On the arrest of Nilim Dutta
The Times of India reports that Nilim Dutta has been arrested by the police in Assam on charges of financial fraud and impersonation. The Indian Express reports:
“While there are now six cases registered against him in Guwahati, what we have gathered is that the Delhi Police had also registered a case against him last year,” Assam DGP J N Choudhury told The Indian Express. [Link]
Dutta announced his own arrest on Twitter some days ago, claiming the police had assaulted his family and him, and so on.
I first discovered Nilim Dutta on Twitter in July or August last year. Bodo groups in Kokrajhar and other BTAD area of Assam had killed Muslims and driven them out, many of whom still live in refugee camps there, too afraid to go home. Intellectual cover to this pogrom was being given not only by the mainstream media but also in social media by Hindutva fanatics, with the excuse that all Mulims in Assam are illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. Dutta had been tweeting against this claim, and published a rebuttal to one such claim by a Bodo IAS officer in the Indian Express.
I thus invited Dutta to write a long piece for Kafila, which was published here on 16 August. “The Myth of the Bangladeshi” became a very popular piece, initiating many discusssions and disagreements in Assam, Delhi and elsewhere. Hindutva fanatics who were unsettled by Dutta’s excellent piece in Kafila and similar pieces elsewhere, and his appearance in TV channels and so on. Now that Dutta is arrested on charges of financial fraud, these people are saying on Twitter and elsewhere that this nullifies Dutta’s claims about Muslims/’Bangladeshis’ in Assam.
Firstly, Dutta is not convicted. If you believe in rule of law, you will agree with the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’. But of course the Hindutva Taliban does not believe in the rule of law. If they did they wouldn’t be justifying the Bodo violence against Muslims by saying oh-they-are-Bangaldeshis.
Even if Dutta is convicted, I don’t see how that invalidates his research and articles on Muslims in Assam. A great historian can commit murder but that doesn’t mean the history he wrote is false.
Let me cite a small bit from his Kafila essay:
The migration of Bengali Muslim peasants from erstwhile East Bengal began in the 1800s after the British annexed Assam in 1826, with the Treaty of Yandaboo after defeating the Burmese in the First Anglo Burmese War. ‘Malevolent’ colonial policies of the British in Bengal, such as the Permanent Settlement, had already wreaked Bengal’s economy and pauperized its artisans and peasantry. Severe exploitation under its zamindari system added to the woes of the peasantry. In the geographically contiguous province of Assam, population density was low, land was abundant and there was no zamindari system. It was just a matter of time before an impoverished and harassed Bengali Muslim peasantry began migrating in a trickle which became a deluge, encouraged by the British. It served their purpose to settle large numbers of Bengalis on vacant land to increase land revenue, as well as have readily available cheap labour in a labour-deficient province. Initially, the immigrants were welcomed by even the Assamese landed gentry for the cheap labour.
Now, you can either agree or disagree with the claim. You can make claims and cite and quote and dig into history books to say whether the claim above is true or false. I don’t see how his bounced cheques have any bearing on his invocation of the Treaty of Yandaboo.
To the people asking me on Twitter, “Now what?”, my answer is, “Now nothing.”
When I pointed out that the article should be judged on its own merits, they said ‘Oh you are still standing by him’. I’m not standing by him but his article. In fact, I had a Twitter falling-out with Dutta when I learnt that he was to the forefront of discrediting Shambhavi Saxena’s SOS tweets from the Parliament Street police station in the last week of December 2012. I had publicly castigated him,and unfollowed him thereafter.
I hope that like every undertrial, Dutta gets speedy justice. If he is indeed guilty, I am sure the courts will award him punishment that is due to him. I will still judge his articles on the basis of their own truth claims. Just as I judge Sudheendra Kulkarni’s columns on their own merit, without being clouded by his having gone to jail in the cash-for-votes scam.