Reading the Violence in Assam: Here and There: Musab Iqbal
… the fact that violence was not merely transitional, a birthmark or a departure, but a much more general and continuous aspect of modern life – Gyanendra Pandey
The misreading or out of place reading of any local and contextual issue and putting it in a wrong frame can be very catastrophic. The recent episode of violence in Assam and the fury it triggered across the country is a classic example of such misreading. But apart from the misreading this complete episode is certainly indicator of certain other phenomenon underlying our fragile society.
Moreover it looks that this is not only adding to verbal construction of abuse but also a very controlled confusion working at someone’s behest. The rally and violence in Mumbai, Ranchi, and Jamshedpur whose motivating factor was this violence happening in northeast and cross border against “Muslims”. The other episode, which adds to cynicism, is through popular newspapers in South India and in Assam publishing that Assamese will be subject to target and then under the cloud of rumor and suspicion these residents of the state is forced to run.
Anyone who has sense of history and politics of NorthEast shall understand that these are not simple arithmetic of violence that Hindus kill Muslims or vice versa rather it is contestation for a long time for indigenous identity and claim on the land and resources through ethnicity. This is historical production of violence not necessitated only by someone’s faith. This is in turn a generalized crisis that when an image – a stereotype image is produced in any ‘disturbing act’ it invoke eccentric reaction from the immanent construction of the faith.
As Nilim Dutta notes “It was cleverly alluded to that the community of immigrant Muslims of East Bengal origin who had by now been living in Assam legitimately for decades, and were certainly not illegal immigrants, was colluding with their co-religionists from across the border in furthering this nefarious design. A section of the vernacular media, representing and owned by the same Assamese middle class elite, played an immensely partisan role in strengthening and spreading this flawed perception, playing to the gallery.”
Any image production without understanding the history, politics, sociology and DNA of violence will badly affect the harmony and produce further more violence.
The history of Northeastern region is also history of different forms of violence and the recent backlash that forced more than four lakh people to run away is certainly not random and impulsive rather has some design effect in it.
Is violence symbolic or semiotic of unexplained, unexplored rather undebated intricacies leading to routine tension in a particular space?
The growing fear among Northeast Indians of being targeted in South Indian states of this nation has left everyone wondering, that who ultimately is triggering this endless thread of rumors, who is controlling it and who is the ultimate beneficiary of this?
The role of Assamese regional newspaper is certainly dubious and the role played by Sakshi of Andhra Pradesh is also instrumental in creating this fuss. Many of the concerns of those families whose children’s study in southern region is triggered by these newspaper of Assam sensationalizing a third page small piece of Sakshi into a big dashing headline and decorating with information which even Sakshi has not provided them. Although it’s not clear that what might be the motives but it apparently looks a planted story. The recent episode of Sahafat, Delhi reveals the similar symptoms. In fact this is also very interesting to read and analyze that how vernacular media or media at margins in larger sense plays very instrumental role in manufacturing consent and structuring particular kind of perception and yet remain unnoticed in larger scheme of things. This is very much true about Urdu media and in case of Assam is very much true about local Assamesse media and how over time they have molded the perceptions and even in latest exodus episode they played instrumental role. It is with so called “Urdu” or “Muslim” media and so on and so forth
Coming to the reasons for this recent violence in Kokrajhar; which is encroachment, infiltration and growing population of ‘Bangladeshi Muslims’, one must note that:
Assam is more or less a museum of different race and tribes since ancient time. The migration was never restricted to Bengali speaking rather wide range of settlers included those coming from Nepal, immigrant traders and tribal like Miri came in the state and settled.
Miri was originally hill tribes who came down to settle in plains of Assam in northern part. M.L.Bose has noted that ‘ The next important factor which contributed significantly to rise of population in the Brahmputra valley are immigrant traders from beyond’ The census of 1901 then observed that “ the immigrants from Rajputana are the shrewd Marwari merchants who have monopolized the trade of the Brahmputra valley”.
While on migration of Nepalis, Bose comments that ‘The immigration of Nepali graziers as a phenomenon of growth of population became distinct from the beginning of the present century. The comparative study of census reports of 1901 and 1931 shows the significant rise of Nepali speaking in the region than any other as they grow from 20.2 to 88.3 (in thousands)
The census commissioner of 1931 wrote, “ probably the most important event in the province during the last twenty five years, an event moreover which seems likely to alter permanently the whole future of Assam and to destroy more surely than did the Burmese invasion of 1820 the whole structure of Assamese culture and civilization, has been the invasion of a vast horde of land hungry Bengali immigrants mostly Muslims from the districts of East Bengal and in particular from Mymensing.”
M. Kar observes that ‘But, the Assamese remained apparently ignorant of any adverse effect and the public took little interest in the matter. For the first time in 1913, the problem of agricultural immigrants and the need of preventing interference with the Assamese had begun to attract attention.’ (Muslims in Assam Politics)
Kokrajhar always remain center of tribal activity and resistance. This is in turn very sensible and sensitive place through out history. On 27th February 1967 the tribal leaders and workers coming from kokrajhar met at Edenbari; headed by Modaram Brahma to discuss the grievances of the plains tribals. They came to a conclusion that only full autonomy could provide the plains tribals the necessary means to redress their grievances and decided to form an all Assam Organization to agitate full autonomy.
Action committee was formed and it toured throughout Assam to mobilize opinion of plains tribals and they started forming the District Adhoc Plains Tribals Committee.
On 18th march the action committee met again under Modaram Brahma and the Plains Tribals Council of Assam(PTCA) was formed. Biruchan Doley became President and Samar Brahma became Vice-President, Kokhrajar was the HQ of the organization.
Bodo proper, Dimasa and tripuri, which together form BODO, are also considered as the earliest known settlers of plains and very sensible on the issue of land. The recent violence and the debate surrounded it was about the encroachment of ‘Bangladeshi’ on their lands and increasing population of these ‘foreigners’ on their land.
The Bodo area of western Assam where the recent conflict occurred had experienced violence on three occasions in the 1990s. An accord signed between the Bodo militant outfit and the Assam government in 1993 created the Bodo Autonomous Council. However, it excluded more than 1,000 villages that had no Bodo majority. Attempts to “create a majority” led to the attacks on Bengali Muslims in 1993, Bengali Hindus in1995, and Santal in 1996. They also displaced 350,000 persons.
Nilim Dutta argues “It is thus simplistic to assume that rampant illegal Bangladeshi immigration continues even today by taking note of census figures selectively without having the intimate insights into the complex historical processes at work leading to the demographic transformation that is underway.”
Although Mihir Sharma makes the point clear: But the 2011 Census, in fact, reveals the exact opposite of these Goebbelsian claims. The growth rate of the Muslim population in Kokrajhar since 1971 is well below the national average for the community, and, therefore, appears convincingly natural. The overall population growth rate since 1971 for Assamese districts bordering Bangladesh is lower even than for those bordering Arunachal Pradesh. The data conclusively proves that the overwhelming majority of Bengali-speaking Muslims in Assam have been there since1971 — and were declared citizens nearly two decades ago, in the Assam Accord
But the argument is not mere facts and graphs but also the perception formed over the year hence making a simple construct of claim of rejection and assertion like Armenian genocide, On one hand people like S.K. Sinha advocates that “We are losing ground of both National Security and National Integrity due to some un-wanted foreigners in our own country. Today we are homeless at our own country and the government is not there to support the true citizens of the country but the illegal migrant who are slowly invading the region and changing the complete demography of the beautiful Brahmaputra valley.” And concludes that it’s “ suicidal for national security”. On the other hand many concludes by statistics and facts that immigrant issue is mere myth. The ‘politics of perception’ at large is the most potential actor in this case.
This narrative of immigrant is seen by many as covert operation to target muslims as Walter Fernandes argues “Some fundamentalist forces turned the anti-Muslim action into propaganda against the Bangladeshi immigrants and tried to present all Muslims as illegal immigrants” As the immigration of lakhs of Hindu in Tripura and thousands of Nepali and Bihari is not central question to national security and any violence projected towards illegal immigrants turns into violence against Muslim whose best example is Nelli massacre.
Reading the violence ‘Here’ and ‘There’ one finds effervescence in four segments.
The episode of violence in Assam and Burma produced through electrified images in virtual spaces enticing the flag bearer of “One Ummah One Nation” resultantly turning to be more disturbing. While in last few days the photos produced were challenged and largely established that they were morphed or photoshoped. Obviously, the language is speaking violence and every custodian of ‘Muslim conscience’ is asking other to “wake up” and “do something” exclaiming “Buddhists” as violent and Dalai lama as blood sucking vampire for Muslims.
While one benefitting from these confusions and rumor industry is obviously the Sangh Parivar, which is at it’s disposal trying to give it a communal image and hence ‘safely’ taking these migrants to respective station. There is not doubt on idiotic act of “radical Muslims” the ring wing
Ignoring or not acknowledging the fact that Muslim is not a singular construct and there are different ethnic groups within Muslims contesting with fellow Muslim not for right over religion but for a better life – Goriya , Moria and Desi muslims
All these states of South India where ultimately this rumor is promulgating have history of sub nationalism – brutal and violent at times too.
In Karnataka alone there is undertone-growing animosity against North and North East Indian, infact the latest murder of a North Eastern student few months’ back created that heated debate of prejudice against students of these regions. .
There are three probable explanation of this situation: The sub regional nationalists want to take political benefit of this conundrum and trying to maximize this fear and making it sure that they leave their spaces.
While RSS with its entire wings is very actively providing the safeguard to these students and fleeing citizens, obviously security is not for their stay, but to leave in comfort. The placard displayed at the station of despair and anxiety by the parcharaks declares solidarity with them by saying ‘We are with you’ and no such assurance of security for them if they stay back.
RSS volunteers arranging their stay at station, making sure in a way that they go by providing free tickets to many, distributing free food and sympathizing with them against their ‘blood thirsty’ enemy, needless to say under administration patronage.
Obviously had his time to get some political benfit from all the sympathizing with Northeastern- a rare occasion and used an opportunity to regain strength among Northeasterners and Assam in particular. L K Advani blamed “Bangladeshi infiltration” the floor of the Lok Sabha, and Gujarat’s Narendra Modi (mis)used his Independence Day speech to rant against “Bangladeshi infiltration”
Indeed one cannot rule out state which just want to advance control on its every citizen through creating a more powerful surveillance state and limiting the space ofinternet mediated politics. It came heavily on social media and those spaces where commoners speaks and outbursts.
Precisely we can conclude Irresponsible state, fragile community; negligent media and groups banking on violence and polarization are altogether contributing to destruction, chaos, misunderstanding and misrepresentation. The banning of sms is also an absurd and anxious act which is hardly substantiated by strong rational.
The student, minority, marginalized community must also come out of their ghettos and shell and be more pro active in debates concerning the Nation. This wave of fear successfully worked out because of our own ghettoization and community restricted interaction. As ‘North Eastern’ citizens are rarely integrated in the imagined national culture, it is much more easier to invoke a campaign against them and since they are much more communitarian the promulgation is much more easier. To blame Facebook is the most absurd of all as it’s not facebook, which is making people crazy, but their insecurity and distrust on the state that is making them flew. This is an indicator of the underlying fragility of the society. The question is not just social networking sites and it’s regulation but larger question of society’s anxiety, insecurity and flimsiness must be taken into account of investigation.
(Musab Iqbal is editor, Newzfirst.com.)
1) The myth of the Bangladeshi and Violence in Assam: Nilim Dutta
2) Social History of Assam – M.L.Bose
3) Mihir S Sharma: Twisting Assam
4) Muslims in Assam Politics – M.Kar
5) Political development of the North East – B.C.Bhuyan
6) Bodoland Violence: Land, Identity, Immigrants – Walter Fernandes