Why is Miya Poetry Inherently Divisive?

In the last 70 years, haven’t the people of Assam or the so-called “Caste-Hindu Assamese” society given enough space and opportunities to the so-called Miya community?

Why is Miya Poetry Inherently Divisive?
Why is Miya Poetry Inherently Divisive?

This is a rebuttal of the piece – ‘Ashraful Hussain’s Victory: Neither “Poetic Justice” nor an Opportunity for Bigotry’ – by Krishanu Neog and Bhargabi Das – published in The Tryst on May 27, 2021 [1]. The article begins by glorifying ‘Miya Poetry’ as just another form of protest poetry that gives voice to the suffering and humiliation faced by the Bengali-speaking Muslims at the hands of the “upper-caste Hindu Assamese”.

A simple question that arises here is – Had this community of Muslims been really facing humiliation and suffering in Assam, how did they manage to take part in India’s largest democratic exercise? Also, by virtue of the same democratic process, aren’t they becoming the representatives of their so-called Miya community within the larger Assamese society since the time of Independence? Most importantly, what is the reason behind their increasing numbers in each consecutive Census?

on the question of Jinnah’s ‘Two-Nation’ theory, it needs to be remembered here that when Muslims raised the demand for a separate electorate, they never espoused the cause of Pakistan as well

How do they remain a marginalised lot as stated by the authors, when they have easy access to all government facilities and schemes? Will the authors explain what kind of suffering they are facing in Assam? Aren’t they able to own land, compete for government jobs at par with the rest of the society, and even contest elections? What about the continuous encroachment of our Sattra and forest lands? If their suffering is a one-sided “Upper-Caste Hindu” phenomenon, what was then the reason behind the conflict between the Tiwas and the Bodos on the one hand and the Miyas on the other?

Is the usage of terminology like “Upper-Caste Hindu Assamese” a ploy on the part of the authors to divert attention from the bitter truth that it is not the Miya community but the Assamese Hindus (tribals and non-tribals alike) who are facing the real trauma of suffering? How can a community so hospitable and peace-loving as the Assamese be labelled as “xenophobic” by another community that has been living in their midst for a long time now? Those who label a community of people as “xenophobic” either do not understand history or they provide covering fire to such nascent separatist identity.

Why are the names of people belonging to this particular religious community (“Miya”) always at the forefront in any criminal activities such as rape/molestation/abduction, cow smuggling, forcible occupation of land, etc.? Take for example a few of the horrendous criminal activities that have been reported from different places of Assam over the past month. In the latest case of the arrest of drug dealers in Assamby the newly-formed Government under CM Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma, it was revealed that over 95% of the heroin dealers belong to this community. Another example that can be cited here is that of the poaching of rhinoceroses because a majority of the poachers and traders of rhino horns belong to this community.

From the recent mob lynching incident of an innocent doctor at the Udali Covid Care Center, Hojai, to the rape and murder of a 10-year old girl child at Gogamukh, Dhemaji why are a majority of the criminals invariably from the Bengali-speaking Muslim community? Definitely, criminals are there in all communities, but the moot point here is – Why is there a major share of the Bengali-speaking Muslims and not that of any other community, including the Assamese Muslims, in almost all criminal activities that are reported from Assam? Unfortunately, news of such atrocities committed by the “Miya” community upon the Assamese society hardly makes it to the national media.

The authors have argued that the Miya poets have never espoused the cause of a separate national or regional territory, away from Assam or India. Well, on the question of Jinnah’s ‘Two-Nation’ theory, it needs to be remembered here that when Muslims raised the demand for a separate electorate, they never espoused the cause of Pakistan as well. It may sound like fear-mongering to some, but isn’t the demand for a separate nation rooted in the proclamation of a separate identity by a section of a people? For instance, it was recently during the Bengal elections that a TMC leader had declared that they can create 4 Pakistans in India if 30% Muslims come together [2]. What about incidents like the bursting of fire-crackers at places like Hatigaon in Guwahati after the victory of Bangladesh and Pakistan in a cricket match played against India?

In fact, a Miya woman research scholar at the Gauhati University had posted a Facebook update in the year 2018, wherein she partook of the joy of Pakistan’s victory over India at a cricket match. She had also said that she was celebrating it by eating beef. The Assam Police immediately took note of the post and registered a suo-motu case against her under the Information Technology Act. But, what prompted her to commit such an act in the very first place? Is she so naïve to not have known that former East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh) was exploited to the hilt by today’s Pakistan? By posting such offensive pictures on social media, wasn’t she also giving vent to the long-harboured dream of a few Muslim leaders who wanted to make Assam an Islamic nation at the time of India’s Independence?

From Bangladesh’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rehman to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan, hasn’t this intent been clearly expressed in their public statements from time to time? They have declared in the past that the economy of East Pakistan would remain incomplete without incorporating Assam into it. After all, it was Jinnah’s Private Secretary Moinul Haque Choudhury, who had promised Jinnah that he would “present Assam to him on a silver platter”. At the time of the Sylhet referendum, the East Pakistanis had declared, “Silet lole bhoter jure, Axom lobo laathor bole” – meaning, “We have taken Sylhet via referendum, we will take Assam via the power of the stick.” In his book Eastern Pakistan: Its Population and Economics, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman even stated that the tribals of Assam were not only non-Hindus but were also unfit for civilised life.

It seems that the authors have nowhere bothered to take note of these historical facts and understand the current situation in Assam from the lens of history. I would like to question the authors about their stand with regard to the expansionist nature of Islam in general not just in Assam but across the entire world, from Europe to America and Canada. Regarding the fertility differences between Hindus and Muslims as referred to by the authors, it has been proven by many famous demographers like Mari Bhat, Hill Kulu, etc. that the fertility rate across Muslim population groups remains high unlike others, and this cannot be attributed to their levels of education or economic status. This holds true not just for India but throughout the world. Is it academically justified to use disparaging terms such as Islamophobia, while at the same time glossing over the existential threat of becoming an alien in one’s own land?

There is no harm in celebrating one’s own identity within the framework of the larger Assamese identity. But, the authors need to be reminded that the cause of celebration behind a separate “Miya” identity is completely different. The sole purpose of a separate branch of “Miya” poetry is to portray Assamese men as rapists while in reality, aren’t the Bengali-speaking Muslim men the main perpetrators of heinous crimes such as rape and molestation among Assamese women? Do they need to be further reminded of the despicable state that non-Muslim communities have to constantly deal with in Muslim-majority areas of Assam? Keeping in mind the safety and security of the TET-passed female teachers working in Muslim-dominated areas, Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma as the Education Minister in the Cabinet of former CM Sarbananda Sonowal had to personally intervene in the matter. He had passed an order that allowed for the immediate transfer of these teachers to schools in non-Muslim areas.

In all probabilities, it was during the periodic revision of the electoral rolls that the names of all Muslims of eligible age were included in the voters’ list

If statistics is a dangerous field that can be used for propaganda as claimed by the authors, in the same line of thought, hasn’t literature too, served as the perfect propagandist tool for the articulation of a community’s imagined “suffering”? Does it not fail to notice the real suffering and pain of another section of people whose voices have been silenced and deliberately gone unheard? Have the authors forgotten the gruesome murder of Sanatan Deka in Hajo, Rituparna Pegu in Guwahati city, or Saurav Das in Dibrugarh, all of which took place in broad daylight? Weren’t they perpetrated by people belonging to one particular religious community?

The vast change that has taken place in the demography of Assam and discussions around it might as well sound rhetorical. But, can rhetoric take away the merit of well-documented facts which are already there in the public domain? While Muslims constituted 30.9% of the population of Assam in the year 2001, this share jumped to 34.2% in 2011. In 2001, only 6 districts had a Muslim majority. Whereas, in 2011, they constituted the majority in 9 districts.

Pradip Bhuyan, who was closely associated with the NRC updation exercise in the Supreme Court has repeatedly said that the population of Muslims as projected in the Census data bears no correlation with the data in the electoral rolls. Bhuyan’s allegations are borne out by statistical analysis of electoral data. From 1981-2011, the overall average growth rate in the population of Assam was 20.07%, much below the national average of 21.03% during the same period. However, the increase in the number of voters (as per periodic revision of electoral rolls during this same period) is 35%. So, what can be the most plausible explanation for these suspiciously huge numbers in the electoral rolls?

In all probabilities, it was during the periodic revision of the electoral rolls that the names of all Muslims of eligible age were included in the voters’ list. The controversial claims of Sibamoni Bora of the Congress Party from Batadraba constituency prior to the Elections of 2021, is a clear testimony of this fact. After all, aren’t the electoral rolls far more important for the ruling party in power than the decadal Census? It is not to be forgotten that the Assam Movement began from the Mangaldoi Lok Sabha constituency in 1979 due to a sudden spurt in the population of the electorate by a huge number of 80,000 voters within a span of just one year.

So, aren’t these strategic game plans to Islamise Assam and make it a part of the larger Ghazwa-e-Hind project? Aren’t the proclamations of Sharjeel Imam with respect to the cutting off of the ‘Chicken’s Neck’ and the glorification of a separate Miya identity working in tandem to first weaken and then destabilise the Indian state? It would be interesting to know the take of the authors on the policy of Lebensraum that has been oft-quoted publicly by several Islamic academics and political leaders on numerous occasions.

To recall, Prof. Nivedita Menon had thundered in the famous lecture series on nationalism in JNU during the 2016 protests that the chief reason for the ingress of Bangladeshi Muslims is economic. Well, going by this statement, how does a community of “East-Bengali” origin choose the economic logic of staying in Assam in the face of the proclaimed violence and discrimination against them as argued by the authors? E.g. in the wake of the 2012 riots in Kokrajhar district of the Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR), a fear of persecution prevailed among the Assamese people in Bengaluru and other parts of India, which led to the fleeing of thousands of poor labourers and daily wage-workers back to Assam. Similar situations have been experienced by poor North Indian migrants who face continuous persecution in Maharashtra and Punjab.

It clearly shows that no such discrimination exists in the Assamese society against these people of “East-Bengali” origin. Rather, they have flourished and prospered at the expense of the Assamese society, especially the local tribal and marginalised communities of the districts in question.

While celebrating the win of Ashraful Hussain from Chenga, the authors have very easily overlooked the bitter reality of the changing ethnic demography of the state, especially in those districts of Lower Assam that share a contiguous boundary with neighbouring Bangladesh. The question of identity crisis has become a rather too serious one to be not talked about in academic circles anymore. The issue of the changing demographics of districts like Dhubri, Mankachar, or Barpeta (all border districts) is not a communal, but a serious political and economic question. It is an issue of survival too.

Are other religions like Islam and Christianity interpreted at such ease? If not, is it ethically correct every time to interpret the words associated with only one particular religion based on one’s own politically motivated ideology?

Instead of going back to the socio-economic and political context behind the demands for a separate Bodoland or Kamatapur, what about the divisive vote-bank politics practised by India’s Grand Old Party for a long time on the lines of caste and language? If the demand for a separate Miya nation comes up and it eventually materialises just like the way it happened in the case of Pakistan, what is the future going to be for the other “non-Miya” communities inside such a territorial unit?

Raising the genuine concern of massive demographic shift that has been witnessed in Assam over the past several decades cannot be outrightly dismissed as a Far-Right “Hindutva rhetoric”. It is the Western academic discourse that has first misinterpreted and then distorted the original meaning of Sanskrit terms such as ‘Hindutva’ to analyse the rise of political parties like the BJP in the Indian political scenario. The request is not to try and demean the philosophy behind the meaning of Hindi/Sanskrit words such as Hindutva (suffix Tattva).

The authors might not be aware of the fact that in Indian philosophy, Tattva represents an element or aspect of reality. It is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘principle’, ‘reality, or ‘truth’, and in no way, it is associated with anything religious. By adding the suffix Tattva to ‘Hindu’, we only refer to different aspects of the Hindu way of life and not just one aspect of it.

Are other religions like Islam and Christianity interpreted at such ease? If not, is it ethically correct every time to interpret the words associated with only one particular religion based on one’s own politically motivated ideology? By subtly referring to Hindutva as something which is associated with violence or intolerance of the ‘Far-Right’, the authors have perhaps forgotten the Supreme Court judgement in the Yeshwant Prabhoo case of 1996 where the judge said that the misuse of expressions like Hindutva to promote communalism is not going to change the “true meaning” of these terms. If there is a ‘Far-Right’ in this country as written by the authors, what will be their take on the ‘Far-Left’?

A newspaper report published way back on September 17, 2010, in The Deccan Herald, reported that more than 7,000 bighas of land belonging to 39 Sattras of Assam in Dhubri, Barpeta, Nagaon, and Morigaon are in the grip of illegal encroachers

The authors have referred to the shifting of populations in the overwhelmingly Muslim-dominated Dhubri district. But, I really wonder whether are they aware of the fact that till almost the turn of the last century, Dhubri was a Hindu-majority area, with 80% of the population in Dhubri town being that of Hindus in the early 1920s. It was once a part of the Koch-Rajbongshi kingdom of present-day Cooch-Behar in West Bengal. Dhubri also boasted of prosperous Rajbongshi zamindaris such as Golakganj and Gauripur. But, at present, the Rajbongshis account for a mere 11% of the electorate of the Dhubri district. As per the 2011 Census, Muslims constitute almost 80% of the population in the district.

So, what is the reason behind the continuous disappearance of non-Muslim communities from places such as Dhubri over the years? How have innumerable villages in districts like Barpeta, Dhubri, Goalpara, and Nagaon that were once Hindu-majority have now become Muslim-majority?

A general tendency that can be observed among Muslims everywhere is that they do not integrate themselves with the people of the place where they reside, a certain kind of deliberate insularity to keep themselves separate. Why is this so? For those who might not know, it is a religious duty for them as clearly enshrined in Verse no. 28 and Verse no. 29 of the Surahs (Chapters) 3 and 9 respectively of the Al-Quran. They give clear injunctions to the Muslims to not come to friendly terms with the kafirs (non-believers of Islam). If the religious book of a particular community gives such clear instructions in this regard, it is not difficult to understand the possible causes behind the drastic decrease of the non-Muslim population in Muslim-dominated areas.

Appeasement politics is based on an absurd sense of political correctness. Does it not imply nourishing a soft political vote-bank based on a deliberate ignorance of the real-time concerns of a community of people? It might be true that not all Bengali-speaking Muslims in Assam may consider Mir Jumla as their hero. But, isn’t the presence of a monument in the memory of a military commander from the enemy camp within the territorial boundaries of India questionable in itself? Very conveniently, the authors have chosen to not talk about the encroachment of the lands of our Sattras and Namghars in the districts of Dhubri, Barpeta, and Nagaon in particular.

A newspaper report published way back on September 17, 2010, in The Deccan Herald, reported that more than 7,000 bighas of land belonging to 39 Sattras of Assam in Dhubri, Barpeta, Nagaon, and Morigaon are in the grip of illegal encroachers [3]. As per the Brahma Committee Report, this number is far higher [4]. Earlier, the Gauhati High Court had also directed the state government to free Sattra lands from illegal encroachment. The Brahma Committee Report had clearly mentioned that the identity of as many as 18 Sattras in Assam is under threat, following large-scale encroachment by illegal Bangladeshi migrants.

The Supreme Court of India had also taken note of this crisis engulfing Assam in the case of Sarbananda Sonowal versus Union of India (2005). I really wonder what would be the response of the authors to the view pronounced by the highest judicial authority of this country way back in 2005. The Court had termed it as an “external aggression and internal disturbance on account of large-scale illegal migration of Bangladeshi nationals”

The authors say that there is a lack of credible data and reliable figures on the exact number of Bangladeshi nationals staying in India illegally. In this context, they need to be reminded that it was on November 16, 2016, that Union Minister for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju had stated in the Rajya Sabha that an estimated 20 million (2 crores) illegal Bangladeshi immigrants are staying in different parts of India. He also said that most of these immigrants have already settled in Assam and West Bengal, while many have moved into the interiors of the country, some even reaching metropolitan cities like Delhi and Mumbai in many instances [5].

Writing in The Indian Express on July 21, 2004, in a news report titled ‘This is not Mr. Advani speaking’, Arun Shourie had predicted the rise of a “Third Islamic State” in the subcontinent [6]. He also wrote that Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants in parts of Assam and West Bengal pose a grave threat to the national and as well as regional security of the country. The authors’ selective reading of S.K. Sinha’s Report on ‘Illegal Migration into Assam’ does not take into account the fact that this report has more to do with India’s national security and threats posed by an uncontrolled influx of illegal infiltrators to the sovereignty and integrity of the country.

What would they then call the so-called syncretic culture of Assam where the assertion was made during the anti-CAA protests that Assam is the epitome of secularism preached by both Ajan Fakir and Srimanta Sankardeva?

I would like to ask the authors – Can the national security of any country be compromised at any cost? Isn’t North-East India central to this security, considering that it shares its borders with Myanmar, China, Bhutan, and Bangladesh? Wouldn’t change demographics, because of illegal infiltration, affect the unique culture and language of this strategically sensitive region? Sinha’s report made use of updated data from the Intelligence Bureau showing an unnatural increase in the population growth rate of multiple constituencies in Lower Assam.

In 1992, an internal report prepared by the Union Home Ministry had suggested that illegal immigration has vastly changed the “demographic landscape” of the eastern border states of India, especially Assam and West Bengal. Gen. Sinha had mentioned in his report that the consequences of large-scale immigration need to be emphatically stressed upon and no misconceived and mistaken notions of secularism should be allowed to come in the way of doing so.

There is also a tendency on the part of the authors to portray the National Register of Citizens (NRC) as an exercise of disenfranchising the Muslim population of Assam and thus robbing them of their citizenship rights, by declaring a vast majority of this community as illegals and non-citizens. It needs to be recalled here that the NRC was at first initiated during the previous Congress Government in the state under former CM Tarun Gogoi. But, its preparation was undertaken on a serious note only after the coming to power of the BJP Government in the state in the year 2016.

In this sense, has the NRC been made use of as an excuse to play the politics of Muslim victimhood? Isn’t it a completely one-sided and hypocritical narrative that has quite comfortably brushed aside the truth that it is only citizenship and not religion that forms the basis of inclusion/exclusion of names in the NRC? Taking recourse to half-baked truths has only led to the vilification of the entire NRC exercise in Assam as ‘xenophobic’ that is aimed at making a large section of the people (read: Muslims) stateless.

Coming to the question of the next government in Assam being headed by a Muslim, will the authors take some time off to shed their intellectual arrogance and revisit history? Here I’m not talking about the history written by an elite club of Marxist propagandists disguised as “eminent historians”, but the history which has not been taught to us and the truth intentionally kept hidden from the public eye. I hope the authors must be aware of the ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri Hindus during the reign of former CM Farooq Abdullah. The Muslim-dominated former Jammu and Kashmir state (now UT) has never elected a Hindu Chief Minister over the last 70 years.

In the last 70 years, haven’t the people of Assam or the so-called “Caste-Hindu Assamese” society given enough space and opportunities to the so-called Miya community? A significant number from this community is today there in the Assam Legislative Assembly. This can be countered by saying that it is the Constitution of India which gives them equal opportunities and not the people of Assam. But, where would this logic go in the case of J&K? Hindus and Buddhists in J&K are the victims of mindless violence and discrimination that, I hope, does not need further elaboration for enlightening the authors. So, isn’t there a clear cause-and-consequence relationship between the assertion of a separate identity and the subsequent proclamation of a separate nation?

As the authors themselves have claimed, there has been a religious polarisation in the Assamese society for decades. What would they then call the so-called syncretic culture of Assam where the assertion was made during the anti-CAA protests that Assam is the epitome of secularism preached by both Ajan Fakir and Srimanta Sankardeva? Taking pride in being open-minded and liberal-secular citizens educated in “one of the most progressive educational spaces in the country” sounds good in itself. But, does education teach us to forget our history and our past? As the famous saying goes – “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it”.

At this juncture, my humble opinion about the context discussed here would be to try and engage in an honest deliberation on the issue of migration not just in Assam but across the world. This will certainly require a shift in one’s ideological moorings beyond what they have learnt to appreciate within India’s “one of the most progressive educational spaces.”

References:

[1] Ashraful Hussain’s Victory: Neither “Poetic Justice” nor an Opportunity for BigotryMay 27, 2021, The Tryst

[2] TMC Leader Says We Can Form 4 Pakistans If 30% Muslims In India Come TogetherMarch 25, 2021, YouTube

[3] Encroachment threatens Assam’s sattrasSep 17, 2010, Deccan Herald

[4] Committee for Protection of Land Rights of Indigenous People of AssamDec 30, 2017

[5] Two crore illegal Bangladeshis living in India: GovernmentNov 16, 2016, Indian Express

[6] This is not Mr Advani speakingJuly 21, 2004, Indian Express

Dr Ankita Dutta is a doctorate degree in Political Science from the Center for Political Studies, JNU and regularly writes on topics of national and current interest.
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