9 people whose poetry depicted Assamese as ‘xenophobic’ yet to be identified: Police
The controversy which has erupted just as the final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) has been put in place has evoked sharp responses and pleas to put it to rest to maintain peace even as sections have condemned the FIR.Updated: Jul 28, 2019 19:24 IST
The Assam Police said on Saturday that they were yet to identify nine out of ten people, mostly poets named in an FIR filed around two weeks ago, which alleged that their work portrayed Assamese people as xenophobic.
The controversy which has erupted just as the final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) has been put in place has evoked sharp responses and pleas to put it to rest to maintain peace even as sections have condemned the FIR.
“We have sent the details in the complaint to Youtube and Facebook asking for details of the accounts. The details are yet to be shared with us,” said Pahary Konwar, the investigating officer of the case. Registered on July 12, the case records charges of criminal conspiracy and creating enmity between groups names ten people mostly poets who write what is termed as Miyah poetry.
One accused in the FIR, Hafeez Ahmad has been identified and a notice served to him.
“The charges are all false,” said Kazi Sharowar Hussain who goes by the pen name of Kazi Neel (26), named as one of the main accused in the complaint who is studying cultural studies at Tezpur University. Neel and eight others have since got bail. He writes in Assamese and the dialect of his community has its origin in Bengal.
He calls his community Bengal Origin Assamese Muslims and Miyahs, a slur which is otherwise used to describe them by others.
“People call us Na Axomiyas (New Assamese), Pamua (someone who lives on someone else’s land) or abuse us as Bangladeshi or Miyah. We came over a century ago and assimilated. For how long will we continue to be called new Assamese? We believe we should reclaim the Miyah identity at least in our poetry also as a mark of protest against abuse,” said Neel, whose parents had to contest the tag of a suspected illegal immigrant before both of them were declared Indian citizens.
His parents and Neel are out of the NRC draft list. Neel identifies himself as an atheist. Neel says the poems, at times are critical of the NRC as a process. “But it does not mean we are against the process,” he said.
‘I am a Miyah’, an adaptation of Mahmoud Darwish’s ‘I am an Arab’, the poem in the eye of the storm was written by Hafeez Ahmed, a teacher in Kamrup district in 2016.
The poem has lines including one on being shot with bullets which led to resentment among sections in Assam. It has a reference to the NRC, too.
“The situation in Assam is not like Palestine. How can they write such stuff in Assam’s context?” asked a senior police officer explaining why people are up in arms. Another statement issued on July 27 and signed by many notes foul language by supporters of Miyah poetry and calls them trolls even as it explains how the whole community (Assamese) cannot be blamed in case of bureaucratic manipulation (of NRC).
Ahmad, who ironically is a doctorate on contribution of Bengali-origin Muslims in Assamese literature says life has come a full circle for him. He explains how all his life he has campaigned for assimilation of his community into the Assamese milieu.
“In 2011, I was assaulted while I was campaigning that Bengali origin Muslims in Assam should identify themselves as Assamese speakers,” he said.
Under pressure, Hafeez had issued an apology as the controversy brewed over the last two weeks. “I also know Assam is not Palestine. The poem was just an artistic expression,” he said.
“We don’t identify ourselves as Bengali Muslims. We are very much a part of Assamese society, yet there is a conspiracy to label us anti-Assamese,” Hafeez claims adding his writings of Miyah Potery is just a part of a poetry movement and the identity remains “Assamese.”
Hiren Gohain, the well known intellectual from Assam calls it a storm in a tea cup and is not convinced. “If they identify themselves as Assamese why this animus against the entire Assamese society,” he asked adding “while the intemperate language of some of the poems and their heated defence by the supporters may have some justification but people must be cautious at this volatile moment or such a controversy could restore the climate of intolerance and violence.” Gohain claims this is part of a conspiracy.
“The poets are trapped in a discourse which conceals their real enemies. The Assamese are not their real enemies which is political and ideological and which has an all India reach and depth,” he said.
Gohain said there is “a significant section of Assamese society “which has voiced a strong protest against injustice and injuries to the minority community as in the NRC process.”
Abdul Mannan, a professor at Gauhati University, too, calls for an end to the controversy which has erupted at this crucial time when the NRC list is just over a month away. “This is the time to create trust between communities,” he said adding while people have a right to express, they should respect the sentiment of others.”