By Syeda Hameed
18 August, 2012
I am in Bangalore. This morning’s newspaper headlines screamed “Exodus of 10,000 youth from NE to Assam”. Railway platforms were filled with anxious students wanting to get out of the city. At the meeting for which I am here I met an Assamese student, Mausam Ahmed. He got up during question hour and his words chilled each one in the audience. “What shall I do? When I was coming to your meeting, my parents called to say, `Beta don’t go, stay indoors. And come back home soon to Guwahati.’ I feel alone although I have many friends. What do you suggest for students like me?’
I have just returned from Kokrajhar and Dhubri. Kokrajhar is where the Bodo-Muslim conflict began in early July. It is part of the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts, other districts being Chirang, Baksa, Udalguri. Next to it is Dhubri district, which has 80 per cent Muslims. So far, 80 people have been killed and 4 lakh are in relief camps. Bodos are in camps in Kokrajhar, while Muslims are either on the border or have been pushed into Dhubri (camps). Three years ago, I was in Darrang district, which had experienced Bodo-Muslim riots in 2008. I understand that till this day, four years later, some victims are still languishing in those camps. This is what riots do to human beings; while it takes a moment to burn and kill, it takes years to put life back, piece-by-piece. Having been witness to post-carnage Gujarat, I have seen that even 10 years later life has not been restored. For those who have lost loved ones, whether in Assam, Gujarat or elsewhere, the phrase is “never be restored”.
At the Friday launch of Beautiful Country: Stories from Another India, a book co-authored by me and Gunjan Veda, the subject of Assam was dominant. The governor, who was chairing the programme, spoke of his anguish saying that NE students were “our children, we love them and they need to feel that they are safe”. M.V. Rajasekharan, former minister and my former colleague in the Planning Commission, spoke of the eclectic tradition of Karnataka embodied in the revered saint Basavanna. From the book, I read the story of Jili Das, a young Anganwadi worker from a village in Darrang, Assam who had cycled in scorching heat all the way to the district headquarters to tell me that “her children” had not received any rations, supplementary nutrition or deworming tablets for eight months. What she did not say was that she had also not been paid. “I work in a Muslim area and all my children come from the poorest of poor households.” For us, this young woman was the hope for Assam. All she wanted was help for the kids, Muslim, Hindu or Christian, they were the same to her!
The upheaval in Assam has sent out enormous shockwaves to Pune, Chennai, Bangalore, where they will all be felt. The question to ask is: where is its epicentre? Ostensibly, it is in Kokrajhar, between Bodos and Muslims. But when we saw the camps and the wretchedness of both groups, we asked ourselves: who is to gain from this misery? The wretched are killing the wretched, as Frantz Fanon averred. Camp after camp, it became obvious that the net gainers are fundamentalist forces, whether Hindu or Muslim, but yes, the fundamentalists. The fact that it is spreading to other parts of the country confirms this hypothesis of the “grand design”.
It is time all sane-minded people of the country, with their collective strength, smashed this design. To begin with, stand with our friends from the Northeast. And, second, understand that this is part of a greater agenda to destroy the secular fabric which has held us together for centuries. We should all, young and old, recall the lines of Dylan Thomas: “Do not go gentle into that good night/... Rage, rage against the dying of the light”.
The irony cannot be lost on anyone that Mausam Ahmed from Assam fears for his life lest he be attacked by Muslims in Bangalore for being from the Northeast — in retaliation for the killing of Muslims there. The tragedy and travesty of life!
The writer is member, Planning Commission