like me generally get called supporters of terrorism’
The writer is a student of English Literature at Delhi University.
He writes a column for the newspaper Amar Asom on the Assamese experience
in Delhi and is a contributor to the Assamese journals Sadin and Satsory.
writing this as the news comes in that over 70 Bihari brick kiln workers
have been killed in Tinsukia district in Assam. Assam, my home, Assam.
Friends and acquaintances are calling up to tell me that the carnage has
happened, they’re smsing with bulletins of the rising death toll,
the way they do each time my state erupts into disaster. Do you know there’s
been a bomb blast in Assam? Do you know about the latest flood situation
in Dhemaji? I thought I would tell you…
three in the morning, and I’m up out of my sleep, writing this a
day before my college’s internal tests begin. I’m someone
who appreciates the poetry of the Assamese militant, Megan Kachari. I’ve
even written about his poetry, after I came across a translation by Indira
Goswami (Melodies and Guns) in the bookstore near the Arts Faculty’s
red brick building at Delhi University. You might have seen me in the
audience at the National School of Drama when they performed Memsahib
Prithivi, a play by Rabijita Gogoi, depicting the socio-political condition
in Assam and casting an analytic yet empathetic light on the insurgents.
People like me generally get called supporters of terrorists and terrorism.
Wasn’t I the one who wrote a piece on my blog, after reading a report
by Anuradha Pujari, protesting the Army’s gross violation of human
rights in Assam? My piece was a response to a photograph of jawans posing
triumphantly with a dead terrorist’s bleeding body — I wanted
to know whether this was any different from a TV reporter with a Main
Barkha Dutt Banna Chahti Hoon dream, running after a rape victim, hounding
her for an interview to be aired on prime-time news. Everything’s
justified, isn’t it? The reporter needs her rozi-roti, and the rape
victim should consider her physical wound to be “just a wound”,
she should forget about it as “just an accident”, something
she stumbled on while walking down the road.
a “terrorist supporter” and received brutal comments on my
blog because I once wrote about the ill-treatment of a dead body —
it didn’t matter for me that the body was a terrorist’s, it
belonged once to a man who walked and talked and ate and dreamed before
he was put to eternal sleep so a group of jawans could point their weapons
at him and pose for the camera. As a result, even before the crows begin
cawing over my college campus, the smss and the phone calls start going
off like fire alarms: Dude, what the hell is wrong with ulfa? You know
what happened? And I feel like screaming at the phone: No, I don’t
know what happened! Don’t you know I stay in a college hostel? Don’t
you know we have only two television sets in the common room, and people
watch more sports than news here? They don’t know. Why do they need
to know? And they don’t really care whether I know either; their
job is done, all they wanted was to point fingers at me. Make me (and
other Assamese) the target of disgust, suspicion and complaint, but in
the most consciously-casual manner, even in tones of grandmotherly/grandfatherly
concern. You know what happened? I thought I would tell you…
He tells me what ULFA’s done is just Not Done. Why me? Does he want to add to my general knowledge? Does he really think I need to be told? Does he think I’m Paresh Barua’s secretary?
justified. We all feel the same abhorrence for the killings and that’s
what matters. But not with the consciously-casual manner burdened with
suspicion and complaint, not with the veneer of grandmotherly/ grandfatherly
tones of concern.
what care you frame your questions. How patiently you rehearse how to
approach your north-eastern friend so he doesn’t suspect you, so
he thinks you’re one of those tolerant, sympathetic liberals who
tosses in bed ten times each night thinking about the problems of the
insurgencies in Nagaland and in Manipur and in Assam and in what-not.
I admire it. But maybe — maybe, maybe — you could have spared
a little of that sensitivity to ask: Should I call this guy up with this
or not? Maybe.
at how this one is worded: Dude, what’s wrong with Paresh Barua?
ulfa kills Bihari and Bengali labourers. 48 deaths in the last 24 hours.
This is just not DONE. For the record, I haven’t been in touch with
this guy for over a year (and no, he isn’t from Bihar or Bengal).
I’d smsd him the day before he sent me this because I was looking
for a lost phone number. Why this? Why me? Is it because I write a column
from Delhi about Assamese students and north-eastern issues in an Assamese
daily? Does he want to add to my general knowledge? And does he really
think I need informing about what’s “done” and not “done”?
Whatever ulfa has been doing was never, ever “done” —
does he think I don’t know that as well as he does? Or does he think
I’m Paresh Barua’s personal assistant, or maybe ulfa’s
public relations officer?
all this because I am not one of those who sits on my milk-foam-soft sofa
with a cup of cappuccino or a glass of red wine in my hand, shouting:
“Crush them! Crush them!” I believe in a peaceful resolution
to the insurgency in Assam. We keep quiet when we are called ‘Chinkies’
and ‘Chinese’ who eat boiled frogs, live in tree-houses, roam
half-naked and have Ching Ming or Chow Chang as names for people. I’ve
kept quiet when I’ve heard Guwahati called the capital of Arunachal
Pradesh. We keep quiet but we resent it. Would you blame us? But I’ll
never agree to violence — the monster that chucked out (yes, chucked
out, not ‘forced out’, not ‘drove out’, but chucked
out) thousands of Assamese students from their own state in search of
a peaceful, promising future. I’ll never side with people who go
on killing sprees after a chicken-curry meal cooked with hens robbed from
a poor villager, cooked with his oil and on his pan. Those brick kiln
workers left their states for food. I left my state for knowledge. In
what way am I different from them? In no way — except that I have
food and hence can think about knowledge.
And yet, I will still find beauty in the poetry of Megan
Kachari and even in the Naxalite poets of the 1960s. I will cherish my
visit to the nsd not only because Zubeen Garg composed the music for Rabijita’s
play, but because it exposes a world as artificial and elite as a memsahib.
I will still shout all through the valleys of Assam and all over the Ridge
forests of Delhi University, protesting the disrespect shown to a dead
body — be it that of an ulfa member named Thulantar, or of a school
teacher who served the nation all his life and ended it with a little
award from the President on the birthday of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and
a bullet in his white-haired chest. There can’t and there won’t
be any subtraction from what I think, only addition. This time, when I
sing the Internationale in my own language, I might just write another
slogan: “Say no to racism towards north-easterners.” Let a
flow of smss and calls come flooding my inbox, warning and threatening
me — What will you do if Assamese students are attacked on the way
back in so-and-so train in such-and-such state — but I will sing
my song. And it won’t be a song of four-and-twenty blackbirds, singing
after being baked in a pie. I’ll not let myself be baked and burned.
No more suspicious stereotyping in consciously-casual tones, even in the
subtlest of forms.