On August 27, 2021, The Minister of Education, Ranoj Pegu, sent a letter to all the representatives of different linguistic and ethnic groups of students in Assam for a conference on the educational policy of the state. From the formidable, All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) to the rather obscure Sadou Ahom Modahi Chatro Sangstha, the Honourable Minister had extended the honour of consultation to a total of 34 organisations across the state. One must be tempted to appreciate the government’s commitment to deliberation and discussion on policy-making, conceding space to the different ethnolinguistic groups in deciding the roadmap of education in Assam.
However, the government didn’t invite a single Bengali organisation to the discussion. Quite curiously, while a linguistic group with almost 30℅ of the total population of Assam didn’t merit an invitation, many linguistic groups of the population of not more than 50,000 have been accorded a voice in Dispur’s profound commitment to deliberative governance. Had it been one stray incident of callous omission, one would have understood. But when a series of similar acts of apathy and indifference is directed against one community, a sinister design begins to emerge.
On the eve of the 75th year of our independence, a teary-eyed Dipali Das took to social media drawing the attention of the elected representatives of Barak Valley to her inhuman suffering in the detention camp of Silchar for two long years. In the land of the deaf and dumb, Dipali Das’ harrowing song for redemption didn’t find any resonance. “Oo Modi bhaya, (PM Narendra Modi) keno eto shasti dilay, jail khanay pathaiya”- was how Dipali Das celebrated the 75th year of independence in the biggest democracy of the world. While the people of Barak Valley were busy relishing the sight of ‘Tiranga’ at Laal Chouk of Kashmir, Dipali Das was addressing her protest song to an emasculated audience of Barak Valley. Might I put it in millennial terms, she didn’t get viral! Perhaps, as supporters of the present regime would argue, she didn’t deserve to!
Dipali Das is just one of the thousands of stories of lives lost in the mirage of CAA – NRC! Our Honourable Chief Minister, Himanta Biswa Sharma, true to his political calibre and acumen, has refrained from shedding any light on why the rules of CAA haven’t been implemented by the Union Ministry yet. But he hasn’t held himself, true to his political acumen and his unflinching trust in his sidekicks of Barak Valley, from saying that the government will go ahead with another round of NRC in the bordering districts of Assam. The NRC – CAA game will linger on as the elected representatives of Barak Valley keep themselves busy in brokering for a better handout to their political curriculum vitae!
Let us revisit the horrific Lailapur carnage. After a year-long series of bombings, arson, loot, transgression, etc, the Assam Government finally woke up to the gravity of the situation when six police personnel were shot dead in a well-orchestrated target shooting from the Mizoram side. Before the funeral pyre of the six police personnel got doused, a well known public speaker and an editor of a reputed news channel branded Barak Valley as a ‘hostile territory’, squarely laying the entire blame of the incident on the hostility of the people of Barak Valley. The Government of Assam and the Government of Mizoram played the game of FIR and counter FIR for a few days. All the complaints were eventually withdrawn as a ‘gesture of goodwill’. No one killed the six policemen – that’s how one should remember the cold-blooded carnage.
Quite strikingly, one is forced to be reminded of the Dhola – Sadiya shootings perpetrated by “God Knows Who” three years ago. Five Bengali people were shot dead point-blank, justice awaited. “Pawn Sacrifice” is a wonderful movie on the life of Bobby Fischer. I wonder how Dispur has assimilated this art into its functioning so well!
The brewing anger against the Bengalis spills out in other less significant forms too. A couple of days ago, Srinkhal Chaliya, a self-proclaimed bearer of Lachit Barphukhan’s legacy, proudly declared “I am warning all the Pauls and Deys imported from Kolkata to live by the terms of the Assamese or I will teach you a lesson”. An FIR has been lodged against him for such outrageous comments. If I am asked about the odds of police taking any action against Srinkhal Chaliya, I would say that there will be no action at all.
The moot question, however, is that how does the government ensure its popularity in the Barak Valley despite all its patent apathy and indifference towards its constituents. It’s a very interesting conundrum that deserves to be probed into.
The Bengali class consciousness has been sabotaged!
One of the primary reasons why the ruling party ensures its goodwill in the valley is that they have changed the fundamental nature of the population. As of now, Barak Valley is more of a battleground of AIUDF and BJP and less of a memorial of Bhasha Shaheeds. The two polarising forces ensure a breeding ground for all forms of religious bigotry which can undermine any hint of linguistic consciousness. Both the parties, AIUDF and BJP, has systematically ensured the absolute obliteration of Bengali class consciousness by ripping apart the population into two distinct blocks -Hindus and Muslims. Quite curiously, our quintessential stance of addressing any bigotry directed towards Barak Valley is simply this – Oh no! We are not Bangladeshis! We are Hindus and Muslims! A class that has completely lost its cultural moorings can arrive at such absurd conclusions.
The answer to any form of discrimination against the people of Barak Valley must be mounted on a united platform of all the people of Barak Valley. The constant reliance on the binary of Hindu- Muslim while framing any political narrative in Barak Valley is an invitation to impending doom. “Do you want Ajmal as your CM?” – the ruling party’s favourite bullying tactic has reduced us to a disempowered population devoid of all the right questions.
The shenanigans of our feeble elected representatives!
Barak Valley has three classes of elected representatives. The Congress, gradually receding into oblivion, doesn’t have much political capital left to make any significant impact in Dispur. However, the North Karimganj MLA, an honourable exception, does try to voice some of the genuine causes of the valley. The AIUDF, with their five MLAs and an unassailable grip over the Muslim votes, has been an utter disappointment. As it seems, none of the elected MLAs have the capacity to formulate a remotely rational argument on any critical issue. The Assam Assembly has seen the passing of the Cattle Slaughter Bill while the Love Jihad and Population control Bills remain on the cards. The AIUDF MLAs are seen clapping and cheering for anything that the ruling government does. The Honourable Chief Minister has been prone to making many unsavoury comments about the Muslims in his election trail. However, as it seems, the AIUDF MLAs have emerged to be his greatest allies in all his manoeuvres now. Amnesia can be so ugly at times. “He is a man of work. I have full trust in the CM in whatever he does” – said the elected AIUDF MLA from Algapur. While seeking his comments on the Cattle Slaughter Bill, the AIUDF MLA from Hailakandi said, “It’s a very good step. I support the CM”. In the runup to the elections, the AIUDF supremo, Badarduddin Ajmal, couldn’t refrain from saying,” He is a genius. He has people in all the parties. I don’t know whether he has his people in my party.” With his presumably biggest opponent acting as his biggest ally, Dr. Himanta Biswa Sharma’s political position is truly enviable.
While the complex love affair of the BJP and the AIUDF lingers on, their supporters in Barak Valley ruin each other’s lives by fighting amongst themselves. The elected representatives from the BJP seem to be too feeble to stand up to the might of their leaders in Dispur. One can cite the example of Vista Dome. Despite the Union Railway Minister promising to run the Vista Dome from Silchar, the Barak Valley was cut off from the opportunity. Receiving flak from the people of the valley, the Honourable MP from Silchar rushed to the Railway Ministry to set things right. However, as of now, Barak remains deprived of the ‘Vista Dome’ initiative. From the continuing inhuman treatment of the employees of the HPC to the detention camps to the Lailapur incident to the grave discrimination in granting of infrastructure and employment opportunities, the elected MLA’s of the ruling party have been the biggest culprits in nurturing the conspiracy of silence in our valley. They have reduced the fiery descendants of Bhasha Shaheeds into a hapless homogenous mass of sycophants.
As their supporters swarm around them for ” Selfie with Dada ” and consequently the same dadas swarm around the bigger ‘dadas’, many a Dipali Das vanish into the horizon of institutionalised apathy. That’s Barak Valley. That’s all about it. What a morally benighted place to live in!
Finally, let me revert to the issue I started with, why didn’t the Ministry of Education invite any organisation from Barak Valley?
Because we are not worth it! Live with it! And if you can’t, grow a spine!
In his Noble Prize acceptance speech, Czeslaw Milosz, a Polish poet, very famously said –
“In a room where
people unanimously maintain
a conspiracy of silence,
one word of truth
sounds like a pistol shot.”
I hope you heard one!
The story has been published by Anirban Roy Choudhury and all responsibility and accountability rest with him. To respond to the article, send email: firstname.lastname@example.org.