Recently, I came across a statement by 81 intellectuals and activists from Assam spotlighting the ‘disinformation’ published as part of a Call-for-Papers for a journal. Assam is a place with a complex political history and scholars do mix up issues from time to time. Therefore, the writing of the statement is a welcome step in the direction of understanding the state and the multitude of voices that it enkindles. It is in the same spirit of polyphony and dialogue that I write my comment…
Pity the nation whose people are sheep
And whose shepherds mislead them
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars
Whose sages are silenced
And whose bigots haunt the airwaves
This interview by Amrapali Basumatary & Bonojit Hussain was taken in 2016 December, just two days after Akhil Gogoi was released from his 78 days of imprisonment by The Assam Government. For various reasons the interview couldn’t be published during that time. However, with the recent re-imprisonment of Akhil Gogoi under the National Security Act (NSA) in September 2017, we feel that it is important to bring this interview to public domain.
The village of Dawki in Meghalaya is one of the many border crossing between India and Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi village of Tamabil lies on the other side of the border. It was my first ever visit to an Indian border town.
You asked me
the nationality of my vagina
In its chasm lies
The key to the community’s downfall
Zubeen Garg, as the generation that grew up clutching onto his music through the turbulent 1990s and 2000s would tell you, cannot be defined. It is hare-brained to suggest that he was promoting Hindi imperialism in Assam by singing one of his old songs. But even if he was, it is ridiculous to see well-fed Bihu-committee tearaways hoisting the flag of a linguistic nationalism that was exclusive, chauvinistic and, more importantly, unbendingly middle-class from the word go.
Debates have started again after when the ULFA chief in his latest notes from underground vowed to register his protest – “that too not in words” – if theatres in Assam decide to take down an Assamese film called Shakira Ahibo Bakultolor Bihuloi / Shakira will be coming to Bakultol’s Bihu in favour of films like Raees and Kaabil.
Uniformed nationalism is not only limited to the idea of the nation within the territorial boundary but it transcends to all other nations where Indian origin persons are located. Such nationalism limits the possibilities for people to be global citizens whose humanism supersedes their insular nationalism.
Our nationalists simply do not have a judicious sense of proportion and priorities, largely because they live in a bubble of inflated fear, paranoia, and delusions of grandeur. So much of their love for “the nation” betrays so little love for those who live in it and the egalitarian spirit of the constitution that defines it.
The refusal of Khilnani to question the very idea of India that somehow makes all 50 lives part of a large nationalist story indicates the limits of the entire endeavour. This is the limit set by a belief in the modern nation state of India. It is a limit because it then shapes the choices of the lives made, as well as the stories that are told about them.
Assam politics, specifically Ahom politics, is at a crossroad. While Assam’s politics typically does not matter in the Indian Union’s ‘national scene’, for people of Assam, it means the world.
Delhi, for all its self-righteousness over us “regionals” and with its moody earnestness, wont fight our battles. The fact that solidarity in and from Delhi matters in the “national narrative” is part of the problem and not part of the solution. Delhi and its ideologies represent, what we in Bangla call, the ghost in the mustard.
The BJP’s election promises were false. Its nationalism was never meant to be democratic. So far the BJP had at least pretended to work with democracy; now the façade is gone.