Translated from Axomiya by Biswajit Bora
Congratulations to Miya poetry. Probably for the first time a new movement in poetry has started to express the life and struggles of char-chapori dwelling Muslims in Assam in such a clear and emphatic language. A few poets have written those poems in their spoken dialects, profoundly expressing the hard struggles of Muslim people, their history, marginalisation from the mainstream Assamese society, their citizenship and religion-centric daily tribulations. Personally, we have been able to read only a few of those poems – that too with our limited knowledge and understanding of the language – but whatever we understood have left a strong impression on our mind. The word “miya” is usually used in a derogatory sense in the mainstream Assamese society. But this set of poems has established the word “miya” and the Miya identity as powerful means of self-assertion. This is the political significance of the poems, and therefore the poems should be embraced by every progressive Assamese. We belong to the mainstream Assamese society, and therefore socially safe and privileged. Nobody can point their fingers at us, nobody can question our citizenship, nobody can harass us without reason. Hence it is not surprising for mainstream Assamese people like us to be unable to effortlessly realise the hardships and tribulations faced by the Miya people. But this should not be the case with the progressive section of society with an understanding of politics. For ages Miya people have lived by struggling against difficult and unfortunate conditions of living, yet contributing to Assam’s economy and society. Yet the mainstream Assamese society has always neglected and looked down upon them. The ultranationalists have always harassed them whenever and wherever they can. All these have contributed to fill up the lives of Miya people with indescribable resentment, sadness and suffering. That resentment will one day burst out, that sadness and suffering will one day explode – we will have to accept that with respect. If we hope for a greater Assamese society based on harmony and syncretism, we will have to attentively listen to the grievances of and complaints by the Miya people, and in their days of distress, we will have to help and support them as our own. Expression of resentment might not always be smooth, shrieks of sadness and suffering might not always be sweet, but those expressions and shrieks must be acknowledged. Therefore we should welcome Miya poetry with open arms. If we are suspicious and confused about Miya poetry, then it is our responsibility to resolve those suspicions and confusions. For how long the Miya people will keep waiting in the wings of the Assamese nation? For how long they will keep living on the margins of society? It is our obligation to accept them as part of the mainstream Assamese society with equal rights and dignity. Therefore Miya poetry should direct us to do self-reflection and self-realisation. Therefore it should be a matter of delight that a few conscious people are emerging in Miya society who have been able to emphatically register their grievances and complaints of the community, and who are capable of providing a progressive leadership to the community. It can never be a threat to Assamese society, if that Assamese society is the plural democratic Assamese society that we want. Therefore we may critique Miya poetry, we may question Miya poetry – but the central questions of the Miya people raised by Miya poetry must not be ignored.
A few questions regarding Miya poetry must certainly be raised. In a very short span of time, especially outside Assam, Miya poetry has become a topic of discussion in national and international newspapers and magazines. As such, there is nothing to complain. It should also be acknowledged that the mainstream newspapers and magazines in Assam would similarly ignore Miya poetry just like it is usually done to the questions of the Miya people. Therefore it is not unnatural for the practitioners of Miya poetry to get persuaded by newspapers and magazines outside Assam. But the problem is the simplified human rights centric discourse regarding issues like the NRC, D-voter, etc. that is prevalent outside Assam – and Miya poetry is discussed as a part of the same discourse there. It is worth mentioning that many people from Assam are also actively engaged in maintaining that discourse. In that discourse, a homogenous and simplified idea about Assam and the Assamese is broached. Its central argument is that Assamese people are xenophobic and racist – be it the NRC, D-voter, or harassment of Miya people, everything is a different expression of this xenophobia and racism. This simplified idea does not respect Assam’s complex socio-political conditions and multi-layered ethnic problems and Assamese people’s economic and social problems and struggles. Discussions on Miya poetry has found a space in national and international newspapers and magazines only as a part of this discourse. Maybe this fact has not been mentioned clearly in all the discussions on Miya poetry, but it is not difficult to understand that discussions on Miya poetry has found a space in the theoretical-political context of contemporary discussions on Assam in that aforementioned discourse. We have clearly opposed and criticised that discourse, and we believe that it is imperative that every person from Assam should oppose such simplified ideas. Instead of opposing, if any person from Assam contributes to such simplified ideas, it is undoubtedly a case of a lack of political responsibility or being driven by petty personal motives. The Miya poets should keep in mind that no simplified or wrong idea about the social life of Assam is associated with discussions on their poetry. We are not specifically talking about the Miya poets, but the emerging progressive leadership of Miya society will have to collectively take a substantial socio-political responsibility. The way they will have to take a stand against the mainstream Assamese society’s practice of ignoring and neglect, similarly they will have to put organisational efforts for internal democratisation and modernisation of Miya society. And this struggle for socio-political emancipation of Miya people is an internal and regional struggle of social life in Assam. Hence this struggle will have to be carried out by finding some space in the current equilibrium seen between various influential political forces and groups of Assam’s social life. It will always be surrounded by reactionary forces; and therefore the progressive sections of Assamese society must be incorporated in that struggle. In such a situation, the struggle for the emancipation of Miya people will naturally be a hard and complex one. Although it is wrong and ridiculous for every step to be taken according to a long-term political strategy, nobody wishing and working for the emancipation of Miya people should expose their irresponsibility by denying the current socio-political equilibrium in Assam. We do not think that it would be by any means profitable to acquire national or international support while completely ignoring social conditions in Assam. This is a local struggle and Miya people will have to assert their rights and dignity by being among local forces and by fighting locally – national or international support or praises are incapable of influencing it. At best, outside help or support of some NGO-kind may be stitches on a wound – but it cannot carry out socio-political struggles. Therefore the new progressive leadership of Miya society should direct their attention toward the local equations of power rather than showing interests for distant support or praise, and should try to form an alliance with the progressive sections of Assamese society. It is not advisable to deny all these. Moreover, possible political solutions for the grievances and complaints of Miya people should also be kept in mind while registering those. For example, Miya people have suffered indescribably because of the NRC, but it is political inanity to oppose or reject the NRC for that reason. Because, if not the NRC, then is there any possible political alternative which will ensure that there would be no suffering for Miya people. Hence, mere opposition or rejection/denial without any idea about a possible political solution is politically lame and harmful. The new progressive leadership of Miya society should also be attentive to it. We embrace Miya poetry as socio-political self-assertion coming out of Miya people, and so we are raising a few political questions associated with it. The practitioners of Miya poetry should consider and reflect on these questions.
Miya poetry is not a tool for division – it should be a bridge of unity between the mainstream Assamese society and the Miya people. But in order for that to happen, both the progressive sections of the mainstream Assamese society and the practitioners of Miya poetry should play their responsible roles.