Imphal: Shekhar Gupta, now the chief editor of The Indian Express, while covering the Nellie massacre back in early 1980s had witnessed it for himself: “A woman, with no more than a rag round her waist screams uncontrollably. Her breasts bear ghastly lacerations. Abdul Hannan, one of the few survivors now helping to collect the wounded, says she was in the sixth month of pregnancy – aborted – a spear-handle was thrust deep into her vagina, and she was left to die after the marauders spent a few minutes disfiguring her body. She now screams not with pain but with grief, and points to the pieces of a two-year-old, her first, who was drawn into two.” They grabbed his limbs, two from each direction and pulled him into pieces, says Hannan, and mumbles as an after–thought, ‘why she doesn’t die now” (Shekhar Gupta, Assam – A divided valley, Vikas, New Delhi, 1984, p.2).
About 3000 persons (more by some accounts) were killed in that massacre, and so far no action has been taken against the perpetrators despite the “minority-appeasement” policy of the ruling Congress government. The fear generated by the massacre and the intimidations that followed in the following years, continue to haunt the Muslims of Assam. It is against this background that we should look at the Muslims’ fear which pushed them to flee their homes in Upper Assam last May.
A consistent approach shaped by the anti-Muslim attitude (founded on hatred and prejudice) to label the Muslims of Assam as “Bangladeshis” has been the main feature of Assam politics for years.
This approach was re-enacted in an ugly devil-dance on May 11 when an SMS reading “no job, no cloth, no shelter to Bangladeshis” flashed on mobilephone sets across Upper Assam. The campaign for the boycott of Muslims (“Bangladeshi”, as it has become, despite denials, a synonym for Muslims in Assam) was launched purportedly by a previously unheard group, Chiring Chapori Yuva Mancha. It started a day after the tripartite talks between Assam government, AASU and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
For four days most people were in complete darkness as to what actually had taken place. The move seems to be a well-planned strategy to cleanse the area of what they claim are “Bangladeshis”. Indeed the boycott of Muslims has already become a favorite game for certain forces in India. Gujarat is an example.
Ghulam Osmani, a minority leader and an MP, says that 10,000 to 15,000 have been deported to Dibrugarh district and another 20,000 have been marooned in Tinsukhia district after rioters burnt down their houses. All Assam Students’ Union’s (a frontal organization on the foreigners issue) adviser Dr Samujjal Bhattacharya, commenting on the drive of the Yuva Mancha, says: “This is a spontaneous action as ordinary people have lost faith in the Government, bureaucracy or politicians on the foreigners’ issue”.
But Muslims of Assam are convinced this was not a “spontaneous” action of the people. Far from it, they feel, constant prodding and incitement led to such a turn of events. The Muslims do not accept AASU’s explanation, despite its frequent protestations of neutrality on the foreigners’ issue. In fact, Muslims have a different students organization, “All Assam Minority Students’ Union” (AAMSU), which was formed in 1980 mainly as a reaction to AASU politics and attitudes when large sections of religious and linguistic minorities were harassed during the AASU-sponsored agitation for detection and deportation of foreigners. Shekhar Gupta wrote, then, “…thanks to the lack of political pragmatism among the AASU leadership, the RSS elements have been able to operate at a different and more political level, succeeding in solely influencing some of the leaders in mofussil towns. These can be made to play a key role in whatever future scheme of things the RSS has for Assam and Northeast. The AASU leadership, jolted by Muslim revolt within its own ranks, has failed to check this drift and, if it continues, in five years from now (1984) the RSS in Assam will have the clout to do the kind of stuff it has been credited with during February 1983” (1984:122).
In fact “Hindu to arakshit hai”(the poor Hindu is unprotected) was the common refrain among the RSS circles then. Affiliated members of this fascist formation have carried on this “philosophy” faithfully. Members of this formation seek to distinguish between “Hindu refugees” and “Muslim infiltrators”. After the recent attempt at “boycott”, BJP leader Kalraj Mishra said in Silchar on June 1, 2005, that the Hindus coming from Bangladesh should be treated as “refugees”. To protect the Hindu refugees, he said, the BJP was advocating the introduction of the Citizenship Act of 1950 and repeal of IM(DT) Act. Is this a “majority appeasement” policy of the Sangh Parivar?
Before the recent anti-Muslim campaign the Assam Tribune reported on April 27, 2005 that the government has conceded that the infiltration of Bangladeshi nationals belonging to Hindu community was continuing unabated inspite of checks and control at the international borders. Thus it appears that under the shrill slogan of deporting “Bangladeshi infiltrators”, it was only the Muslims who have been targeted.
Recent persecution of Muslims is taking place within this politico-ideological framework that has been refined over a long period of time. Muslims of Assam want the foreigners to be deported as soon as possible without religious discrimination. But they continue to be the victims of the two-nation theory championed in India by certain forces who decry this theory when it comes to Pakistan and Partition. How is that when the call to boycott “Bangladeshis” was SMSed only Muslims fled to safety? Is it because the “unprotected” sections from across the border find protection in the arms of the chanters of “Hindu-Muslim” division mantra?