Assam and several other parts of Northeast have been witnessing massive protests and shutdowns since Lok Sabha passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill on January 8, which seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan who came to India before December 31, 2014. Though the concerns of the sister states of Northeast differ, the fear that equally prevails in them is of the threat to the integrity of their culture and language that the immigrants might pose when they will be allowed citizenship.
When for Arunachal Pradesh, easy citizenship of Chakma, Hajong, and Tibetan refugees is the concern, it is the Bangladeshi Hindus for Assam. The case of Assam is getting serious as the bilateral issue tends to be turning into a communal discord. It looks like the issue has ended up in the strife between Assamese and Bengali eventually. Though the Bengali live in almost all the parts of Assam, they are the majority in Barak Valley that comprises of the three districts– Cachar, Karimganj, and Hailakandi.
Barak valley is separated from the Brahmaputra valley by long ranges of Karbi hills and North Cachar Hills. This geographical divide has created a cultural divide that has been the perennial reason of discomfort among the people of these two valleys when it comes to acceptability and tolerance. This persistent soreness time and again surfaces over the occasional issues, as for now NRC and Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which frequently stir the Hindu Bengali’s dormant wish for a separate Barak, a demand that was first placed by the democratic forum called Union Territory Demand Committee (UTDC) founded in 1971. In the context of this demand, as the reports run, they have even been found to seek the support of the Bodos and the Karbis at times.
The issue of ‘Separate Barak’ has got its place in different forums on television channels and social networking sites where unfortunately even some of the Assamese intellectuals are found to speak about cutting off Barak valley from Assam. Their reason is when the part does not comply with the whole, it should be operated. Now before agreeing with or denying them, probably it is wise to rethink the issue deeply with more logic that might put our stand, whatever, on solid ground. How about studying the valley in question with an impartial eye? Before alienating it thoroughly, let’s know if it has any element of what we call ‘ours’ so we do not lament upon our inadvertent mistake in future.
Well, contrary to our popular belief that Barak valley is a land of the Hindu Bengalis, Barak valley is home to a number of ethnic communities—Ahom, Chutia, Dimasa Kachari, Bodo, Manipuri, Bishnupriya and Ex-tea Garden Labourers. They form the important ethnic groups in the social structure of this valley. And no one can say with certainty when they settled first in this land. Perhaps, without the knowledge of many Assamese of Brahmaputra valley, there are several Assamese villages there. One such village is Borgul. Situated some four kilometers away from Badarpur town in Karimganj district and is mostly inhabited by Ahoms, it stands as the true representative of Assamese culture and tradition in this few-Assamese land.
These people, who hardly speak any language other than Assamese, observe all the customs to its fullness even though they do not have much idea about the lives of their fellow brothers living in Brahmaputra valley. Perhaps many of the mainland Assam do not know the frequent hardships they face without adequate basic infrastructures of life and without any representative to convey the message of their plights to the power center of Assam. Probably living as an alien in one’s own native land is the most painful experience on earth. Who will know it better than those villagers of Kalain (of Cachar district) whose houses were set on fire by the neighbouring tea-tribes as revenge against the Axomiya following the Beltola riot of November 24, 2007? Pitifully, as the sources revealed, the village is inhabited by only 40-50 deprived Assamese families.
Here, though it may be uncomfortable to many, the question is: How many of mainland Assamese are aware of them? Even if they know, the question still remains how many of them raise voice for them? The distance between Brahmaputra valley and Barak valley is shorter than that between West Bengal and Barak valley! Yet, we often get to see the concern of Bengal for the Hindu Bengalis of Barak valley. The thing to remember is we cannot leave anyone from what we call ours.
The people of Brahmaputra valley or the Assamese, in particular, do not have any issue with the Bengalis. In fact, the issue is not Assamese-Bengali, but insider-outsider. Misconstruction of the problem has led to much communal violence where mostly the innocents have been the victims. Now it is time to awaken to the truth of the problem and then to find an amicable solution to it that will ensure peace, security, and enhancement of Assam and its citizens.
Ramala Sarma is Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy in Nowgong College. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org