Thursday, September 06, 2012

I went and saw Kokrajhar, and then Assam.

I thought I would be a happy man after giving the much needed clothes, utensils, toiletries and other such relief items to the affected victims of the Kokrajhar violence.

I was wrong. I have actually become an angry man. It is heartening to see all the lost faces with no hope and aspiration for the future. I had gone to a camp which had Bodo people from 4 neighbouring villages. Three of the four villages were burnt down by supposedly Bangladeshi Muslim settlers. The fourth village came to the camp out of fear. Understandably, bodos are a minority in that area.

When I asked one of the youths to elaborate what actually happened, he told me the most disturbing story ever. He said, "they burnt our huts, took our cattle in vehicles that came from the cities, and killed all our pigs. They even took everything that we could have used to build new huts."

There were 75 families whose houses were burnt. If we assume that they must have had around 75 cows or goats, then somebody has actually planned to move 75 cows or goats to another location. Transporting 75 cows or goats would require over 5 big covered trucks!

One of the accused by the common word of mouth is the President of the main opposition party - Assam United Democratic Front, Maulana Baharuddin Ajmal. Although he is known as the perfume baron having retail presence in whole of the middle east, it is common speak that one of his businesses is exporting cattle meat slaughtered in Bangladesh and Assam to the middle east.

Is it possible that the cattle of these violence affected Bodo villages are ending up as exports? If that is reality, then there are reasons for concern, anger and frustration for the majority population of the state.

If we go down memory lane, it looks as if these violence were destined to happen. It is not a problem of today. Even the British rulers had warned about the dangers of the socio-political-economic impact of the influx of immigrants from East Bengal into Assam. In 1931, SC Mullan, Census Superintendent of Assam, wrote: "Probably the most important event in the province during the last 25 years — an event, which seems likely to alter permanently the whole future of Assam and to destroy more surely than did the Burmese invaders of 1829 — has been the invasion of a vast horde of land hungry Bengali immigrants; mostly Muslims, from the districts of Eastern Bengal…".

It was a correct prediction. Assamese people have shown repeated disgust over this immigration issue, the worst being the Nellie massacre of 1983 that left 3,000 people including children dead. With the AGP Government elected on the context of this immigration issue, failing to deliver on the promise; and ULFA dis-integrating due to fear, greed and politics, forcing the top leadership to take shelter in the very Bangladesh, the bad blood and frustrations in the minds of the people of Assam, have been building silently.

Today, Bengali speaking Muslims are a greater force in Assam than what the census highlights. More pronounced is their religious identity and sentiments. When I was growing up in the eighties, I don't remember seeing any of my Muslim friends, uncles and brothers wearing their traditional white cap, and trying to grow a beard. It was very rare that one could see a group of Muslim men or women only, except on a Friday in front of a mosque. I don't remember any of my Muslim friends learning Arabic and the Koran at home. Not that it is bad to learn Arabic or the Koran, please dont mis-understand. I am only referring to the change of attitude.

Today, as we drove around the major cities of Assam including Jorhat and Sibsagar, we could clearly see a sizable population of distinguishable Muslims in polarised groups. They were wearing the traditional dress and the white cap. I met a principal of a local college who is a Muslim born to a Brahmin woman, and married to a Hindu woman. I was shocked to hear that he is being forced to teach his daughters Arabic and the Koran. He himself has never gone to the Mosque. He is the typical Assamese Muslim completely mingled with the Assamese society that I was used to seeing in Assam.

The day we came back to Guwahati from Kokrajhar (August 28, 2012), it was an Assam Bandh that was called by the All Assam Muslim Students Union (AAMSU). Assam has not seen a more trouble-some 'bandh' in the recent past.
  1. Houses were burnt in Barpeta after there was a scuffle between AAMSU supporters and shopkeepers
  2. Media was attacked and injured in four different towns - Goalpara, Barpeta, Samaguri and Tezpur.
  3. A police vehicle and another vehicle belonging to a civil servant was burnt in Tezpur
  4. In lot of places, police had to open fire with rubber bullets and tear gas shells to disperse AAMSU supporters which came out onto the streets with sharp objects. 
The bandh was called to press the demand for scrapping Bodoland Territorial Council and arrest of its chief Hagrama Mohilary. It was therefore surprising that the AAMSU supporters were so active and violent in the non BTC regions. In Sibsagar, which is considered as the heart of Assamese culture, the police had to lathi-charge to bring the situation under control when a group of bandh supporters were turning violent in their attempt to impose the bandh.


I have been told by a local reporter that Sibsagar does not have a single AAMSU office. This leads to the question that the rioters during the AAMSU bandh were perhaps not AAMSU members. They were common Muslims, supporting the cause of other Muslims. This indicates the dangerous trend of religious polarisation in a state known for communal tolerance and classless-ness.


It was a black day for Assam. The communal harmony that I knew existed was conclusively becoming a thing of the past.

The bandh was followed by a press meet by ten media associations demanding an apology from the AAMSU leadership. It appealed to all editors of newspapers and news channels to not entertain any kind of news of AAMSU for a period of 3 months. Jorhat and Sibsagar saw people coming out on the streets in thousands shouting anti-foreigners slogans. They went back in time to the early eighties to pluck out slogans like "Aei jui jolise, jolisei, joliboi" (This fire burns... and will), "Bangladeshis go back, go back, go back" and "Bidexi husiyar" (Foreigners beware). The full-throated chant was taken up by banner-waving school students to grandparents, reminiscent of the unending processions taken out by protesters three decades ago.

Niren Sharma, a student leader during the Assam Agitation, said, "The events occurring over the last few days shows that illegal migrants are more organised and strengthened and the problem has become more acute. Because the people have felt this, they have come out in such large numbers without being forced. I cannot say whether only one such procession here will serve the purpose but this has to be hammered into the government". He further added that this protest would make the next generation alive to the gravity of the situation.

Assam, I felt, is gearing towards another rightful agitation phase against the apathy and in-effectiveness of the state and central Government, and the bureaucracy. Pitifully, even the Chief Minister agreed that the centre delayed in taking a decision in the Kokrajhar violence, which could have otherwise averted the disaster.

Assam always had the seed of dissent against the central Government from the pre-independence era and it seems to me that the seed will germinate into a full blown agitation for a sovereign Assam in the pretext of the unsuccessful handling of the Bangladeshi immigration issue by the Congress Government at the state and the centre.

I too hereby join the fight for an immigration-free Assam.

Bidexi Husiyar...
Joi Ai Axom.

15 comments:

  1. Bidyut2:04 AM

    Durlov like the blog, keep posting....

    I too join the fight for the rights of motherland.

    "Jai Ai Asom"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Bidyut. Ekotar xokoti, Dekhor ba'be.

      Delete
  2. Dulu !!
    Very nice post. keep writing. I do read your blog on regular basis.
    We need awakening & must do situation now.

    Joi Ai Oxom !!
    dipak

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  3. Very Well Written..!!
    I could feel the pain and anger of the Bodo people through your words. Being a minority in your own homeland can be such a frustrating feeling !! It's time we the Assamese people get united and fight the Illegal Bangladeshis.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Pranjal. Unity in diversity is the phrase that we should harp on and fight for building Bor - Axom, where there is no religion. Neither are we Hindus, Nor there are Muslims.

      That is the dream that I have.

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  4. Came across this post through a FB post. It's great that you have taken the trouble to visit one of the relief camps and tried to help out in whatever way you can. I think we all would do well to contribute in every way we can. You have also rightly used the term 'supposed bangladeshi illegals' when describing the clashes.

    Quoting Mullan, however, only serves to provide a completely onde sided view of the situation. For one thing, everybody who migrated (and their decendents) since 1891 to 1947 are legitimate citizens. It's part of our collective history and whether one likes it or not it does shape our reality. Those who came between 1947-1971 are East Pakistanis, a sizeable portion of which were Bengali Hindus. Also do not forget the Nepali immigrants who migrated in lakhs during 50s and 60s and have made their homes in Lakhimpur, Dhemaji etc. The reason I am reiterating this part of our recent history is because if the post 1971 migration (which is what can be termed legally as illegal Bangladeshis)has to account for all the Bengalis (muslims and hindus) we see in Assam today then it tantamounts to a grave miscarriage of justice.

    The interesting examples of polarization you have cited can also be explained by the consistent targetting of mostly bengali muslims in Assam leaving out migrants from other backgrounds. This polarization is also a reaction to a pre existing polarized attitude of the mainstream assamese society and also indicates to a darker future for assam if things are not managed well from here. The Bor-Axom imagination, if has place for every legitimate citizen irrespective religion/language/ethinicity or caste, should not then consistently keep creating exclusivist eligibility criterias which cannot be tested on ground and which leaves bengali muslims at the margins today. This is the same ideology which has also historically served to exploit and marginalize the tribal societies in Assam.

    I am afraid this can take us quickly towards a path of fascism even without us realising it.

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    1. Very valid points, Xeuj B. Thank you for contributing to this discussion.

      Quoting Mullan is just a reference of history that relates to the current scenario in Assam (that I saw while traveling for 6 days in Assam). It is a truth that there was/is dissent against Bengali Hindus (Thanks to British administration) and Bengali Muslims (Thanks to the geographic location of Assam) in the NorthEast (and Assam). Quite natural and evolutionary, I would say. So, I don't think that public emotions and sentiments can be explained, analysed or justified by some Acts signed by Governments and the ruling class. The definition of legal and illegal immigrants as per dates such as 1971 and 1950 are therefore mere 'bureaucracy' or 'politics' when it comes to a deep rooted sentiment against outsiders, who refuses to amalgamate with the local culture of the place. So although people are bound to accept these dates, they may not do so internally. Especially, a civil war or a mob doesn't understand these dates. They go by pure emotion.

      As I said, truth is that there is dissent against outsiders be it Marwari, Bengali, Nepali or the Bangladeshis. Since the Hindu Bengalis, Marwaris and Nepalis have got integrated into the fabric of the region in varying degrees, the emotion against them has faded and the population has accepted, or are trying to accept them as Assamese.

      On the other hand, in case of Bangladeshis, the scenario is a bit different. 1. Immigration volume is much higher,
      2. Politically they are playing a critical role as vote banks.
      3. Like in the rest of the world, it is aiding religious polarization.

      So the angst against them is much higher and stronger. It is not economic, but it is more of cultural and social angst.

      Yes, there was a pre-existing polarising attitude existed in the mainstream assamese society, which should be curbed most definitely. However, the current polarisation is stronger and has more to do with the global scenario and religious fundamentalism.

      How would you react to Fundamentalist Muslim forcing a liberal Muslim to educate his daughters in Arabic? How would you react to forceful obedience towards the religious attire?

      Like you said, the Bor Axom imagination has to include all Assamese irrespective of religion, ethnicity, dialect and caste. It should be a cultural and lifestyle identity. For that we have to seal the border and enact a code of conduct in the society which will condemn all kinds of religiously sensitive social conduct (perhaps on the lines of the French President).

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  5. The post is really good and all the facts and your observations are well illustrated.
    There was a fire inside due to the current situation and after reading this post its burning like hell!!..
    We must unit, every true citizen of Assam who cares for it, whether hindu or muslim, to get these bangladesis hell out of our place, and we've to unite strong..
    Im in...
    Joi Aai Axom...
    -Biplob Gogoi

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Biplob for your comment. There is a need for a united front. One way is to participate actively by becoming members of our only regional Assamese party - AGP. The other way perhaps is to join AASU (or ULFA). People who are residing outside Assam can contribute through funds and counseling sessions. AGP or the other organisations today are going through a bad phase. It is easy to scold and leave something during bad times, it is difficult to have patience and build an entity in the bad times. AGP (and the others) need grass-root level support and members. Lets become members left right and centre. It does not cost money. Lets spread the message.

      Delete
  6. Hello Everyone

    Please post your blogs on www.joiaaiaxom.com

    Thanks

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I did. Thanks. All the best.

      Delete
    2. Thanks, Durlav da

      Delete
  7. Very valid points made by Durlov and Xeuj B... I share the same sentiments and feel very strongly about the issue. From my childhood, have heard about the illegal Bangladeshi's and how AGP came into power at their behest. I would like to say here that other communities like Marwari's, Bihari's and many other Indian communities have the right to go and work and settle anywhere in India...Like we Assamese are working, living in other parts of the country. Some might not even go back to Assam in their life...But they will always be Assamese at heart for the rest of their lives. Same goes for Marwari's and Bihari's...It is well accepted.

    Nepali's have become an integral community of India and we dont treat them as foreigners even though they are in high numbers in every part of India...may be because we dont need a passport to go to Nepal...

    Bangladeshi's are different..they are foreigners and they came to Assam or allowed to enter Assam illegally due to some vested interest of the political power at the state and central level. Both sides have gained due to this illegal influx.

    But what about the general public? We didnt asked for it?

    I was disturbed to see the number of Bangladeshi's when I passed through Rangia once last year. More than 60% street vendors selling either vegetables or fruits were Bangladeshi's. I told to myself there would come a day when something very bad would happen in my home state due to this huge huge influx. I fail to understand how on earth they were allowed to come and settle here...What kind of job are the authorities doing? What about the border security forces? How do they get the legal documents?

    I don't want to label them as Muslim Bangladeshi or Hindu Bangladeshi...For me and for all the Assamese people...they are just Bangladeshi's and we just want them out of Assam.

    Please dont bring religion into all this...I feel we as Assamese are above all this religious hatred...I never felt this in my life and used to feel proud about our Assamese community that we are not like other's.

    Its time that we come together as brother's and sister's and tackle this issue. Urge and pressurise the government to take drastic steps in giving back our Assam.

    Joi Aai Axom !

    Suhail Haque

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    Replies
    1. Completely agree with you. The world would look upon us with pride when we can show with example that neither am I a Hindu, nor are you a Muslim.

      However, when I traveled Assam this time, I was shocked to see some vivid differences in the attitude of people, in the dresses they wear etc which can breed an alienation.

      Lets spread the message of brotherhood irrespective of religion. Joi Ai Axom.

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