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I went and saw Kokrajhar, and then Assam.

11 September, 2012Posted By: Durlov Baruah

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. Even 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.

It was a black day for Assam. The communal harmony that I knew existed was conclusively 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.


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