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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 33, Dated 18 Aug 2012
    CULTURE & SOCIETY  
    PERSONAL HISTORIES
    Rafiul Alom Rahman

    A series on true experiences

    MIGRANT WARS

    ‘We never envisioned the terror that would tear us apart ’

    By Rafiul Alom Rahman

    Illustrations: Samia Singh


    DWIDEN BRAHMA is my best friend from school. In class IV, he read out horoscopes to the boys from a little book he carried in his pocket. He had a fascination for the occult and black magic. He believed the world was just like in the DC comic series. In class VIII, he gifted me a copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for my birthday. He hated to be an engineer and would have rather studied fashion designing. Years after finishing school, we are still as close.

    Whenever I visited his home in Dhubri, he forced me to stay over at his place, and his mother would prepare a delicious meal of mutton cooked with leafy vegetables. Dwi would talk about his life at NIFT, his latest crushes and his desire to become a fashion journalist. When we were in Delhi, we would try new places to have Chinese food, buy books and visit his filmmaker aunt in the city. Dwi’s parents and his aunt treated me with love and affection whenever I met them.

    That evening, when Dwi’s aunt, Rajni Basumatary, invited me over for dinner at her new residence in South Delhi and spoke to me at length about how she loved to listen to Pratima Pande Barua on All India Radio during her college days, neither did she envision the terror nor did I. Sitting on the terrace, we talked about the frailty of the human body and other ideas, often the subjects of Barua’s songs, the Padmashree awardee from Assam.

    Dwi had a fascination for folk music too. Over the phone, we often discussed music and we exchanged videos containing Bangla folk songs over email. Folk music was close to our hearts and we loved talking about it. Music made us transcend the barriers of belonging to different communities. We never thought that our religious or ethnic identities would ever strain the bond that had grown out of our shared love for art and music, among other things. It never did.

    When the riots broke out in Bodoland, Dwi’s family had to flee Dhubri leaving behind their home and almost a two decade old connection with the port-town, like many Bangla-speaking Muslims who fled Kokrajhar. The atmosphere of dread and suspicion compelled them to go into hiding. There wasn’t the slightest hope that they would ever return to the place they called home, and that their neighbours would welcome them as whole-heartedly as they had before. When I rang Dwi up amid the riots, Dwi’s choked voice on the phone communicated the fear and indignities that his family had to face.

    The violence that had started in the Bodo Territorial Autonomous District and spread to its neighbouring districts had killed about 57 people. About 400,000 people were displaced and had to take shelter in relief camps rampant with poverty. Each one had a happy story to tell — of their village homes, of friends, family, neighbours and the hustle-bustle of daily life.

    The Hindu right-wingers added a communal tinge to the violence and the Assamese chauvinists blamed it on “illegal Bangladeshi immigrants”. The ‘Internet Hindus’ stood in solidarity with their “Bodo brothers” and jingoists across the nation cried out for the“Bangladeshis” to be exterminated. Manmohan Singh called the riots “a blot on the face of the nation”. But Dwi and I knew that many of the Bengali Muslims affected by the riots weren’t “Bangladeshis”, and they were as clueless about the violence as their Bodo counterparts.

    When I called up Dwi a few days later, he said that he had learnt that some people in his ancestral village had shooed away Bodo militants from burning houses that belonged to Bengali Muslims. He lamented, “If only people had realised this a little earlier, there wouldn’t have been any riots.”

    Rafiul Alom Rahman is 21. He is a student of English literature at Zakir Husain College, Delhi


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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 33, Dated 18 Aug 2012
 

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