The killing last week of five Bengali villagers in Tinsukia’s Bisonimukh-Kherbari threatens to widen the cracks that have resurfaced in Assam three decades after the violent language agitation as the Centre seeks to push the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.
A report published in the The Hindu stated that amid a volatile situation fanned by “inflammatory remarks” from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLAs and United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) leaders, a Bengali’s passion for sound recording offers a harmonious bridge across the acrimonious divide.
The report further stated that Roy Cycle Store was established on Tinsukia’s Gopinath Bordoloi Road by a Bengali Railway employee in 1959. It, however, stopped selling bicycles in 1966 and was converted into an electronics shop. The new avatar gave an opportunity to Roy’s son, Subhash C Roy, to indulge in his passion for sound recording.
In 1971, a touring Assamese theatre group, Abahan, set up camp near the shop and Roy recorded the group’s popular musical Shakuntala. His audio cassette of the performance was the first production in Assamese. There was no looking back and cassette recording of Assamese Bihu songs, children’s songs and music followed, catapulting Roy into the State’s music and theatre circles.
“I did not do it as a commercial venture. I am proud to be a part of the history of Assamese music and play a role, however insignificant it may be,” the 66-year-old Roy said. “Nothing can be more significant than Roy Cycle Store’s contribution to Assamese culture. The shop underlines the harmony the two communities have enjoyed despite hiccups, and is worth revisiting for those who are pessimistic about co-existence of communities,” Mugdha Jyoti Mahanta, Tinsukia district’s Superintendent of Police (SP), said.
Tinsukia is also the home of Pradip K Dewan, a Bengali who in 1971 was the founder-president of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) that champions a brand of Assamese nationalism more inclusive than other groups. “I was the general secretary of Jorhat Engineering College in 1970-71 when tension between the Assamese and Bengalis was at a peak. We, the students, helped assuage tempers around the town, and my fellow Assamese students felt I should take the lead in forming an all-Assam union to cater to the needs of the students and highlight their issues,” Dewan said.
He was elected the first president of AASU and Atul Bora, now a BJP MLA, the general secretary. “We didn’t think of him as someone different from us,” Bora said. Dewan, however, was critical of the party of his former ‘second-in-command’. “The communal tension was much, much worse in the 1970s (a decade after Bongal Kheda, meaning ‘drive out the Bengalis’, movement) than today. The BJP is responsible for bringing in the Citizenship Bill and reopening old wounds,” he said.
“This phase will pass, and we will make sure certain divisive forces do not undermine what the likes of Roy Cycle Store and our first president have done for Assam,” Dikshit Hazarika, who was Tinsukia district president of AASU from 1998-2000, said. The Tinsukia Bar Association, which prides itself as the most ethnically diverse in Assam, has sought a judicial probe into the Bisonimukh-Kherbari killings “motivated by the sole intention of creating disturbance and communal riot” among the people of the State.
“Villages dominated by minorities have always been soft targets in Tinsukia. For instance, extremists had killed 28 Hindi-speakers at Sunpura near Sadiya in 2000. This (Thursday’s) incident could have been avoided if the Government had invoked relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to penalise people, including MLAs, who were making provocative statements for a fortnight or more,” Biswajit Prasad, the Bar’s secretary said.
Though the police say members of the outlawed ULFA gunned down the five people in Bisonimukh-Kherbari, many believe the extremists took advantage of a volatile situation created by “inflammatory remarks” by BJP lawmaker Shiladitya Dev and pro-talks ULFA leaders Mrinal Hazarika and Jiten Dutta. Senior police officials said it was typical of ULFA-I to deny involvement in any subversive act whenever the tide goes against it.