Saturday, August 02, 2003

Alochona: Joi Ai Asom

n response to:

Dear Alochoks,

This is indeed a very useful circulation by the writer and I more or less agree in principal his news analysis and commentary and thank him profusely.

Nontheless, sadly what is lacking here is an insight of an Assamese from Assam - Muslim or Hindu is a very small matter - because Assam in its culture has always been secularly agnostic and no major communal violence can be reported to have divided the fabric of communal harmony in that beautiful land.The one in Nellie in the seventies was engineered by Indira Gandhi to break the back of the student led oill blockade agitation and divide the state on communal lines - but time has proved that it was a cosnpiracy that backfired.

I am honored to have to inform the esteemed readers of Alochona that I am a second generation Assamese born in Bangladesh and my parents were both from Jorhat in Assam.

They migrated then to what was East Pakistan in 1952 (and I was born in 1957) and this was no Muslim exodus. They left their homelands because they knew Assam would never be free - and in their genes they possessed the spirit of the Muslims, Buddhist and Hindu fighters that fought never to allow Assam to be conquered.

The Mughals for instance could never invade Assam - so fierce was the resistance. Assamese history tells us about the exploits of Azan Fakir and Lachit Phukan - both Assamese patriots and both had a large role to play in today's Assam's secular agnostic make-up.

Muslims were the ones that taught the Assamese military warfare (the canon was made by them) and foreign policy through the Farsi Foraz (Persian readers in the court of Assam) whose roots I can trace back to my family on my paternal side are only few of the many Muslim contribution in Assamese history.

Consequently what I am trying to argue here is Muslims as a community is not as if it occurred by migration only in recent day - Islamic history traces back Muslims arriving through the Sufi saints as late as 1400 years ago. The popular Brahminist propaganda will of course tell you that Muslims of Assam were `offspring's of captive Mughals' - but that is far from the truth.

Without disputing the arguments so meticulously put forward by the author of this piece - let me be so astute as to remind everybody that Bengalees from what is now Bangladesh have been migrating to Assam from times immemorial.

Unknown to the author of this piece is the fact that the soil in Assam is very fertile - so fertile that the under populated Assamese would harvest only one crop a year - allowing for the land to remain fallow for the rest 8 months of the year or so.

The harvest of one crop a year would be sufficient for an Assamese farmer not only to sell part of it and make a profit to last him for a year - but the surplus would feed a family and there would still be enough reserve to make up for any failed crop, pestilence or disease breaking out in a lean year.

The Bengalees from our part of the world opted to go to Assam because the pressure of population on land was getting far too intense and poverty came hand in hand.

They were certainly economic migrants and they had theadvantage that it was a fertile land with hardly any population. My family history for instance recounts association with Bengalee Muslims of Mymemensigh district and they go back more than a century long before the Republic of India was established.

What attracted the Assamese to the Bengalee migrants in the days of yore and as they do even today despite the many communal provocation - was that they never begged for a living and all they wanted was to use the fallow land the rest of the month to harvest and share crop/profit with the landlord.

This not only endeared the "Mia's and Munshi's" as the Bengalee are called even to this day but over time, Assamese agricultural production went directly into their control.

Therefore the Bengalees of Assam or "Noe Ghorias" (or newsettlers) as they stand today have been there for more than a 150 years and have assimilated so well with Assamese culture it is very difficult to differentiate them from the native Assamese.

Their size population wize is estimated to be somewhere in the 3-4 million bracket and together with the Assamese Muslims the demographic mix of Assam has therefore become a source of worry to communalist elements like the BJP/RSS/VHP combine who neverever had a foothold in Assam.

The Muslims of Assam contribute to a precarious mix of around 36% of the total population of Assam.

Why I say it is `precarious' is the overall majority of the Hindus in Assam are followers of the agnostic school of thought of Shri Shankararcharya.

Strange as this may sound the majority of such Hindus in Assam do not perform idol worship and they do not have temples. Indeed what they have is what is called "Naam Ghar" where `Naam kirtan" is sung everyday and where members from all religious community are welcome to participate. In my now and in between travels to Assam (The last been in 1996) I personally make it a point to attend atleast one evening at the "Nam" singing.

Surprising as this may sound the "Naam Ghar" is constructed by followers of both Hindu and Muslim religion yet it is only a token of Assam's communal harmony that the central pillar or the "Lai Khuta" is one that is erected by non else but by the Muslims, and where recitation from the Koran is de rigueur in the function. The construction of the "Naam Ghar" is done by subscription and all communities donate generously.

"Naam" as the words suggest is singing the praise of the monotheistic God the powerful and all compassionate Maker of this universe and the guide of human destiny no different than the Muslim God -Allah.

Having said all of the above if you have to delineate the demography of Assam into the many divisive caste of Hindus, Hindus as such become a minority and explains the demographic paranoia of the BJP/RSS and their propaganda for Hindutva.

I am therefore firmly of the belief that no matter how much the communal forces in New Delhi try communalism in Assam will be defeated because Assamese history suggest that anybody trying to peddle the poison of religious division in the tranquil land have been dumped in to the Mighty Brahmaputra, by the sheer force of the culture practiced by the natives.

With that I thank everyone reading this rejoinder.

"Joi Ai Asom" or Long Live Mother Assam

First published 1st August 2003


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