5th President of India in later years) had lost to their Muslim League rivals miserably.
Assam’s Surma Valley (now partly in Bangladesh) had Muslim-majority population. On the eve of partition, hectic activities intensified by the Muslim League as well Congress with the former having an edge. A referendum had been proposed for Sylhet District (now in Bangladesh). Mazumdar along with Basanta Kumar Das (then Home Minister of Assam) travelled throughout the valley organising the Congress and addressing meetings educating the masses about the outcome of partition on the basis of religion. On 20 February 1947, Moulvi Mazumdar inaugurated a convention – Assam Nationalist Muslim’s Convention at Silchar. There after another big meeting was held at Silchar on 8 June 1947.Both the meetings, which were attended by a large section of Muslims paid dividend. He was also among the few who were instrumental in retaining the Barak Valley region of Assam, especially Karimganj with India.Mazumdar was the leader of the delegation that pleaded before the Radcliffe Commission that ensured that a part of Sylhet (now in Bangladesh) remains with India despite being Muslim-majority (present Karimganj district).
The entire eastern India was swept by violence just after India’s partition and independence on 15 August 1947, scores of Hindus fled the newly created East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) for India, and Muslims fled Assam for East Pakistan. A large number of people lost their lives owing to violence, which resurfaced with more ferocity in 1950. Mazumdar, the only Muslim in the cabinet, along with his cabinet and party colleagues took up responsibility for the safety of both Hindus and Muslims in Karimganj, touring affected areas and arranging camps and rehabilitation for the refugees, organizing supplies and security.
During the Bangladesh’s war of liberation in 1970-71, he was in charge of relief-&-rehabilitation of the thousands of refugees who fled the then East Pakistan to Assam including Karimganj.
Partition & post-partition period
At the time of Partition of India in 1947, most of Sylhet District joined East Pakistan, which eventually became the independent nation of Bangladesh in 1971, barring three-and-half thana areas (Ratabari, Patharkandi, Badarpur and half of Karimganj thana) of the Karimganj sub-division. This truncated Karimganj sub-division was incorporated in the Cachar District of Assam as a full-fledged sub-division. The Karimganj sub-division was upgraded to a district on 1 July 1983.Karimganj Town was designated as the district headquarters of the newly created Karimganj District.