Ethics of Justice – a ‘fictional’ account from Assam

[Translated excerpts from Kalantoror Gadya (The Prose of Tempest) – a novel by Assamese litterateur Dr. Dhrubojyoti Bora. Translated by Amrapali Basumatary and Mayur Chetia]

Translators’ note: Today at a time when Major Litul Gogoi has emerged as the darling of the Indian security hawks vis-a-vis the ‘Kashmiri separatists’, it is time to remember what the same security forces were doing in Major Gogoi’s own ‘homeland’, Assam, back in the 1990’s. How different or similar was the situation of an average Assamese, from that of Mr. Farooq Dar, an ordinary Kashmiri humiliated and brutalized by Major Gogoi’s forces?

The question is not about an individual soldier but the very institution of the army and the role it plays in undermining democracy through counter-insurgency. The simple truth is – the use of the armed apparatus through which the State forces its will to maintain the obedience of its subjects, discounts rights of citizenship selectively in the name of protecting its sovereignty.

For the sake of remembrance, we are placing here an extract from Assamese novelist Dhrubajyoti Bora’s novel Kalantoror Gadya (The Prose of Tempest) (1997) written in the background of the ULFA insurgency and counter insurgency operations by Indian Security Forces in the 1990’s. It deals with the arrival of AFSPA, army operations and state terrorism in the province and the changes it brought to the local landscape.



Driven by dust-storm, the evening descended into the heart of the city.

The winter sky hastily sucked away the rays of the sun. The roads were abandoned as soon as the dusky darkness fell over the city. The buses were crowded; footpaths were strewn with people hurrying back home, the number of cars and vehicles receded. Once in a while military and police vans paraded past at an orchestrated pace, their reflections pierced and lingered for a long time in the retina of the guarded eyes. In every crossing there was one security check post. As the evening progressed the checking of vehicles intensified. These check posts made of empty tar drums, iron fences and sand sacks will remain till the morning.

The evening adda in journalist Chowdhury’s house is enveloped in cigarette smoke. In the closed room the cigarette smoke hung over their heads like a halo. Today not many people have come to the adda. The ones who came did not sit for long. They returned home soon and the time they spent in there they spent smoking one cigarette after another, speaking to each other in lowered voices. Delay would mean having to go through those check points and unwanted frisking.

After some time only Partha, Jagadish and Chowdhury remained.

“Jagadish, open the window on that side, let the smoke out”, Partha spoke as he opened the window on the outer side.

(it was?) As if the damp wind entering through the window calmed down the restlessness of the cigarette smoke. Smoke layers hugged each other and slowly exited from the window. The heavy air in the room lightened a bit. Inhaling long gasps of air, Partha stood by the window and looked outside, his car seemed to change colours under the street light; even the word ‘press’, written on a piece of paper in the front windshield of the car, glittered.

“ It’s now that the nabbings have properly started”, said Jagadish.

A vehicle went past the road in front at great speed.

“The police has become active”, Partha muttered, perhaps to himself.

“Rubbish Partha, rubbish …,”, Chowdhury suddenly spoke out. Until now he had been sitting quietly with the glass held between his palms, eyes closed. He said without opening his eyes, “You guys have not yet seen the uses of laws like the Disturbed Areas Act and the Armed Forces’ Special Powers Act, have you? Now you will see. Police is now powerless. It can do only what the Security Forces will allow. Practically powerless – the local police is now just an orderly. Nothing more than that. Nothing more and nothing less- he he he ha ha ha…”.

Two vehicles zoomed in front of Prabhat’s house and braked at the gate violently. The two vehicles blocked the narrow lane. Around 8 men hurried out of the car. The men clad in civilian dress, all had guns in their hands. They slammed the doors of the vehicles and entered into the courtyard of Prabhat’s house. As if they had no intention or the need to conceal their entry. Some of them surrounded the house and three men climbed up to the verandah of the house.

Only Prabhat and his mother and sister and were at home. His father had gone out and his brother had not yet returned. Hearing the heavy knock at the door, both mother and daughter rushed to the door together; immediately the commotion outside intensified.

Wading through the darkness on his bicycle, a boy tinkled his cycle bell at the cars that had blocked the lane. The two men, who were standing inside the gate of Prabhat’s house, hurried out and started beating up the boy in the middle of the street. They hurled his cycle to the nearby drain. They dragged the traumatized boy and made him stand on his knees inside the courtyard….

The commotion in Prabhat’s house reverberated throughout the neighbourhood. Without anyone telling or seeing: as if everyone knew that the police-military had come. The lights on lampposts outside the houses dimmed out, doors were latched from inside noiselessly; people peeped through the tiny gap of their window curtains from those dark houses. Televisions were switched off, sounds vanished into silence. The bright reflections of television images on the glass panels of the doors and windows disappeared. An unnatural silence and grave darkness descended on the entire neighbourhood. The tree leaves in front of the congested houses,… the leaves moved closer to the trunks; like a freezing man, the dark houses started shivering…. Slowly and slowly.

“The real thing is after the arrest; interrogation.”

“You human rights people make too much fuss about torture, Jagadish”, reflected Chowdhury, still sitting with his drink held between his palms, close his chest, with eyes closed.

The old man is in the mood, thought Partha. He came away from the open window to sit close and listen to him.

“Torture does not take place under bright lights in an interrogation room or in a closed room, Jagadish. That’s merely a popular conception. Naïve, simplistic! Torture actually starts from the time of arrests and sometimes even before that. There is suspicion, isn’t it? So deliberate, it’s all so pre-meditated, right! But, since the time modern states started to use torture as methods of rule, this has become like a conscious and pre-meditated arrangement/system.”

As soon as Prabhat’s mother opened the door, three men forcefully jumped into the room. They pushed both the mother and daughter away from the door. Prabhat’s sister shrieked in utter fear.

Ladka kahan hain, Parbhat?” (“Where is the boy? Prabhat?”), the men moved inside the house. Prabhat got up from his study table and approached; two men caught hold of him by his arms and interrogated, “kya nam? Parbhat? Theek hain, yahi hai.” (“what name? Prabhat? Alright, he is the one”). They twisted his arms behind his back, pushed him and stood him in front of the third man. From the corner of his eye he saw the fear-stricken visages of his mother and sister. He too felt scared. Helpless, he looked at the man in front of him.

Suddenly the man started slapping him in front of his mother and sister. The twang of the slaps echoed in explosions inside his head, with clouded eyes he saw the doors and windows slamming violently. Crying out a fearful shriek, Prabhat’s mother came forward to hold her son, but the man pushed her away … “Hat ja saali…” (“Move away, bitch…”), he showered a rain of vulgar abuses.

His brother Paresh also returned home at that moment. Two cars outside their gate? What’s the matter? Who is visiting at this hour? As he hurried to his house, two men pounced on him and grabbed him. Before he could say anything, they pushed him into the house.

Ye kaun?” (“Who is this?”).

“ My younger son, my younger son…”, cried the mother.

Andar jao” (“Go inside”), the man pushed Paresh towards his mother. He almost stumbled but managed to balance himself before falling. His mother grabbed him with both her arms. Suddenly his sister started weeping aloud.

Chup raho ladki” (“Be quiet girl”), the man shouted in the most vulgar tone. This time they searched the whole house upside down. They were looking for something.

They picked up a couple of books from Prabhat’s study table.

Apna padhai mein dhyan nahi, ganda novel padata hain sala” (“You have no interest in your studies, you read dirty novels, bugger”), the man flung On the Journey of Life [1] to a corner. The novel crashed against the wall and vanished like a film of smoke. Then they twisted Prabhat’s arms behind and handcuffed him. Amidst the cries of his mother and sister and the terrified look of his brother, he was pushed out of the house and shoved into the car standing outside the gate. Then the men got inside the car. They started the car’s engine.

Where to? Where will they take him? Prabhat’s mother ran after them along with her children, frightened, anxious and weeping. The cars sped away from the gate.

Prabhat’s mother dropped to the ground at the gate.

The tensed devdaru leaves, till now closed in a petrified embrace with the tree, slowly loosened.

Crying out a petrified shriek, his sister hugged her mother from behind. Someone is kneeling down under the tree in the dark. Only now the trees noticed the man. The leaves recoiled.

Prabhat’s mother saw this ghost appearing, shivering all over, walking out through the gate in absolute silence, and picking up the cycle form the drain, then moving away unsteadily.


“Arrests are normally carried out in the family’s presence, so they try. It’s deliberate, you know. Why?” Chowdhury was now speaking with his eyes open. “At the time of arrest, the family members are insulted and abused, this has become the ritual today, why? Tell me why?”

“To terrorise.”

“Exactly. To create terror and panic. To create panic has become an inseparable part of arrest. The era of Independence Struggle is no longer here, you see, when the familiar police officer would come to your house and say – ‘Sir, there is an order to arrest you. Here, receive this warrant and come with me to the police station…’, said Chowdhury with sarcasm and continued, ‘ Oh! Please finish your food, please, I will wait for you. And please take some warm clothes, it’s very cold inside the jail’ – those days are gone, you see, Partha, gone for ever. Today arrest means creating panic, to terrorise. The process of arrest, that is why, is also brutal. When a family somewhere is subjected to panic, then, like an epidemic, it spreads and swallows up the whole area in terror.

Neighbours, relatives, the whole family shudder in fear.

The entire house shook at the yowl of the jackal.

“The intention is to destroy your morale, you see, Partha. To this end insults and ill-treatment are meted out, there is an attempt to subject the victim and his family to uncertainty …. Family is also a victim, Partha, what is happening and what will happen is not allowed to be known. Uncertainty and panic break people’s morale, they become helpless, they suffer loss of self esteem. These kinds of people cannot even criticize, forget about resisting.

The whole atmosphere was tensed as they talked. The piercing light of the table lamp, the charged ambience, cigarette smoke, the taste of tobacco and cheap whisky in the mouth – amidst all these, the incessant effort to know things occurring outside, but not able to know, yet the strong sense of things occurring in the heart of the nocturnal darkness, the nervous alertness about events – unbearable. There was no wish to leave the hang out and go home.

Partha shot a glance through the window pane, a piece of the gloomy grey sky was wedged in the window frames. Meaningless conversation went on for a long time….

They made Prabhat kneel down in the front of the car’s back seat. The man seated near him pushed his head towards the floor. They blindfolded him with a filthy rag. His half-covered nostril made breathing difficult. The man seated on the other side trampled his shins with his heavy boots. The jerking of the car was intolerably painful for him, time to time the man deliberately trampled over his shins with his boots.

“The history of torture is ancient, you know Partha”, Chowdhury was in a mood to talk today. This time he reclined in his chair more comfortably.

“The ordeal of torture … don’t laugh, Partha, torture is also like an ordeal, you know Partha. This is the third one amongst the world’s ancient ordeals. After military and prostitution, torture occupies the third rank, you get it Jagadish? In ancient Egypt, the pharaohs and the priests used to regularly and institutionally torture thieves, thugs and criminals and above all prisoners of war as well as any plebian arbitrarily caught. Torture and oppression of humans were part of rituals and religious practices. And in the courts of ancient Greece, the cradle of your western civilization, the civilised Greece, the testimonies of slaves and plebians especially, were not accepted unless they were forced out or cross examined under torture. It was believed that humans cannot lie in a moment of extreme pain. They attempted to reason and justify the torture process”.

“The court is the same”.

“Torture had become a part of the legal system itself, Jagadish”.

“Had become? What do you mean? Isn’t it the same these days? Doesn’t the court admit (order) that thieves, thugs and plebians need to be beaten up for their testimonies? Otherwise why does it put things in the police’s hands? Sure, in ancient Greece it was said openly like you just narrated; today, the legal system does not say it. That’s the only difference. Because today’s civilized people are hypocrites”, Jagadish spoke with indignation.

“You are right, Jagadish, sometimes I feel hypocrisy has become an inseparable part of the civilization itself. Listen, in Rome, in Rome torture was a festival. Public holiday was declared to let people watch and enjoy the torture of war-prisoners in public. Men-women, old and young of the civilized Rome found pleasure in hearing the painful groans coming out of the guts of the helpless men forced to fight.”

Prabhat was almost kicked out of the car. His legs were numb from sitting on his knees for too long. He wasn’t able to move when they ordered him to get off. Someone kicked him out of the car. He tripped and fell on the ground.

Gir gaya, gir gaya sala. Pakdo. Hey, uth, uth.” (“Fallen, that bastard has fallen on the ground. Grab him. Hey, get up, get up.”

They picked up the blindfolded Prabhat by his handcuff off the ground and pressed him ahead. His footsteps were unsteady. He moved like a drunken man. He felt empty in his head. As if he could not even feel the pain running through his body. Despite being blindfolded, he could sense that he was being led through a flight of stairs, to a verandah. The men in the group ordered him to stand there and then moved away. Only one of them stood there, holding Prabhat by his handcuff.

Broken words and sentences were floating in the air. Sounds of unintelligible whispers interrupted by sporadic silence. The stench of piss engulfed everything. Suddenly a frightening bellow broke in from all sides, Prabhat felt as if his blood was congealing/freezing. His mouth went dry, his body started shivering. Who is bellowing? Who is shouting in such a horrifying manner? The man holding him by his handcuff softly said to him, “daro mat”( “do not be scared”). Prabhat suddenly felt the man starting to move his hand over his buttocks. His whole body shuddered in fear.

“Where did torture begin to be used as political pretext for vested interests of the state and the church, tell me Partha, Jagadish? In Europe, you know, in medieval Europe. Then the state and the church were not separate. In the medieval age torture was taken altogether to a new level of art. In the name of protecting the purity of religion, actually, the church priests protected the selfish interests of a class and the king and the powerful. Torture had become synonymous with suppression of dissenters to safeguard the self interests of the powerless section. How many strange machines for torture were invented, incredible!”

“Torture was there even in China”.

“Water-drop treatment – ha ha! A head-shaven man was sat on a chair and tied so tight that he could not move. After that they dropped water on his head, drop by drop – for hours after hours. Pushed to the final limits of tolerance of irritability, at one moment, the man yelled the leaves to wither from the trees,” Partha said.

“Wasn’t it after the French Revolution that torture was turned into a weapon of state governance?”

“Exactly Jagadish. It was after the French Revolution that panic or terror and torture were accepted as instruments of state policy for suppression of anti-state dissenters by the modern state system.”

“ In our country , was the same arrangement here too?”

“ Ha ha! Good question. Wait, let me show you something,” Chowdhury pulled out a book from the piles of books on the table. Turning two more pages, Chowdhury cried out, “ Look at what Chanakya has said in Kautilya’s Arthasashtra. To force the accused into accepting his crime, the high priest laid out 18 methods, listen to the 83rd chapter, interrogation by questioning and punishment. Are you able to understand the issue? Interrogation is carried out by use of punishment. Meaning not to punish the criminal as such, but to punish the accused till he accepts the crime.”

“This is the (a) decree of the scripture?”

“Look at the list of punishments – beating with sticks, whipping, tying with a rope and suspending from a height, putting salted water through the nostrils, these four methods are mild punishments. Listen (to?)about the rest – tying the head tightly against the wall, thrashing with thorny canes, 32 slaps, tying the man’s hands and legs behind in a bow position, suspending the man upside down with his hands and legs tied, pricking under the nails with needles, feeding rice starch and burning a knuckle. Feeding animal fat and heating him under scorching sun or fire, laying down on a bed of thorns in cold winter night.”

“ We also had these – gutting out knee caps, gorging out eyes.”

“Stop all these(this),” Partha’s body suddenly repelled.

“ Aha Partha, listen to it, listen. Now the age of torture has started. Everyday we will have to see these things. Now the factory of torture will function day and night to force out confessions.”

“ Confession of what?”

“ Confession of crime not committed, what else?”

“ Things about others, divulging of secret news, even all these?”

“Remember one thing, Partha, Jagadish, the edge of torture is not limited to these only. Its intentions are much more severe and rampant. What severe intention? Listen, I think the purpose of this rampant torture, in totality, is to completely shatter the victim’s spirits and mental strength and to force him, his family and the entire society to accept the rule of the state and the ruling class. To force into obedience – to conform, Partha, to conform”.


Now Prabhat was pushed and taken inside a room. In one corner of this fairly large room, piles of desks and benches lay dumped. From the ceiling suspended a bulb. On the almost broken floor some 2 or 3 sacks and plastic sheets lay scattered. A blackboard lay on the floor on one side. The windows with iron bars were shut. Prabhat started feeling cold as he entered this damp and cold room, the stench of piss touched against his nose. Blindfolded, he could not see anything; he only smelt and sensed the cold.

“But to make people function in obeisance, to force them to accept is not an easy task. Even if people show apparent obedience, inside ….”

“It is this inside, Partha, the root of torture is to bring about transformation in this inside. It is for this that the modern state has transformed torture into a subtle psychological weapon. The purpose of torture is in sum total a complete psychological transformation of a person. Physical torture and such other exterior tasks are meted out with this purpose. The person who is captured is taken to an unknown, isolated and strange location, is kept blindfolded; along with physical abuse, each moment he is kept under a looming uncertainty about what is going to happen next; the person’s morale and self-confidence and will power slowly and slowly begin to break down on its own.

The handcuff was taken off from one of Prabhat’s wrists. This time he was ordered to take off his clothes. After taking off his shirt, pant and vest, the only thing that remained on him in the likeness of clothing was his underwear and the rag tied over his eyes. He started trembling in the cold. He tried wetting his lips with his dried up tongue. One man gathered his clothes into a noose and flung it over the blackboard. Now the loose end of the handcuff was taken around between two iron grills of the window from behind and refastened to his wrist. The two men left the room. Swallowed up in shame and fear, Prabhat stood in front of the closed window.

“By destroying the person’s self respect his whole personality is sought to be destroyed. Once personality is destroyed it takes no time for his will power to evaporate. For this sole purpose the person is stripped and bared naked, mistreated and humiliated, abused in most vulgar and unendurable words, bound like a beast and fed like a beast. Only after shattering down the man into this state is he taken to the tormenter for interrogation, he is no longer left with any sense of shame or human honour. He is debased to the level of a beast, you see Jagadish, a beast. He is no longer allowed to remain a part of human society. A man no longer remains a man when his personal honour is snatched away from him. He turns into a beast, you see Partha, into a beast.”

Trembling in the cold, Prabhat stood in front of the window for a long time. Blindfolded, he could not see anything; broken sounds from outside floated in, illegible conversations, someone yelling out orders, sound of cars coming and going and slices of silence in between.

A long time passed by, perhaps many hours.

With the night getting heavier the cold also grew. Perhaps there was a gap somewhere in the window. Little gushes of cold breeze sneaked in through one side, stroking the body. Prabhat started trembling in the cold. He was desperate to piss. As time progressed the pressure was getting unbearable. He forced himself not to think about it but he couldn’t. The force was aggravating rapidly. His belly ached in spasms. Even in that shivering cold drops of sweat appeared on his temple. What will he do now? If I could move even a hand a little bit…. He felt utterly helpless. He recalled the time in the evening when he was picked up from his home and brought to this unknown location. The images of his mother and sister weeping floated in front of his eyes. He hoped his brother wasn’t beaten up too badly. And father! What must his father be doing now? Why is he blindfolded? He wanted to weep in sheer dejection. The force of piss is again pressing. “Aah! Unbearable! My belly is aching”. What would he do now, what would he do? Suddenly,again that eerie yowl of pain – a human being? Can it be a human cry? In that cold evening splintered by the cry, Prabhat started trembling. As if something happened inside his head. Shutting his eyes forcefully he tried to grit his teeth; ah!ah! He lost all control of himself. His piss started streaming down through his underwear. As the warm stream flowed through the chasm of his thighs and legs, a bewildered, frightened and ashamed Prabhat felt a great sense of relief at the same time. His brains went totally blank, he stopped forcing himself, his thighs pressed down by the force of his body went easy. In his standing posture and right at the spot where he was tied, he started pissing like an animal.

“Why have you studied so much about torture?”

“It doesn’t sound nice, does it? But this is the reality, Partha.”

Chowdhury spoke in an extremely distressful tone.

The alcohol in their glasses was over long time ago. Although glasses, water and alcohol, everything were on the table, nobody felt like pouring himself another drink. They were not at all high; rather they felt some uneasy restlessness. Chowdhury himself hasn’t taken a single sip since then. He merely kept moving his half-filled glass in his palms held against his chest.

“As journalists, what actually is torture, with what purpose does one use it and who uses it and in what manner, these are things that everyone needs to know. Otherwise in this atmosphere of terror your analysis will not be accurate.”

In one gulp Chowdhury emptied his glass. After pouring another peg from the bottle he looked at the other two. But neither showed any wish to take another drink. Slowly adding water to his drink, he lit himself a cigarette. Exhaling gasps of smoke from his mouth and nostrils, he said, “Ah, what was I saying? Softening up! Exactly Kautilya’s decree, you know, before interrogation the captive is disgraced physically and mentally to demolish his will power and self respect, the attempt is to undo his personal integrity itself, so that during the interrogation the person is incapacitated to respond like a human being, unable to think but, like a beast he starts responding with his primitive impulses.”

Some men thundered into the room with heavy foot steps. Though blindfolded, Prabhat tried to turn his head and look towards that direction in fear. One of them caught him by his hair and jerked him.

“Iska pani chut gaya, sala!” (“The bastard has pissed in his pants”).

From behind, a full slap landed on Prabhat’s right ear and his face. If he was not tied to the window bar he would have easily been flung off. The slap started ringing inside his head.

They punched him. On his shoulders, his arms, his back and waist, the men started punching him from all sides. Shrieking in pain, after a little while Prabhat stopped feeling anything, he could feel only the blows, as if all his agony and suffering went outside his realm of experience. Handcuffed to the window, he leant against the wall with one side of his body and wriggled trying to save himself from the blows. With his eyes tied he couldn’t tell who was hitting him from which side. Utterly helpless he whimpered like a beast. The men caught Prabhat by his hair and dragged him away from the wall to hit him with more ease. Showering vulgar abuses they kept on asking him just one thing – “who all do you know? Tell the names, speak, speak out the names.” But they did not wait for any answer from him. Slaps and punches continued ceaselessly.

After sometime Prabhat could no longer speak, he hung from the rod of the window in a half seated position.

“The foremost purpose of torture is to transform a captive into a traumatized entity. Now the captive is ready for formal interrogation.”

“Isn’t it like exactly like a factory process!”

“When torture is taken to a massive scale then it begins to shape into a factory. Detention camp, interrogation center… so many forms! In the entire north-eastern region, in these 20 years of reporting, I have repeatedly seen these things.”

Gradually Prabhat’s senses came back. Again sounds of myriad of hasty noises floated to reach his ears. Vehicles were moving in and out, sound of a shrill whistle, somewhere a machine running noisily…where is he! He failed to recall. His head was spinning. Both his hands stopped feeling any sensation. He tried to stand up, unsteadily. Ah! pain in his whole body. His limbs locked in pain and cold. Again, someone has rushed into the room… Will they hit him again?

He shrunk in fear and turned his head towards from where the men were coming.

Now they unlocked his handcuffs from the window rods and took him outside the room, dragging him. As he faltered someone grabbed his arms tightly. As soon as he came out of the room, he felt very cold. His teeth chattered noisily. They took him to another room. They pressed and sat him in a chair and took his hands behind and handcuffed him. Now they untied the rag off his eyes.

Ah! So much light!

He was dazed! Through the brightness, he saw a table in front of him; across it a man in the likeness of a shadow.

“Who do you know from the underground? Tell the names. Don’t lie. We know for sure, we have evidences about your secret communications with them. This is no time for joke. Come on like a good boy shoot out the names straight away. Or else there will be consequences. If you wish to return home soon, talk fast. Where are the guns kept? Bombs? Where are the bombs made? Why are you staring like a deaf? Talk quickly!”

The interrogator’s tone turned harsh. Like a person bored to the extreme, he took a long yawn.

“If I ask politely, you won’t tell, hah! Bastard, I know how to take out things from the likes of you.”

The touch of two wires on the shoulder, then a sharp painful blow – once, twice, thrice. He was almost falling off the chair. Again, circling back to the same questions, persuasions in soft tones, verbal abuses, threats, one handful slap. Prabhat slowly wriggled.

At one moment, his hands were freed. His signature was taken in two blank sheets of paper, endless interrogations continued.

“The purpose of interrogation is not just extracting information. It’s not so simple. Alongside it, the purpose is nothing less than a total mental breakdown of the captive. A mentally docile person – this is the purpose of interrogation, so that the person is never again able to stand up with his head upright.”

“You are right, a docile person will not oppose state power- he cannot. These kind of people always keep their heads down. Silently they obey all the rules and regulations, laws, orders and summons. Such a person can no longer ever gather the courage to resist injustice. He turns into a docile, domesticated beast.

“And all the vested interests remain intact.”

“But when does it become so acutely necessary to bring public life to a standstill through terror and suppress the people?”

Chowdhury shut his eyes for a moment, as if in meditation. Then after drawing a long sip from his glass, he looked towards Partha and said, “Look Partha, in certain contexts things are easy to understand, like, say in a dictatorship where a particular section of people clearly monopolise all privileges. They loot and plunder the country and use terror to suppress the discontent and anger of the ordinary people. It is simple and transparent.

The meditative Buddha took another sip from his glass.

“In a democracy, things get more complex. In a democracy, when the moral basis of the rule gets weakened, the sections in power instrumentalise laws and legalities to safeguard their vested interests and bring down terror on their opponents and the public. Just like it was during the “emergency”. Terror is the concubine of autocracy, you see Partha”.

“Sometimes in order to make people accept a particular concept or a particular theory, terror is needed, you understand, Partha.”

Chowdhury went on speaking incessantly, in his characteristic nasal tone.

Partha stood up and went near the window, again. Outside a chilly fog was descending. The distant street lamps created a halo of light around the bulbs. Partha stopped paying ears to Chowdhury and stood looking outside.

To impose one idea on people – to make it acceptable, even for that terror is deployed. Interesting! I had not thought about it this way.

India is a nation, India is a nation state – this idea? With the help of this idea, hasn’t one section of people been enjoying all the powers and privileges? Historically, whether this notion is correct or not is not important; the idea which protects their self interest is the correct one and this is what is sought to be imposed on people, either through rational arguments or if that fails by the use of naked force of the state machinery; whoever opposes the vested interests, whoever challenges them, will be repressed through terror. Terror and torture are its main instruments.

Partha’s body shuddered. As if suddenly he discovered a very important matter. He looked at Chowdhury, who was still saying something to Jagadish in a hushed voice.

Those blazing gas fields … like when the wind blows and the earth emanates strange unearthly cries like the sound of wailing! Dancing fire! Partha cannot forget. Where will one arrive at, if one adds up the gains and losses for over the last forty years?

The blazing fires in the gas reserves spanning across fields after fields that turn the evening sky crimson? Or the westward bound convoy of hundreds and hundreds of trucks carrying raw materials and ores? Yearly floods? Unchecked migrations that turn the demographic balance upside down! Inability to stop it or an unwillingness?

The reserve of gains is zero!

What have they gained, lost and what will they lose – wouldn’t the people reckon these one day?

Isn’t it a repetition of the same old story in the north-east?

Is it through this reckoning that the imposed notion has been challenged? That’s why this terror, this torture. Is it true? Or am I going too far with my thoughts? What is the truth? Is it translucent and fragile like the wings of a dragonfly?

The night is growing deeper. So late in the night, it is risky to stay outside home. As Partha stood gazing at the empty street in front of him, a car sped past through it. His mind started getting restless. Should he make a phone call to his home? Leave it. It’s better to return home soon. But he was not feeling like leaving the adda. In these uncertain times Partha felt a kind of sick magnetic pull towards their dreadful conversations. He turned and looked towards Chowdhury.

“When terror and torture are deployed extensively, Partha, then often it no longer remains under the control of the initiator- then it becomes an autonomous institution, it gains a logic and momentum of its own- on its own it grows in various ways and forms and then it begins to control the situation. It even creates new situations. Now, perhaps even here we will witness an unfolding of similar events, Jagadish. Today this is the reality, this is the tragedy, Jagadish. I am gradually beginning to have more sense of one thing, you see Partha, the history of modern times is the history of injustice by man on man, a history of persecution.

Two soldiers held him by his hands and dragged an unconscious Prabhat across the verandah. They brought him back to the same room. They threw him on the plastic sheet on the floor and handcuffed him again. One of the soldiers took one sack lying on the floor and folded it on him.

The light of early morning was appearing on the eastern sky then. Prabhat’s interrogation was done for the day.


Amrapali Basumatary teaches English Literature and Gender Studies in Kirorimal College, University of Delhi; Mayur Chetia is a Research Scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Both are also activists associated New Socialist Initiative (NSI).



[1] A classic Assamese novel by Birinchi Kumar Baruah, originally called Jibanor Batot, 1944.


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Dhrubajyoti Bora Written by:

Dhrubajyoti Bora by profession is a professor of medical science. Currently, he is the president of Axom Sahitya Sabha - the highest literary body in Assam. Dr. Bora is a significant voice in contemporary Assamese literature. He has published novels including Kalantoror Gadya (Prose of Tempest), Tejor Andhar (Darkness of Blood) and Artha (Meaning), a trilogy on the insurgency and counter-insurgency period of 1990's Assam, which has been widely acknowledged as a major literary contribution in the annals of Assamese literature. His major non-fiction works include a monograph on the Moamoria peasant rebellion of medieval Assam and a study of the development of the Assamese language. His other major monographs are on the Second World War, the French Revolution and a two-volume study of the Russian Revolution. His fictional works have been translated into Hindi, English, Bengali, Malayalam and Bodo languages.

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