Of Assam, of Bharat
I am the Khasi, I am the Jaintia, the Dophola, Abor, Oka
I am the Singpho, the Miri of the plains, the youth of the Subansiri
I will be the victor, I am of the Kachari, the Koch, the Mech, the Rajbonghshi, Rabha…
I am the Lalung, Sutia, Lushai, Mikir, Garo
Mishimi, Khamti, the Angami hero…
I fight for equality and friendship
I am the one who labours in the tea garden,
The Na-Axomiya, the new Assamese,
The village Nepali,
The skilled dancer of the Manipuri
Of so many hills and plains, of the waters of a hundred streams
I flow, taking all in my path
To be one with the Brahmaputra
It was in the forties, peering through his round-rimmed glasses, that poet Rupkonwar Jyoti Prasad Agarwala, he the Rajasthani Assamese, so defined the Assamese collective, the race that walked his motherland, for which he wrote and sang, casting in gold his treasure trove for the patriot.
That would have been some decades before Bhupen Hazarika would pick his song for a film called Polaxor Rong (1976), singing with gusto and undying hope the story of his people.
That would also have been three years before the Assam Agitation that set this valley afire in 1979, after democracy’s holy testament, that of the franchise of its people, had been found, at Mangaldoi, to have been allowed to be violated.
That would have been before that time when the swahid bedi, that martyr’s column, would appear, over six long excruciating years, in every school courtyard of the valley of the Brahmaputra, in remembrance of the 854 who died fighting against the Bangladeshi come across the border illegally.
That was before the time when the Mymensinghia was to be scorned upon as he who, hand-in-glove with the traitors of the land, had violated the testament.
The Na-Axomiya was forthwith and for ever since, to be questioned — not just in the valley of the Brahmaputra but now, with every passing year since, across the many hills and plains and the waters of those hundred streams.
The collective too has changed in the decades that passed, most known more by the original and the preferred rather than the Assamese equivalent of their communities: the Dophola is the Nyishi, the Abor is the Adi and Galo, the Oka the Hrusso, the Singpho the Jingtao, the Miri the Mising, the Mikir is the Karbi.
It is thus that they walked together this morning, some 20,000 of them by the Brahmaputra, not far from where collective had perhaps fought the Mughals, the last time about three-and-a-half centuries ago.
They marched as the Northeast; the Mymensinghia, his tribe grown manifold it is believed with his people coming from across the eastern borders of India, is the Bangladeshi.
A boy holds up a placard during the protest march in Guwahati on Thursday. Picture by UB Photos
While Guwahati witnessed the march, Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram stayed shut, in protest against the illegal migrant.
“I was in service with the state police in 1979 and so could not join the agitation then,” said Ziaul Hussain Khan who came from Moran in Assam’s Dibrugarh district to march.
“The indigenous Muslim has become a minority in this land because of the Bangladeshi invasion.
Political parties are protecting them because of vote bank politics,” he said. Khan is 86 now.
Syed Abdul Gaffar, Khadim at the Poa Mecca Dargah Sharif in lower Assam’s Hajo did participate then as well.
“Implement the Assam Accord of 1985 and it solves the problem,” he says, now 76.
Through the sweltering heat of what was once Pragjyotishpur, the collective marched and protested, and raised their voice.
“Save Tripura and you save the Northeast,” said Upendra Deb Barma, adviser to the Tripura Students’ Union.
“The identity of the indigenous people in my state has already been lost with the aggression from Bangladesh.”
“If the government of India wants to keep the Northeast with the country, it has to detect and deport illegal Bangladeshis,” said L. Pungte, adviser to the Mizo Students’ Union and vice-president of the North East Students’ Organisation (Neso).
“All the northeastern states have to unite and fight against the illegal Bang-ladeshi,” said Suresh, president of All Manipur Students’ Union.
“That the response was so spontaneous and so many people came out to join the march shows that the people of the Northeast have all together stood up against the influx of the illegal migrant,” said Samujjal Bhattacharyya, president of Neso and adviser to the All Assam Students Union.
“The central and state governments don’t seem to be reading the minds of the people right.”
This is much after Bhupen Hazarika sang Joi Joi Nobojato Bangladesh when the country of the Mymensinghia was born. This is much after his Manush manusher jonye (people for people) song became the second-most popular song in Bangladesh after the country’s national anthem.
In 1981 after the Assam Agitation had raged for two years of its six and many had died, he sang that “there are now martyrs to remind us that we die if Assam does”. Today, barely a year after he left his people, the 20,000 marched to his songs by the Brahmaputra. “If today’s Assamese don’t fight for what’s theirs, they will become refugees in Assam,” he had sung. He had sung for the collective.
And so they sang and marched today. Once again, three decades after 854 had died in the Assam Agitation.