Assam strife: Borders of the mind and partitioned lives



The Yamuna Expressway, a 165-km, six-lane glistening north Indian motorway, which a newspaper aptly described as the Yamunabahn, has cut by half the travel time between Delhi and Agra, the Taj Mahal city. Modern India’s attempts to bring regions economically closer by building ambitious highways are unfortunately contrasted by lack of political efforts to bridge social barriers. Indians continue to live partitioned lives behind invisible combustible lines of class and castes, religion and ethnicity.

There’s no highway yet that effectively cuts through these social walls. Maybe, its time to invest in some sociological infrastructure, not just in miles of asphalt. Maybe, its time India thought about building, apart from roads, some bridges too. Ad hoc measures, such as the CPI’s “mohalla committees”, have been undertaken in the past, but these have by no means been adequate or permanent.

The violence in Assam between Bodo tribesmen and Bengali-speaking Muslim immigrants, a devastating if localised conflict, has unwittingly put the country’s fragile social harmony to test.

India’s celebrated economic progress seems to be built on a thinly spread society, still partitioned by internal borders.

Had Kokrajhar, the epicentre of the Assam clashes, been in Dafur, it would have alarmed the international community, particularly because of the scale of the impact. Some 400,000 people have been displaced internally and more than 70 killed. In 2008, similar violence had displaced over 1,50,000.

As rumours of threats and possible backlash from Muslims in other states raced, thousands of people from northeastern states began fleeing Bangalore, Mysore and Mumbai, where they work, for their native places. With relatively better levels of education and skills, youths from Northeast crowd the job markets of most major Indian cities.

Far less noticed were more than a dozen incidents of low-intensity sporadic clashes in Uttar Pradesh over the past month between Hindus and Muslims, resulting in vandalism and deaths. The historical faultline between the two communities has remained largely unbridged because the political class has never considered reconciliation as a national project anytime since the country’s Independence in 1947 after the Partition on religious lines.

Political parties have only responded to the need for a multiculturally cohesive society by classifying themselves as “secular”. In the Indian context, secularism is not only characterized by equality among religions in the eyes of the state, but also by a tendency among political formations to distinguish themselves from some parties that hold Hindutva (literally Hindu-ness) politics, marked by a “Hindu view of India”, as a central dogma.

Such a classification of secularism continues to be challenged by Hindu sectarian political parties, of which the BJP is the largest.

The Assam violence has brought to the fore some new challenges. Television analysts, especially north Indian Muslims, have tended to frame the Assam violence, rather hastily, as essentially a communal riot — a simplistic term for Hindu-Muslim clashes — because this is the type of conflict they are most familiar with. Of course, these are communal clashes to the extent that it is a clash between two communities.

However, undermining the element of ethnicity will lead to a distortion of the fundamental nature of such conflicts, rooted in tribal identities. However, such clashes in Assam do get converted into issues of religion, partly because of pan-India rise of Hindutva politics (Beyond Counterinsurgency, 2011).

The reliance of popular television news media on inadequate resource persons, who are invited to programmes for their quick if inaccurate articulation, has the potential of doing more harm by distorting the debate. This partly may have led Muslim protesters to direct their anger on some television channels in Mumbai recently.

Popular television journalists, such as Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai and Arnab Goswami, have tended to rely on routine talking heads, rather than domain expertise, for helpful analysis. This could be because of television media’s frenetic pace of work that leaves little time for depth and profundity. Or it could well be lazy journalism.

When it comes to issues concerning Muslims, there is a tendency among elite English news channels to tune into the “usual suspects”, ignoring persons who may have a greater locus and who may have done serious work on issues being discussed.

Therefore, we see popular Muslim commentators such as Shahid Siddiqui and Kamal Farooqui, straddle vastly diverse fields in which they have little experience. We see them perform roles of a Muslim politician/Muslim economist/Muslim sociologist/Muslim anthropologist/Muslim academic and Muslim theologian, etc, all rolled in one. For instance, nobody thought of seeking the views of Japanese scholar Makiko Kimura, who I can count on as one of the few experts to have done serious work on the decision-making that went into the horrific Nellie carnage of 1983 in central Assam.

Secondly, the violent protests in Mumbai mirror hidden frustration. It’s building up since a while, I am told. In Maharashtra, Muslims see the war on terror as a war on Muslims, Maulana Bunai Noaim Hasani, a cleric who runs the relatively obscure All India Ulama Board, told me over phone, as I tried to piece the current strife. The disconnect between media and Muslims requires further probe.

While Hindutva politicians rightly rallied behind the threatened northeasterners, their selectivity doesn’t make this some kind of a lasting change of agenda towards forging durable social harmony.

The BJP’s outsourcing of the job of protecting Northeastern people in cities such as Bangalore to stick-wielding cadres of the far-right RSS was a blatant show of extra-constitutional force. Law and order cannot be left to private armies. The existence of such armies is in itself highly egregious. To deploy them for law-enforcement is a crude mistake that went unarticulated.

Where were the RSS cadres who roamed Bangalore’s streets when parochial political outfits in Mumbai expelled hundreds of Bihari migrants? Why did we not hear Parliament and BJP’s Sushma Swaraj speak as eloquently in support of Bihari taxi drivers when they were being driven out of Maharashtra?

The threats, wherever they emanated from, against the people of the Northeast are deplorable. However, the BJP appears to have jumped aggressively to their defence only because the threats seemed to have come from Muslims, an argument that becomes valid once we take their inaction and passivity during the Bihari exodus from Mumbai.

As for the developments in the Northeast, illegal migration from Bangladesh needs to be halted to the fullest extent possible through effective border management. Deportation should follow due process.

However, since a significant number of such migrants has naturalised over generations, having first settled during the colonial period, ethnic natives need to reconcile with this reality. The immigrant population certainly cannot be viewed as non-productive assets, since they provide labour and agricultural services, racially accustomed as they are to intensive farm and non-farm labour.

America’s efforts to pass the Dream Act to naturalise illegal Mexican migrants is a helpful example to show that solutions can become more difficult if race alone is the ultimate consideration in finding solutions.

To view Bengali-speaking Muslims who came in as part of a distinct historical process as “the other” is to also deny the various degrees of indigenization they will have undergone.

Identities, as Amartya Sen argues, can change when we change our “installed locations” (Identity and Violence, 2006). When English poet Lord Byron, Sen notes in these sets of essays, prepared to leave Greece, he lamented:
“Maid of Athens, ere we part, Give, oh, Give me back my heart.”

The lament, Sen thinks, has to do with the fact that Lord Byron was no longer only the quintessential Englishman, but somewhat Grecian too, having lent his heart to Greek social life.

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  • Anonymous

    Why is Sujata Jealous of those dancers? When Yuva Congress will organize a function in Mumbai, I am sure it will invite Sujata to dance on number “Sujata Badnaam hui Rahul Baba tere liye”.

    She will get her due.

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  • Anonymous

    Shut up…you SOB. When Sujata can write BS on others, she should be ready for the same.

    Bada aaya Press council of India ka Tatta.

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  • Anonymous

    There was one Vir Snaghvi who gave us a gem—”that a strong stable Pakistan was not in India’s interest.”

    There was another Vir sanghvi who name featured in the Radia tapes and … becasue he was more decent then others caught on tape… went into penance.

    Maybe it is time to recheck the Vir Sangvhi who could put big ideas in simple language… again

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    Ag Reply:

    You should check your logic. Vir Sanghvi’s views on the impact of strong Pakistan is not at odds with this piece.

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    Anonymous Reply:

    Being illogical is so much easier.

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  • Rajiiiv

    You left out the conclusion: Indian foreign policy towards Pakistan is un-professional, emotional and divorced from the reality that the Pakistan state is corrupt and dishonest to the core and any engagement with it will only bring deceit.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_URSXATBEMZ7HUAB3OH36PLYWDM Ashok

    What the columnist has left unsaid is that the warmth – affection may not quite be politically correct, it is still barely spring, not summer – that Indians show Pakistanis is reciprocated on the other side of the border as well. That it exists despite the history and record of the last sixty five years is a very hopeful portent for the future.

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  • Muhammad Ahsan

    Great, article. But brother although a lot of efforts are being done, not only within the political scope of Pakistan, but from foreign influences too, to make us have a negative view of India.

    I as a 100% Pakistani, love India, your country is so diverse in it’s beauty, not to mention, the Islamic history it has also.

    As you ended terrorism is a problem, and I hope we solve it, so our neighbors can be pleased with us, so we can also live safely.

    Again, we love you, not hate. We believe in ” kar bhala, so ho bhala”. InshAllah right leadership will come forth in our country, and we will treat India, as a great neighbor that the truly are.

    - From your brother, from Lahore, Pakistan.

    Khudahafiz.

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  • Dr Mishra

    Dear Muhd Ahsan

    Welcome to this blog and thank you for your comments. Sadly, your type- peace loving and pro-India, constitute barely 5% of the Pakistani population. I speak on the strength of my 30 year interaction with Pakistani fellow docs in UK here, and on my daily interactions with the huge Pak community here in Yorkshire.

    Pl do stay on and contribute both here and on Vinod Sharma’s blog, where Rajiiv and Vijay Kumar above, my cyber friends, often comment.

    Can I finally say that I am sickened absolutely by the fawning we gave and continue to give to Mushy- butcher of Kargil.

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  • Ag

    Isn’t it bothersome that we are so fawning over Pakistanis even after being kicked in the shin many many times? It is not a strength to be glorified, but a weakness to work on and eliminate.

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  • RajX

    Indian society has this gift of spinning it’s weakness as a strength. Welcoming a leader of a country who have promised to bleed us with a thousand cuts is suicidal to say the least. Do people remember the Mumbai attacks, parliament attack, serial bombing carried out Dagwood “bhai” with Pakistani rdx

    We even spin our relationships with even our past colonizers. For example, we claim that we have a “historical” relationship with Iran. Strangely no one cares to expand on the nature of this “relationship” for a very good reason. This “relationship” is that of the one between a slave and a master.

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  • Abu Ahmed

    Pakistan suffers from inferiority complex. The pygmies believe that they are the descendants of Chengiz Khan and can any day barge into India, forgetting the fact that we have defeated them in wars whenever they chose to attack us.
    Actually Pakistan is USA’s Israel for South Asia, to be used to terrorise the populace. It was carved out of India to keep a check on us, the communists China and the former USSR. Pakistan played its role out in dismantling of the USSR by helping the Afghans drive out the commies from Kabul. Now it is helping to put a check on India’s growth by sending terrorists time and again and by making us concentrate our troops in the western and northern sectors. Despite China’s help to that country, Pakistan harbours sympathisers of the rebels of Xinjiang Muslim province of China – the USA can any day decide to use these when it choses to. Pakistan is allowed to play in this area by the US and its allies as they stand to lose nothing. All that goes to prove that India is a very tolerant country – it is tolerating Pakistan as its neighbour with this much sagacity and forbearance!

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  • http://thepoliticalopportunist.blogspot.com/ abhishek sharma

    India needs Pakistan and Pakistan needs India to remain countries. Once there is no Kashmir issue, there will be no Pakistan and no India.

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    farha sen Reply:

    abhishek sharma hum kashmir toh le k rahen gay, tere baap ka h

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  • Anonymous

    @ Vir Sanghvi

    rehabilitation in the public eye wont come by censoring comments for sure. People would feel that you something to hide. let it be a free debate. People even may say the harshest things… but be brave enough to face them.

    Amongst teh HT blog sites, Vinod Sharma gets 1500 or so comments for every posting. Yours are stuck at 10 to 15 now…

    Well… I think you should learn to respect public sentiments…

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  • M.a.Rajah

    There is too much poison drilled into people of India by the media to demonise Pakistan over anything but everthing.i have three Indians working with me a punjabi Hindu ,gujrati Hindu and gujrati Muslim ,each one of these guys agree on one thing that they are brainwashed from early age to have anti Pakistan feel. I personnely believe that by in large majority of Indians are excellent people , however this not say that some igronent Pakistanis are immune to this type behaviour ,we should try and put some love and effection when ever we meet and get this menace out of thoughts .my advise to Muslim is behave like Muslim .we have Islam to guide us , otherwise we will go into the dark ages

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    Deepak Kumar Reply:

    we are not brain washed against pakistan in india,Ur country is of no significance to us,About the dark ages, Islam is a black hole its impossible to get of it.

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  • Anonymous

    No matter whether so called Minority is educated or not, a Muslim will always blame BJP and Hindus, there is no difference between one pickpocket roaming on street who is uneducated and falls victim to preachings of Maulvi and Mullahs and you as a writer, first tell Muslims to get over with there hate, learn to coexist with others, stop using physical assaults in everything and stop acting as victims and forcefully or deceitfully picking up hindu girls and converting them by sweet talks, finally they should be party of country and give solutions instead of just producing more and more babies by marrying to 4 wives and producing 4-8 babies out of each wife, i have seen even in Delhi where one Muslim man has 32 children, where is the space and resources in country.

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  • Sumit Bose

    I fail to comprehend the selective outrage of the Muslims. When Muslims massacre Muslims ( Darfur, Iraq etc etc) the entire muslim world and the street-corner rabble-rousing mullas are suspiciously silent. When other communities react to the provocations of the muslims, the entire “ummah” suddenly erupts in loot/plunder mode.
    It was interesting to note that no SMSes were sent out in Gujarat, and in Gujarat no people of the North East, (who are there in large numbers) felt the insecurity to leave Gujarat.
    As if the tragedy was not not enough, our Indian government has reduced the sufferings of thousands to a comedy, accusing Pakistan for this all! Which translates, that the mobsters who terrorized the thousands to leave so many cities will face no force of the law catching upto them!

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  • Anonymous

    I think we need to distinguish between incidents, episodes and the underlying
    philosophy here. There is clarity in RSS’s
    strategy. They wish to continue to portray the Muslim community as Alien Others,
    not “one of us”. To do this it either
    stages various incidents, such as Rath Yatras, Communal Riots or it exacts
    political mileage out of spontaneously occurring incidents such as illegal
    migration of Bangladeshi’s. The congress
    secularism whilst it started on a very politically correct and liberal footing
    has been severely compromised and is now a very pale shade of its former
    self. For as long as the RSS will continue to regard
    Indian Muslims as Aliens and spare no effort to OTHER them, we will continue to
    have our politics being played in communal terms. Bangaldeshi migration will
    become yet one more incident in the chain that stretches back 65 years.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/deepakj Deepak Jain

    Dear Author, you should rename the blog as “Assam – another product of BJP’s sectarian agenda”. This will make it easy for you to name all your future blogs too – just replace the first word with whatever the issue may be.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/deepakj Deepak Jain

    And yet Muslims continue to vote for Cong+NCP who have ruled the state forever, except for 5 years. So why crib

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  • gaffar

    don’t ask for 4.5% obc sub quota, ask govt for overall reservation quota like 33% ladies reservation, overall reservation of all minorities is better

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  • sabahat sai

    pakistan zindabad

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    Deepak Kumar Reply:

    I, hope pakistan lives long for this slogan

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  • rabia agha

    salman hates india.

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  • pooja gupta

    hindu hai hi kutti qaum l0ve pak

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  • pooja gupta

    gandhi (late) khusath ne india azaad karwake bht bara paap kiya hai halanke ab iski awashakta nhe rahi bharat **** bhagwan **** are koi 1 ho toh bolo sale 15, 16 toh bhagwan hain mein hun to indian gharane se par india ka riwaaj aur taur tareeke dekh kar ajiz hun i l0ve allah n i love pak.

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  • salma

    inke bollywood ko bs rona hi ata he are hollywood ki naqal karke filmein banate hain aur pak ko apne se kam tar samajhte hai india puri duniya par bojh he, YA ALLAH UTHALE IS INDIA KO TAKE ZAMEEN PAR SAKOON AJae AMeeN.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002281383123 Deepak Kumar

    This is the story of issac and ishmael,issac is the legitimate son of Abraham and sarah.Ishmael born to hagar a servent of sarah not a rightfull son, That is why all muslims are socially Misfit people.

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  • Deven Dalal

    After independence Pakistan had no continued able leadership. There was a need of creating a self identity so strong that the future generations would not question the very idea of forming a separate nation. The origin of Islam in India was never discussed anywhere. It was just Muslims and Hindus divided by the British to continue their rule. Historically Islam was spread in India by the Afghan kings. The poor Hindus could firstly ill afford to pay Jaziya tax and secondly good amounts of money,jobs and social status was given to them if they accepted Islam.
    The conversions carried on for almost 900 years.The sir names of these converts, however remained same eg dagar, waraich, Gill, Tarar, Chauhan, Khokhar(Hindu /sikh Jats and Rajputs) ,Patankar(Hindu Brahmins) etc. Almost 85 to 90% Muslims in area which came to be known as Pakistan are basically converted Hindus.
    The name of Pakistan never existed before 1936 and even then the idea of a separate nation ever existed.However the greed of certain leaders with miss-guidance of rich land-lords saw the birth of a new nation in 1947.
    These people responsible for the creation now had to resort to some theories to justify their actions.The main theory which surfaced was the Two Nation Theory which failed badly with the creation of Bangladesh.
    These people also tried to change the course of history by depicting that Pakistan ruled India for thousand years, A point rubbished by all historians. Also educational text books were on glorification of Islam and hatred for other religions.
    A society of young people grew up reading these ideals.Their martial race theory failed as Pakistan started all the wars against India and lost badly in all of them (see you tube).
    Now Pakistan had false sense of pride, bad education ,no industry to give jobs to their un-employed youth.This prompted Pakistan to join sides during the cold war era ie with USA.This benefited Pakistan economy for sometime. The leaders however diverted maximum funds to take Kashmir by force and by putting maximum funds in Swiss banks, in their personal accounts.The education, public infra-structure and industry was never developed.
    Now Pakistan had good strength of un-educated un-employed youth. This would have created unrest but for Soviets taking over Afghanistan.The controllers of Pakistan(USA) funded them to create an army of Jihadis against the Soviets.The poor youth of Pakistan got a job . They could now send money to their families for sustenance.
    The govts kept changing however the control remained with the ISI in Pakistan which was responsible for giving a job to these people, the job of International terrorism.
    The Americans after achieving their aim left Pakistan and Afghanistan for themselves. This created stronger organisations of terrorists trained by Pakistanis in their terror camps. Pakistan got bolder after becoming a nuclear country and it’s bloody hands could be identified in the terror attacks all over the world.
    The Pakistan organised attacks on India ie the Mumbai serial blasts, attack on Indian Parliament and Mumbai massacre and the Kargil misadventure, put spotlight on Pakistan. Pakistan lost all friends except for China and S.Arabia(which funded Pakistani Nuclear Bomb factories).
    The killing of OBL in Pakistan, Pakistan’s help to Taliban in Afghanistan against Americans finally nailed them squarely.
    The Taliban ran for cover under US attacks and entered Pakistan.Now it was difficult to identify the Talibanis from the local population.The infighting between political parties saw these un-employed youth again getting a job to sustain their families by becoming gun-runners(gangsters) for the political enemies.There are nearly 40 to 45 groups.Most prominent being TTP.
    The terrorists in far flung area joined the tribal leaders and started to challenge the over-stretched and de-moralised Pak Army ( crushing defeat at Kargil war) .
    Now in-spite of best efforts of Pakistan, these people have refused to come to the table as they will loose jobs . Finally in state of desperation Pak Airforce and Army have launched attacks and killed some terrorists but more of civilians.Pakistan still refuses to learn from the history.They could have done better with good education, logical planning and good governance. High time they forget about Kashmir and other so called core issues and resort to trade if they have to survive in a respectable manner.Sad to see death of a nation which was part of us not very long ago. However sir , just remember that we are not interested in destroying you as who can help anyone who is destroying himself with a sense of great self pride. We wish Pakistan well ALWAYS.

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