Wasim Hussain is a dear friend of mine. He is 31 years old, brown, Assamese and a Muslim. He can’t pronounce ‘Cha’ (Tea) but calls it ‘Sa’, like many others say in Assam – Hindu or Muslim. He is a passionate Indian, was last heard cheering for Sushil Kumar and Mary Kom and is usually in the streets celebrating any big victory that Indian cricket team has had. His face is mongoloid which you call ‘Chinky’ although I assume you are innocent enough and don’t know that ‘Chinky’ has recently been termed as racist phrase just like ‘Negro’ is and you could be go to jail for calling someone that.
Kutu Miyan, however, is not a friend of mine. He is 42, dark brown, Sylhethi (Sylhet – a city in Bangladesh), and a Muslim. He migrated to Assam in 2010 in search of work after a devastating flood left him homeless and without work in Bangladesh. Over the last 2 years he has got himself a ration card, which has turned him into an Indian citizen and last heard, has got his nephews and an uncle over too. He pronounces ‘cha’ as ‘cha’, doesn’t care two hoots about Sushil Kumar or Mary Kom and is happy working hard and making a good living out of it, pretty similar to our desi folks in the UK or US, you might assume.
So what is the problem? You ask…Here’s where the problem is:
In the last 20-25 years there has been a dramatic rise in migrant settlers in the state of Assam. There is no way the native population could have risen so dramatically in Assam.
Just so that you know, Assam shares a huge border area with Bangladesh that practically cuts across the entire length of west and southern Assam. This border is extremely porous, badly manned by a demoralised BSF with little or no equipment or any other facilities, (not at all how the Pakistan border area is manned in the west or north of India). Add to that an inhospitable terrain, torrential rains and a tropical climate full of tropical diseases.
And exactly therefore, the migration is so easy and unparalleled. To add insult to the injury these poor migrant settler’s immediately become the target of vote bank politics.
That brings me to a businessman named Badruddin Ajamal.
He made his money in trading Attr (perfume) in the 80’s and 90’s to middle east and set up a party called AIUDF (All India United Democratic Front), quickly became one of the Top 5 parties in Assam with a lot of support from the migrant community. AIUDF has recently been accused of masterminding the Mumbai violence although no evidence has yet been found against it. Ajmal is currently the Lok Sabha MP from Dhubri (an affected district in Assam).
So whats Khokrajhar?
Kokrajhar is a city within ‘The Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC)‘ which was a territorial privilege established according to the Memorandum of Settlement of February 10, 2003. BTC came into existence immediately after surrender of BLTF cadres. The area under the BTC jurisdiction is called the Bodo Territorial Autonomous District (BTAD).
The BTAD is to consist of four districts — Kokrajhar, Baska, Udalguri and Chirang — carved out of eight existing districts — Dhubri, Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon, Barpeta, Nalbari, Kamrup, Darrang and Sonitpur — an area of 27,100 km² which is about 35% of Assam’s land mass. These same districts are today the worst affected in the violence.
BLTF was a dreaded terrorist outfit, responsible for many a bombing of Rajdhani Express, in our growing up years, but has been almost non-existent. Bodo’s after years of armed struggle got BTAD but then suddenly found themselves marginalized in the wake of immigrant Bangladeshis.
Now do you see what the problem is? What happened in Kokhrajhar is not a religious or communal issue. It is a battle for land between native inhabitants and foreign settlers. Similar to Spain taking over the Aztecs in the 16th Century.
This is exactly the reason that the violence in Khokhrajhar has not spread into other parts of Assam and among other ethnic tribes versus religious communities. You must realize that Assam is a highly sensitive state with a very high density of Muslim population in many parts of the state and Assam is usually volatile to communal tensions but has been surprisingly clam this time because the people have understood that the tensions in Khokrajhar is that of land not religion.
Given this perspective do you now fathom how ridiculous the attack on all North Easterns in Hyderabad, Bangalore and Pune is?
I mean, Come on, A Mizo and a Naga are as different as chalk and cheese in terms of their traditions, culture, food etc but just because they have similar facial features they get discriminated against in mainland India and are being targeted now in certain cities. The worst affected are students and migrant laborers and lower paid workforce.
You will realize how ridiculous this is if you think of it this way…
Imagine India has some skirmish with Thailand and we go ahead and attack Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan. Also add China for good measure. Unbelievable isn’t it?!!! But this is what is happening exactly.
So what can you and I do about it?
A) First of all don’t spread any rumors either in social media or through MMS/ SMS.
B) Rise as a nation against it. You went “I am Anna” wearing Gandhi caps and wearing miniature Indian national flags, do the same now and say “I am for Assam”.
C) This is not the time for partisan politics. Once, for once, all parties should rise in unison and send out a strong message that spreading fear would not be tolerated.
D) Our PM (he is elected to the Rajya Sabha from Assam, that makes him as much Assamese as I am) should come out with full support to UPA and non UPA states in protecting the interests of North-easterners in their respective state.
E) Media –print, electronic, web needs to be responsible in its reporting.
F) And lastly, you, ,mainland Indian, stop discriminating against Northeasterners, go ahead and befriend them, you’ll be surprised at their simplicity, their talent for music and yes, they can give you some tips on staying fit as well. Make them your friends and you will realize the truth in Mary Kom’s words “Only the face is different, but the heart is Indian”
As for me, I am a Sylhethi. Sylhet, being one of the largest towns in Bangladesh, I speak Sylhethi at home -not Bengali or Assamese. My grandfather migrated to Assam during the 1947 partition. My language, food and way of life are similar to Kutu Miyan and not Wasim Hussain. But if you ask me who do I want as a neighbor, Kutu Miyan or Wasim Hussain, well, my guess would be the same as yours.
Wasim Hussain any day.