Fictional reality in Assam

Anujit Saha | Published: 15:10, Jul 08,2020 | Updated: 22:26, Jul 08,2020


Art work created by various artists as a demonstration against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 at AEI ground, Chandmari, Guwahati, Assam -Wikimedia.

Under the façade of fiction, Anujit Saha writes about how state policies keep racism alive 

‘A new revolution, to defeat the alien enemy, is beckoning’, a young woman sings, ‘bravely let us shield our motherland.’

The new Commercial from the Indian State had taken over national television, and Kazi was surprised as to why his parents would change the channel every time it came on. It was followed by a look of anguish in the eyes of his mama and papa. He was wondering why his big brother, Malik, was staying home on weekends, stripped of his otherwise natural energy to go out and live the life. He noticed how his brother’s spirit was aging much faster than before. Being the more experienced one, Malik tried his best to ensure that his brother did not enter the world with the same expectations and optimism he had; he wanted to ensure the dose of alienation did not hit him at once.

The first day after the Summer vacation, it was Kazi who was begging his parents to let him go to school and not the other way around as it usually was. His parents feared that the wrath of the system on Bengali immigrants might be mirrored by the public school their son went to. They believed no 15-year old, who had seen nothing but the state they were born into, would be able to take the label of being an infiltrator. They had to deal with their elder son’s devastation during his own time; every little incident of micro-aggression against Malik was what pushed him towards the abyss of alienation. The final nail in the coffin was when he was not chosen to be part of the Student’s Independence Day festivities for being an ethnic minority whose origins were not Indian. In the very school following the national curriculum, he had read about the significance of the secularism in the state’s constitution, as to how every ethnic identity was meant to celebrate the state’s diversity and every language was another means of sharing the pride of being an Indian national. But that was all before he was introduced to the right-wing politics that had been established in the dark and now being publicized. When the manifesto of political parties contained the agenda of ensuring to protect its people from the enemy to the states, Malik had never for once thought about him being that enemy they speak of.

But Kazi was yet to be struck by the horror of communalism. Every time his elder brother had tried to prepare him, to help face the challenges, he was met with an optimistic, and patriotic attitude of an Indian national, which was a reminiscence Kazi’s once inexperienced self. Kazi was more politically aware than most of his peers, with a strong belief in the state’s constitution, and the moral righteousness of the society. But it was during his first history class after his school reopened that he had realized what his brother had been warning about. The introductory lesson of the class about the history of the subcontinent was used by the professor to marginalise the ethnic minorities in the state, claiming they were ripping off the benefits of the state, resulting in 'true citizens' to suffer. The heads of peers were turning more towards Kazi rather than towards the teacher. He felt marginalised, but he could not challenge the historical context his teacher was speaking about. Nor could he understand as to how much hate had been enmeshed within the system meant to be a breeding ground of intellect and peace not hate. Now he knew what the TVC meant, why his parents were traumatised, why they will always be viewed as a Bengali Muslim rather than as an Assamese. 

He was a fan of science fiction comics, where fictional alien invasions were commonplace. He thought of aliens as people who didn’t comply with terrestrial laws of nature. Now he had to imagine him and his family in the role of aliens, but how could he? He had sung the nation’s national anthem with passion, defended her constitutional policies of secularism, and glorified Assam on its policy of providing a haven to Bengali refuges during times of dire needs. Now he was finally defeated in the discourse he used to have with Malik, and now Malik seemed like his only glimmer of hope in this world of systematic discrimination. When he reached home, he did not rant about what had happened at school, nor did he expect any of his peers to stand up for him.  

He had read about the Indian partition based on the lines of religion and believed the state, as well as the society, had evolved from the religious bitterness. He had read works of Kazi Nazrul Islam, the rebellious socialist who in the 20th century had the foresight to unify the Indians against the British usurpers. He had read about Tagore’s love of Bangla, where it was it was in the East or West of the border. But he had also read about the heroics of Indira Gandhi’s administration of taking in millions of Bengalis. But he had not yet read the dirty book of right-wing politics which garnered support from extremists.

The last flicker of optimism in the household died with the naiveté’ of Kazi; they were starting to believe they never belonged there. The four million others who also were meant to be deported were their only source of help as their life’s works for the last 48 years were rendered moot by the system. Kazi wondered in geography class as to why the globe has more than 200 states, with so many borders? Now that he was ‘stateless’, the division was more credible.

No matter how hard they tried to blend in, their state was not the most integral part of their identities, it was their ethnic roots which held them susceptible to hate. In an ideal world, Malik grows up without the complexities of having to defend his nationality, and Kazi stands up for what he believes in. But they had long heard their father’s advice: do not be a rebel with your life on the line. Ideas of social welfare, socialism, Marxism, and secularism were topics Malik and Kazi grew up debating about. They were idealists and big believers in such systems that inspired the people of the sub-continent to be a hub of social welfare and religious tolerance. Now their belief system was eradicated.

Now they knew why our society fails to produce any Marx, Einstein, or Satyajit Roy, and ends up providing it with Narendra Modi.

Anujit Saha is a writer who wants to work for the Jacobin someday.

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