Written by Ankita Dutta
This is in response to “A vote for Miya poetry”, (IE, May 13). The author stresses on the word “Miya” and regards it as a laurel of sorts while talking of Ashraful Hussain’s electoral victory in Chenga constituency of Barpeta district in Lower Assam. For anyone familiar with the politics and demography of Lower Assam, the question that would naturally arise is: Wasn’t the victory of AIUDF’s Hussain easily ensured, given the population composition of Chenga? As per the Census data of 2011, an overwhelming majority of the population in the constituency is that of Bengali-speaking Muslims.
While the author seems to be delighted by the assertion of identity by Assam’s “immigrant” Muslim, the development provokes one to ask: Isn’t the assertion and adaptation of this particular moniker by this community in line with the Do Qaumi Nazriya espoused and propagated by the Muslim League and M A Jinnah? We all know what that led to.
The author’s glorification of a separate Miya identity goes against the sentiments of the larger Assamese society (including people from different ethnic communities). Does it not pose a threat to the complex sub-regional matrix of the Assamese polity, especially when one considers issues such as the demand for a separate Kamatapur by the Koch-Rajbongshis or Bodoland by the Bodos?
Miya is a colloquial form of address (referred to by the author as a ‘slur’) that is used by most common men and women in Assam to designate the Bengali-speaking Muslim community. It is a commonplace reference used to describe their language, food habits and culture, which are very different from the native Assamese community. The fact that there is a genuine reason for discontent in Assam since the days of the Assam Agitation (1979-85) can no longer be overlooked by the political establishment and the academic fraternity. Himanta Biswa Sarma utilised this to the best possible advantage for himself and as well as for his party. His speeches swayed the youth and convinced others about the threat to Assamese identity and the need for it to be protected.
Many areas in Lower Assam, where most of the so-called “immigrants” are concentrated, are contiguous with the international boundary with Bangladesh. Between 2001-2011, Assam’s Muslim population has grown considerably. The number of dominated districts has increased from six to nine. While Badruddin Ajmal’s constituency of Dhubri had the largest Muslim population of 80 per cent, Barpeta district showed the highest growth rate of Muslims between the two Census years of around 12 per cent.
This raises certain questions: Are concerns over these figures a mere Hindu-Muslim concern or a genuine worry about illegal infiltration from across the border? What about the fear of becoming an alien in one’s own land – a worry that has more to do with culture than religion? Why is there a continuous disappearance of non-Muslim ethnic subgroups from these districts? At a time when the issue of Islamic immigration has toppled governments in the West, isn’t it politically too naïve to not expect a reaction from people in Assam?
Before the third and the final phase of the Assembly polls in Assam on April 6, Badruddin Ajmal’s son Abdur Rahim reportedly declared at an election rally at Bhabanipur that “the next government in the state will be formed by the dadhi, topi, and lungiwallah people”
The Congress Party’s candidate from Batadraba constituency in Nagaon district, Sibamoni Bora, had openly said that as the official entrusted with electoral duties in the area, she let many people enter their names in electoral rolls without verification.
In such a situation, doesn’t the assertion of a Miya identity stoke the fears of the Assamese people? What about the common belief, harboured by a section of this population, that an invader Mir Jumla is their hero? Jumla is a divisive figure in Assam – his tomb lies in the Muslim-dominated district of Mankachar in Lower Assam. Isn’t he an antithesis to real heroes like Lachit Barphukan who are still revered by the people of Assam?
Himanta Biswa Sarma’s assertion that the BJP does not need the 35 per cent votes of the Miyas was, in a way, an acceptance of the already-existing religious polarisation. It was a response to the politics of parties like the AIUDF. To refer to the victory of Ashraful Hussain, from this same party, as a “poetic win” is problematic. The victory is a manifestation of the dangerous division in Assamese society. The author overlooks the changing demographic character of many districts in Lower Assam including Barpeta. The venomous proclamations of Abdur Rahim or Sibamoni Bora must be contested and rejected.
The writer holds a doctorate degree from the Center for Political Studies, JNU and is currently working as an independent researcher on issues related to Assam and the Northeast
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines