Tragedy of Assam: Land, Language And Religion by Ananya S Guha SignUp


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Tragedy of Assam: Land, Language And Religion
by Ananya S Guha Bookmark and Share
Sunanda K Datta Ray the veteran journalist writing in The Telegraph Kolkata has anatomized the violence in Assam as attributed to three factors: land, language and culture. While economic causes are primary, language and culture I think are peripheral. 
To the common man or woman language and culture matter little, it is the economic possession valued not so much in terms of money, but assets in the form of land which is a bone of contention for the poor, who has to live on a day to day basis, and perhaps fortuitously. While culture did predominate in the larger Assamese ethos in the struggle against 'Foreign Nationals' this same feeling rebounded, because the smaller tribal communities also reacted against a pan Assamese culture by speaking against linguistic domination or subservience, the very same communities who hitherto considered themselves to be Assamese.

Autonomy is power, if that power is not willing to be shared among all sections of the society, then there can be subversion of order. When the Bodos wanted autonomy, they were in actuality clamouring for rights associated with language and economy.
The formation of the Bodoland Tribal Council and the Bodoland Tribal Autonomous Districts (BTAD) were a step towards autonomy, but at what cost? Soon fissures erupted, against the Assamese, the Adivasis, the Bengali Hindu and the Bengali Muslim, in different phases dating back to the early nineties.
Assam as Ray has rightly pointed out is a microcosmic India and this we must protect. Its inhabitants tribal or not are very much a part of larger traditions and cultures. The Assamese language is spoken in pidgin form in Nagaland, as lingua franca and even in Arunachal Pradesh. But Ray is right in a way, cultural assimilation perhaps is a solution to the problem. In parts of Assam the average person immigrant or otherwise can speak Assamese fluently. But in the BTAD areas it is doubtful whether such assimilation has taken place.
Mind you not all Bodos are Hindus, there are Christians as well, so the analysis of a sharp Hindu Muslim divide is a bit facile as well. The ethno religious stance is now taken for granted. I am not sure, student leaders and social workers have pointed out that these communities have been living in harmony and contiguity for years. So the reason can then be 'political' or some political agencies out to create disruption in a semblance of order. 
Autonomy is power, if that power is not willing to be shared among all sections of the society, then there can be subversion of order. When the Bodos wanted autonomy, they were in actuality clamouring for rights associated with language and economy. 
The word culture is too broad and obfuscating for the commoner. But it so turned out that in these areas there were other linguistic and religious communities as well. Such heterogeneity marks other parts of Assam as well; which is integral to a larger Assamese matrix and culture which makes this part of India so beautiful, with rumbustious songs and dances, the inimitable Bihu festival, the folk songs of Goalpara language which incidentally is an intermix of Assamese and Bengali, on the hinterland of the Bodo areas. Bodos, Adivasis have contributed to the Assamese language and literature in the form of creative writing such as poetry.
Culture is give and take, land, money and spoilage are not. Even as the tension abates in Assam, in the Bodo areas, it will take a long time for wounds to heal, and the refugee camps to be dismantled till homes and hearths are re established once again. This same context is true for the rest of India, microcosmic and macrocosmic cultures intermingle and also there is collision. One is of course the larger Hindu Muslim animosity, and anti 'others' as in Mahashtra, culminating against Hindi speaking people who whether we like it or not, form the heartland of India. 

Even as I write these I can only feel sad, but writing is catharsis.
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Comment You are right of course. I have been writing a series of articles on these issues.In the first such I tried to analyze the historical premise. Thank you for your comments.


08/05/2012 10:57 AM

Comment Ananya Guha, There is no mention of the illegal immigrants from Bangladesh at all in your article. What is the truth about them? I think it was Hiteshwar Saikia, Congress Chief Minister of Assam, who said not too long ago that there were no illegal migrants from Bangladesh. A Congress Chief Minister of Nagaland said the same thing soon after. The High Commissioner of Bangladesh from Delhi, or was it the Deputy HC from Kokata, visiting Assam at the time coolly quoted these incredible worthies of our region and said the problem was not there at all. The ethnic minorities, the real minorities by the way, are in despair and panic about the level of migrants rising like a flood submerging them and their homelands, the most important part of their culture.
Clearly it is not going to be possible to keep the illegal migrants out of our region. It is too much to expect this from the Govt of India or from the State Govts in the NE region because the compulsions that control election strategies become more important than the "microcosmic India" you said "we must protect". What has happened to the Maoris and the First Nation peoples of the Americas is a harsh reality that we the minority groups must start to accept and process. Clearly these things happen it seems. But if retaliatory, mindless, futile violence is to be reduced we need to bring into play honest difficult conversations on difficult realities. This way we are more likely to help one another to shape developments together through mutual transparency and understanding, instead of provoking one another to do our worst. If we provoke one another we do our worst, and that way those weaker because they are hopelessly outnumbered, therefore insanely bitter, will be destroyed. Those who destroy them will hate themselves for doing something they will never be able to forget.
One urgent need is to get the whole NE, Bangladesh and Burma to start to converse together on the crisis affecting all of them. What has happened and is happening to the Rohingyas in Rakhine State in Burma and Bodoland has touched a common chord of fear and despair in the minds and hearts of the tribal peoples of our region. This certainly is true in Nagaland judging by the quick reactions from the public.
Bangladesh has said Rohingyas being horribly treated by Burma cannot be allowed into Bangladesh as they are illegal immigrants. This provokes the question "What about the countless, countless poor peasants from pouring into the NE from Bangladesh?" The people of Bangladesh will have to show at least some understanding and some responsibility. The attitude Bangladesh has shown so far is not worthy of a nation and her people who have gone through so much suffering themselves to come to where they are today.

Niketu Iralu
08/05/2012 09:52 AM

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