Paharia, The

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Paharia, The is a small ethnic community, very thinly dispersed in northwestern Bangladesh. Paharia is an Indo-Aryan word referring to people living in hills or mountains. Paharias of Bangladesh claim Rajmahal Hills of southern Bihar (India) as their place of origin. In the past, Paharias were notorious bandits engaged in robbing people in the neighbouring areas in the plain or cargo boats in the ganges.

Paharias are engaged in cultivation and primitive gathering from forests. At the time of food shortage, they are also said to have survived through theft, plundering and looting. The British government used a corps of light infantry to keep such mountaineers in order.

Paharias of Bangladesh are one of the two Dravidian-speaking ethnic groups, the other being oraons. There is, however, no clear distinction between them. Paharias are divided mainly into two divisions: Sauria (also known as Maler) and Mal. The Kumar or Kumarbhag is an offshoot of Mals, who are extremely few in number in Bangladesh. According to the 1991 census, the Paharia population in Bangladesh was only 7,361 concentrated mainly in Rajshahi, Dinajpur, Bogra and Pabna districts.

In view of their smallness and dispersion, the Paharias in Bangladesh now find it difficult to maintain their indigenous identity. Culturally, they are largely influenced by hinduism. The Paharias did not evolve any alphabet for their language. They tend to take to Bangla in day to day transactions, though they still use Pahari language within the family circle. Under the changing social structure and because of closeness in religious beliefs, most Paharias now identify themselves as Hindus, although they may not have formally converted to Hinduism. They claim to worship Hindu deities such as Laksmi, Manasa, Kali and Durga, but they do not erect any images of these deities. [Sadat Ullah Khan]