The protests and the violence along with it spread like wildfire. To make matters worse we had Akhil Gogoi, leader of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, come into the Dibrugarh district and instigate his followers to commit acts of vandalism. It is no surprise that the left romanticizes this guy, but he is no revolutionary. He is our very own Stalin. Railway stations in Chabua and Panitola were torched by the KMSS. For what? ‘To save the Assamese language and culture’. Dare we question it. On the night of December 10, something extraordinary happened in my own hometown. The BJP MP Rameshwar Teli’s house in Tipling, Duliajan was torched by a mob late at night which was followed by some shots fired by the CRPF personnel. As students clashed with the police outside the Assam Secretariat building in Guwahati, the Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal had to make his way to his office through a rooftop. He had now become LBJ in 1960s America with his people at the brink of a civil war, and he, a former student leader, who couldn’t face the public. In all my years in Assam, I had never seen anything like that first week of the anti-CAA movement. My father too, said the same. Even during the peak of the 1980s Assam Movement, he didn’t sit out of office for more than 2 days. On December 16, 2019 he would have gone one week without having gone to the office. It was a week that shook the state. Flights and trains cancelled; people stranded at the airport. A friend of mine couldn’t make it home for 2 days despite being just a 45-minute drive away from home.
But the one thing that completely shocked me was Modi and Shah’s complete misreading of the situation. Did they not see things through? That a state which has gone through almost 30 plus years of anti-immigrant agitations would again have to bear the burden of immigrants. That with the majority of other North-East states being exempted, Assam would have to bear the major burden once again. Did they underestimate the long years of struggle of the Assamese for the Assamese? Or did they not know history at all? Or were they not briefed well enough by the Assam government? Or did they want this chaos to distract people from the real state of the economy? Well, this doesn’t help the economy any more, nor did the internet shutdowns. Whatever said and done, this was a political blunder of Homeric proportions and might just be the end of BJP in Assam for another 10 years. Already I see graffities of ‘BJP Go Back!’ echoing the famous ‘Simon Go Back!’ slogan of the Indian independence struggle. Assamese people wouldn’t take a compromise on this, and they mustn’t. The CAA poses serious threat to the demographics of the state, something which has already undergone huge changes since the huge Bangladeshi influx in the 1970s. Xenophobia? No. It is just a people striving to look after each other because they are sure nobody else will.
Over the years I had grown disillusioned with the ethno-nationalist movement of Assam. Surely, we had to think on broader terms as a people of a global India, in the 21st century. But the way the movement proceeded has assured me of our cause and that we Assamese must stand up for each other and try preserve our culture and language. All over India now, everyone is standing up for the Muslims because they rightly feel threatened by the dangerous cocktail of the NRC and the CAA. But who is standing with the Assamese people? Nobody. Instead people are calling us xenophobic. That is what we get for awakening the country. One has to understand that xenophobia hasn’t led to this crisis but many crises have led to this ‘xenophobia’. The way the entire Assam angle has been ignored by the rest of India in this movement further proves to us why we are the real second-class citizens in our country. If there is a group of people who have been historically neglected and rarely empowered, it is not the Muslims, or the Dalits, or the women of this country, but the North-East people, because with us there isn’t even the acknowledgement of the crisis, leave alone any attempts at solving it.
When the protests erupted in Delhi I was certain that this would spread everywhere and that we would together as a nation show the powerful that you can’t abuse your power as you like, full-throttle through the strands of a secular democratic and choke a nation’s progress to enforce your communal agenda. I thought this moment could be used to unite the nation as a whole and to also assimilate a people of a region which has been historically neglected – the North East. But I should’ve known better – that very few actually care about this region and we can’t even rely on the liberals and the progressives of the nation to further our cause. The nation is divided even when it is united. That is the beauty of India. But we are left alone, yet again, to struggle for ourselves. That is the failed federalism of India.
The calmness is back in the breeze. I’m breathing more calmly. There are no more late-night loudspeakers announcing curfews, at least for now. There are protests, satyagrahas everywhere though, necessary protests and necessary satyagrahas. I, like my parents, 30 years before me, find myself along with my people, politically and socially awakened in these times. The nation is going back to its Christmas parties and New Year Eve’s celebrations. But as for Assam, we can’t dream of that for another year. Our struggle remains eternal. Joi Aai Axom!
The first part of the article can be found here.
Swagat Baruah is the founding editor of Catharsis Magazine.