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On the arrest of Nilim Dutta

February 5, 2013

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.

7 Comments
  1. Anannya permalink
    February 5, 2013 5:45 PM

    Dear Shivam,

    The point is not whether Nilim’s criminal history makes his article/claims of scholarship untrustworthy. The point is that his claims of scholarship and his article were both called into question at the very outset. Dismissing all such critiques as right-wing trolling does not speak very highly of Kafila, especially when your only criteria for selecting Nilim Dutta as a contributor appears to be his tweets that fit within a certain narrative that Kafila is more inclined towards.

    I am not going to defend this comment with an elaboration of my political leanings, nor make claims on the basis of my lived experience in Assam. (I am not from Bodoland and one of the reasons for not commenting on Nilim’s article is that I do not consider myself adequately informed about the ground realities in Bodoland). But as someone who has been reading Kafila for quite a while, I can tell you that it was distinctly disappointing to see Kafila publish an entire article without conducting some basic research and worse, circulating it as “everything you wanted to know about Assam and didn’t know whom to ask.”

  2. February 5, 2013 7:09 PM

    The article of Nilim Dutta is very well written and seems to be well researched. This is clearly evident that many publications from Indian journals and Newspapers to international broadcasters published and aired his views. I could not believe how a section of our so called scholars was silent on fact as stated in the article until arrest of its writer. If someone has doubt as now claimed by many, they should present well researched fact to counter all alleged falsehood.
    Whether Sanjay Dutta was good actor before his arrest in connection of some terrorist activities? No. He is an actor of his own class before and after.
    After arrest of Nilim Dutta, many people are questioning all newspapers particularly this blog Kafila. This simply reminds me one person Called Mr. Mukesh Ambani, who has no guts to counter claims made by some anti – corruption activists but serving notices to television news channels.
    Please, question the article and its claims, give some well researched facts.

  3. February 5, 2013 9:37 PM

    Every company while recruiting an employee , does background check . Is Kafila facing talent crunch that you recruit any tom dick and harry?

    • February 5, 2013 10:11 PM

      We are not a company. We are a voluntarily run blog. We don’t have any ‘employees’. We didn’t ‘recruit’ Nilim Dutta.

  4. Nobody permalink
    February 5, 2013 9:57 PM

    People are not questioning his credentials based on bounced cheques. That is a very clever misdirection you are attempting there. People have questioned his credibility because of all the false claims he made – of being a somebody in an organization that sounded like it is a think tank (Strategic Research and Analysis). You cannot deny that the designation and the organization lent some weight to his opinions. Now it appears that the organization is fictitious and hence people are questioning his credibility. But I guess it is too much to expect you to debate something logically and rationally. You just would like to paint the “other” side with a broad brush and ignore their attack. Much easier and more convenient than to answer logical criticism.

  5. February 6, 2013 2:25 AM

    Great piece here Shivam, something I myself quite agree with.

    Having worked on ground with Nilim in Bodoland along with a BBC Correspondant, i can vouch first hand that he had access to data about the relief camps, which was very real. It was segregated district wise data of every relief camp and the aid that was being distributed.

    I have seen photographs of him in the relief camps interacting with the displaced. They were real.

    His knowledge and on ground access to these conflict struck geographies and people was unmatched.

    I have been asking myself a question, somewhat of a moral dilemma – if he is indeed a con (if convicted), why restrict himself to duping people for his expenses and for what purpose – to report about issues from an underreported geography on issues where Politicos reached the geography only after his article was discussed in the Parliament – is the purpose of doing societal good washed away for good since the means to do it were wrong ?

  6. February 6, 2013 4:50 AM

    Comments closed.

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