Tuesday, June 20, 2000

The Bangla Cyber-war paranoia: Assam gulps the bait!


Bangladesh has had a very quiet entry into the information technology revolution, and unknown to the Assamese 'raieez' (public) are also its 'unsung heroes'. For instance when the CIS virus affected Bangladesh like the rest of the world last year, important people in Dhaka, were queing up to shake hands and seek the assistance of a sixteen year old, who it seemed, was the only one in a population of 120 million people to have an easy and cost effective solution, to mend crashed hard disk's and retrieve lost data files.

Therefore when the news of the alleged 'Bangla cyber war on Assam' flashed across my PC screen last week, it was only the headline that I glanced momentarily, before I skipped on to the next mail. I did not have the time then, to go through all the details and other than this cursory glance, I remember thinking, that perhaps some Bangladesh computer whiz kid, has managed to play a prank with his technological prowess, and has infected all the computers across Assam with a strange new virus - or maybe hacked the account of somebody 'very important' - a perfect cyber war scenario!

Amused, I sat back to await SOS coming in the form of, 'please help disinfect' emails from atleast two of my cousin's in Assam who I know own PC's. They have never sent me an email till this day, and I relished the opportunity of getting square with them. Indeed I had mentally drafted, a short curt reply - 'a cousin in need, is no cousin of mine'. That ofcourse did not happen, and I quickly forgot the matter.

Little was I to know then about the ongoing disquiet as also that the Assamese had in the meantime, redefined the word 'cyberwar' to mean an invasion of its geographical territory, replete with call's for high level intervention - the request made to none else, then the Prime Minister of India. Somebody in Assam has obviously over reacted - or was this PANIC ?


I must admit at the outset, that I am part of a growing fraternity of 'Netizens' here in Dhaka, Bangladesh who actively participate in debates that very often come up on many Bengalee Internet website, or news groups. At any given time, no less that ten thousand Bengalees in Bangladesh, and all across the world 'buzz' on the Net. This is a passion not only for me, but many like me, who have taken advantage of using the Net to vent their unpredictably unique opinions and points of view, that would otherwise not be considered 'print worthy' by any newspaper in Bangladesh.

For dubious reasons of 'sensitivity' - a useful ploy, dissent and alternative thinking are deliberately kept at bay, from what is construed pompously, as the sensibility of 'public opinion'. The prerogative of that judgment it seems, is understood only by editors of newspapers and media moguls. Therefore the 'public on the Net', and 'public at large' are evolving as two different species, and if this 'Assam cyberwar paranoia' is any indicator - they are also being delineated unnecessarily on hysterical lines.

Debate can happen from the privacy of your bedroom, at your appointed time, without any risk more severe, than backlash from other participants, in what in Netspeak is termed a 're-axe'. The most dreaded backlash can be 'hate mails', and the easiest way that I have dealt with them, is by 'comfortably deleting, without reading'. Ignorance can sometimes be bliss!

While most debates can be academic and esoteric (read boring!) others can be extremely lively or heated. I remember one, in the News From Bangladesh, the country's highly radical, uncensored (exception is the F word), on-line, daily newspaper website, which caters to over twelve thousand hits per day - a debate on Islam, that spiraled way out of control, and escalated to discussions on the sexual life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). This continued, uninterrupted for well over three months and had this been a 'public forum' or mainstream newspaper in Bangladesh, I'm sure atleast half a dozen participants would have been tried and executed for blasphemy by our forever excitable 'kut mullah's'!

Yet here we were on the Net, and it all ended peacefully, with 'kichu monay korben na' (hope you did not get me wrong), 'ektu gorom na holay kee koray hoi' (if it does not heat up, where is the fun) and then the 'bhai, bhai' (brother,brother) camaraderie, followed by mild threats of 'porar bar apnakay dhora hobay (will get you next time) - which is typical of Bengalees making up after a feud. Two weeks later, it comes as no surprise to see two past antagonist in a debate, ganging up to make mincemeat out of a new protagonist - again very very typically Bengalee!

Since 1995, I have had the privilege of participating in more than a dozen such debates, and every one of them has been an opportunity for me not only to make friends and get to know many people across the globe, it has been one more innocuous and humble step - towards knowledge. Rest assured I have not made any enemies!

There are thousands of colorful and brilliant minds out there, as well as complete loonies, and people with very serious bias and attitude problems - but again at the end of the day its 'democracy' and 'freedom of speech and expression' that is the enshrined credo in the Net, and that is where the 'battles' - if not wars of the future will be fought. Something like a virtual 'e-world parliament' if we may. Peaceful 'battles of minds' and geared towards human consensus, that should never ever be equated or considered synonymous with the sins and ravages of WAR.


On to Dr.Jaforullah's article and his suggestion for a 'loose confederation' between Bangladesh, West Bengal and North East India, and the purpose of this piece.

It was my ebullient friend Tanveer Chowdhury, the Editor of News From Bangladesh which originally posted the article by Dr.Jaforullah aka Abul Hasanat on the 5th June 2000, before it crawled on to ), who called me frantically three days back to inform that 'tor Oshomiya bhaiyera cheitya gesay' (your Assamese brothers have gotten irate) - in very pun intended Dhakaiya dialect, that is the lingua franca amongst us friends.

He asked me to urgently go through the contents of the email and to put forward my views on the debate, which he considered would be 'unique' - given the fact, that I am a second generation Bangladesh-Assamese, born, raised and living in Bangladesh? So be it.

While we are just a handful in Bangladesh, we are nonetheless proud of who we are, Bangladesh citizens of Assamese descent, and I am absolutely sure, I am not alone. Out there, somewhere in the 'wilderness' called the rest of the world there must be many more like me, British-Assamese, American-Assamese, Pakistani-Assamese - who knows?

It's time we have our say without fear or favor, as to what ails Assam, and if a solution can be found to the unending human tragedy that has befallen our brethens and pains us no less - nothing would make us happier. We have a recent point of reference. The resolution of the years of strife in Ireland, came about the mediation, not only of the British or the Irish people, but to a large degree, the Irish-American communities.

To begin, here is a quote from R.Dutta Chowdhury's, article in The Assam Tribune, dated 15th February :

"In an alarming development, a group of Bangladeshi intellectuals have launched a cyber war to divide India and mooted a proposal to form a confederation comprising Bangladesh and the north-eastern States of India. The intellectuals are using the website to propagate their idea of inclusion of the north-eastern States of India with Bangladesh and according to security sources, such propaganda may result in serious consequences for the security of the country."

I'd like to thanks Mr.Chowdhury, for his report suggests in some round about way, that Dr.Jaforullah has been very successful, in getting the Assamese people, the party in position, its intelligentsia to justifiably 'gulp the bait,' co-opt and advance the purpose of an 'open international debate' on Assam. Dr.Jaforullah has perhaps inadvertently wheeled out his 'line', and has now only to reel in the proverbial 'fish' and let the public, and the world in particular scrutinize the 'fishy' state of affairs, that has been the tragic legacy of Assam for decades.

Dr.Jaforullah is certainly no 'intellectual'. I do not know the status quo in Assam, but that overly abused term in Bangladesh refers to someone who has only unsolicited advice to offer on any and every subject in the public domain, without ever advancing a possible solution. With thousands of 'intellectuals' in our peripheral horizon, basking in media overkill, Bangladesh has apathetically not found solutions to many of its own problems. Who knows, Dr.Jaforullah's proposal may indeed turn out to be prophetic for Assam and its people in the days ahead, and maybe in some degree for Bangladesh.

His proposal for a 'loose confederation' is by no mean a loose canon. Whatever its merits or demerits - confederation does not mean political control on Assam, it does not mean that Assamese have to bow to the whims and caprices of the 'miya munshiz', and it also does not mean that the Bangladesh people have some kind of sinister 'plot' to invade Assam, and destabilize India.

All Dr.Jaforullah's thoroughly researched and brave proposal implies is, it is an option, an alternative thought process. It means the Assamese people now not only have an opportunity to decide, they also have a proposal that tells them, how to decide - to the prosperous way forward. In all probability it might not work - but I see no harm as why we should not even give it a thought, because something entirely new, and nowhere near our current flow of thinking may emanate out of somewhere, that could well be the SOLUTION we are looking for?

This is a personal opinion, but clearly in fifty years, being part of the Indian Republic has not solved Assam's problems. It has been kept deliberately poor, it's wealth and resources plundered, its people held hostage to guns, its human rights trampled upon, and the state has even denied any opportunity by International observers to visit and carry out any impartial investigation into the problems. On the same token, by terming them 'internal matters' the Indian Republic has been carrying out systematic carnage and repression's in Assam, equal to what Bangladesh has witnessed in 1971, complete with 'black out' of news, with the tacit support of its all powerful media - the Assamese media being no exception.


Prophetic as this may sound, in the new millennium, and in the way the world is shaping, we will see many old borders being wiped off larger maps, and many new national borders emerging, because ultimately the precursors to those great changes will no longer be 'politics' as we know today - but essentially guarantees of economics freedom and free trade among people, to replace the brutal and demeaning protectionist trap expounded all in name of geographical or 'national sovereignty'. Individual sovereignty will definitely replace : 'political' sovereignty, and there is no two way to it. The sooner we accepted it, the better it is for all of us.

Politics in our region - has moved away from its true meaning i.e. the study of people, to study of the machination of 'political parties' and the demons they create in the guise of 'leaders'. It wont be before long when political futures will be decided, not by the number of votes that one connives to accumulate on election day. They will be decided pretty much, on how political parties bring in economic empowerment with a justifiable mandate for the development of its people, with a firm faith and practice of the institute of democracy, where freedom of speech and expression is a prerequisite for good governance.

Its perhaps this point that Dr.Jaforullah emphasizes when he says "the Government of India should not view the proposal as a death nail to their republic and other regions of the subcontinent can also form their confederations for economic development." This proposal is therefore not a threat to the Government of India, but more - a realization of changing times, focused towards reality, and devoid of any emotive excesses, that will only condemn Assam to the back seat of progress, if it has not already.

Truly, under the benign gaze of the Indian Republic, such ideas may seem 'treacherous' or 'separatist - but may we ask for whom? The Assamese people - perhaps - but what has been over exuberantly overlooked, is the proposal has come from a citizen of an independent country that shares a huge common border and perhaps a common destiny with the people of Assam. It is worthwhile reminding readers, that the citizens of Bangladesh have not been overwhelmed by the 'fear psychosis' that has been deliberately employed by the Indian Republic to envelop and bludgeon the people of Assam into unwilling submission. Bangladesh citizens have a right to think differently, perhaps even act differently.

To view an alternative idea coming from a citizen of a neighboring country with no known hostile intent, as 'propaganda' and 'security threat' implies that Assam is tethering on the brink of blatant subjugation, its media and intelligentsia, a party to tacit collaboration of its ruling class and their Marwari cohorts, all in an attempt to keep Assam forever shackled and ensnared in the dark ages, while great possibilities of it becoming an economic super power in the region is being deliberately thwarted.

Therefore is there anybody out there in the rest of the world, in Assam or in India, that can deny the hard TRUTH in Dr.Jaforullah's assertion :

"the economic malaise in North East India has been endemic for quite some time. For too long, the region has been neglected by the planners in New Delhi. For the last half a century, the NE region was affected economically without taking part in wealth accumulation."


Back to Mr.Chowdhury's report :

" Meanwhile, the security agencies have viewed the developments seriously and expressed the view that such propaganda may seriously affect the security of the country as a whole, at a time when most of the NE states, barring Mizoram, are affected by insurgency. Security sources also expressed doubts on whether Jaffar Ullah is the real name of the writer of the article."

The weakness of Indian security apparatus is clearly apparent from the above report. For one, security is a subject that is never discussed in public. Howsoever a security agency operates, gathers intelligence, thinks, or 'views developments' is confidential information - obviously the above is a figment of Mr.Chowdhury's imagination - a veiled, 'beware, big brother is watching you' kind of threat to an esteemed Bangladesh scholar, Dr.Jaforullah. Carrying this a step forward by 'reporting' to the central authorities in Delhi, is an implied and unprovoked, emotional blackmail on the people of Assam, all in efforts to deny them a right to speak out, with pains of 'dire consequences'. The Bangladesh authorities let me reassure everyone in Assam, will hardly be bothered to 'take up' for serious scrutiny anything that happens in the Net.

For far too long, there has been a patronizing and condescending attitude of the ruling class in New Delhi, to use local lackeys even here in Bangladesh to prove the 'invincibility' of the Indian security system - and its MIGHT, while it tries hopelessly to position itself as a 'global superpower'.

The 'wonderful life' of the Indian people as the propaganda of the Indian media would have anyone half believe, is propelled to make India appear as the 'happening' hub of the universe, while in reality it reflect less than one percent of the lifestyle of its total population. While it goes nuclear, its beauty queens romp the world stage, makes no effort to respect it smaller neighbors, and aging film 'superstars' make the middle class excited about the prospect of becoming millionaires through television game shows, while Hyderabad becomes Cyberabad to explain the 'great strides' India has made in IT, to become a super power, the dire situation is that the vast majority of its population live in abject poverty, and is denied fundamental civil and human rights,

Lurking behind all of that is an absence of a solid infrastructure and support system. It only takes an earthquake in Gujarat, to prove the fragility of India's human resource mobilization and management. It needs foreign rescue workers to pull out victim's from rubbles, and it has also to rely on mediamen and Net buffs in Assam to discover a 'potent threat' to its security, all because a Bangladesh citizen has come up with an alternative proposal to the future and prosperity of Assam.

Would the harsh reaction's been the same, had it not been Dr.Jaforullah, but an American who was the author of the same piece? Dr.Jaforullah is a respected columnist in Bangladesh newspapers, and while he does occasionally write in the pseudonym Abul Hasanath, there is nothing shady or deceitful about his real name.

Yet in another article on the Net, authored by Wasbir Hussain, dated the 22nd February for India Today, he quotes portions of a letter sent by the Assam Chief Minister's wife to Mr.Lal Khrishna Advani where she states
"unlike the border in Kashmir that has natural barriers, along Bangladesh, in Assam, Meghalaya and other parts of the region, the border is porous and navigable in certain stretches"
- all well said and done.

However the alternate proposed by her to the Honorable Home Minister of India is not only simplistic, but downright quixotic! On her own terms "Dr.Jayasshree Mahanta in her letter to Advani has reiterated the demand to fence the Assam-Bangladesh border of influx'.

Does Mrs.Mahanta have any idea as to cost implications of her proposal and the human resources that will be required to monitor the perimeter of such a fence ? As if that is not enough, how does she envisage 'fencing' the parts of the borders which on her own admission are 'navigable in certain stretches' ? Also is she capable of 'fencing in' the views expressed on the Net by the people of Assam?


While the question of illegal Bangladesh influx into Assam has been debated for long, I can say without any hesitation that the issue has been a deliberate communal political eyewash. While more than two million Bengalees of Bangladesh descent have made Assam their natural abode for almost a century, they have provided Assam's agrarian society, skilled farm workers and day laborers working on fallow land and contributed traditionally to Assam's economic well being. In any hypothetical 'expulsion' from Assam, it will the Assamese people that will be affected, as clearly they will loose a hard working community, who toil in the soil only to feed them. Their absence could prove to be a catalyst for severe food shortages and drought like conditions and pestilence may follow .


Last if not the least I would like to make a call to all conscientious Assamese to come forward and initiate a debate on Assam, which is free from any compulsion or threat, in a civilized world forum called the Internet.

I have had the opportunity to make friends with Assamese globally through the Net, and have been shocked to note, that all have shirked away from a sensible debate on Assam, mainly due to what they perceive as threats to their immediate families in Assam by the vicious and murderous goons that is patronized by the ruling AGP and its henchman's - in the event of their participation.

This proves all the more, the absence of any Assamese on the Net to take Dr.Jaforullah head-on when it was being debated with such earnestness, although thankfully, there were some Bangladesh national like Dr.Asad Khan who opposed vehemently the idea of a loose confederation.

Should such a debate be acceptable to the people of Assam, it will actually be worthwhile to include the ULFA leadership in hiding to participate, and take on a public scrutiny of their position - which is considered fair and principled by the freedom loving people of Bangladesh. However arrangements ought to be made to ensure that the conditions are appreciated by the people of Assam, before this debate can be initiated, and that also calls for the active participation of the representatives of the Republic of India.

If we can not debate - I am afraid I see no chance of peace and prosperity to ever return to Assam. Failing, blood will only beget blood, revenge will only beget revenge and injustice will breed further rebellion. That has been the testament of our times.

To rebel against injustice - is justified - is a time honored tradition. There is no such thing as a humane war. WAR's have never been solutions. With the Net as our backbone - war's and human conflicts can be avoided and I most emphatically add that a solution can be found.

So let them be battles not WAR! Let the 'battles of mind' begin, and all I can do is pray, that the best mind and ideas prevail.


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