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I am Miya

Dissent is Democracy: Miya Poetry and Assam

Sutputra Radheye

Assam. A state in the North-Eastern region of India have found a new source of paranoia. Poetry. To be precise, Miya Poetry. Despite the expanding economic, and social incongruity, what it fears now is a source of expression. Unemployment, flood, low per capita income, poor schooling infrastructure etc. has been overtaken by the words of a community. It's the burning topic of the hour-as the TRP media would present it. So, let's try and decipher what's the elephant all about.

Question one, what is Miya Poetry? In simple terms, Miya poetry is a voice of dissent of the Miya community. To continue the interrogation, who are the Miyas of Assam? Miyas are Bengali Muslim residing in regions of Assam. That leads to the next question, why are they protesting? Well, to say, the word "Miya" is often pronounced to address Bangladeshi illegal immigrants. For, all these years, they have been ridiculed from their very right to Indian, and we want them to be silent. The authoritative diction builds a sense of alienation of the minority community from the majoritarian state.The majoritarian languages of Assam has been the dominant source of voice all these years, and in which somehow, the community was feeling disassociated as their problems weren't reaching the world unfiltered, and the essence was being lost, somehow, in the process. Also, the post-independence history of Assam has been a bloody affair with protests, and violent riots against illegal immigrants. In these riots- the Miya community has been a front-runner on the victim list. The documentation of their stories are tiny in number comparatively to that of the majoritarian population. What can be the reason? Though, there can be many reasons, the language of documentation is certainly one of them. It is not unknown that a person feels comfort in communicating in his own mother-tongue. Literature is too a medium of communication, of expression. And, every expression is triggered by the society. An artist and a society isn't parallel. They're coinciding. It is the society that inspires odes, and it is the same society that inspires resistance.

But, is artistic dissent a crime?

It is a crime. The artists who dares to speak up, to stand up should be executed. Art should be buried. We must get Hitler, and Stalin back. Am I, right? If totalitarian, dictatorial governance is what we lust for, we must ban dissent. But, if our belief in the parliamentary democracy is still breathing, we must condemn the attempts of any majoritarian population trying to silence the downtrodden voices of minority. It was Gandhi who advocated the view of being partial towards the minority, for it is them who can be tortured, and silenced—when he said that he was with Hindus in Pakistan and Muslims in India. So, dissent is the base on which democracy stands. And, poetry has always been there to oppose. Read History, and you will find out what I am trying to convey. Simon Armitage shares a similar view on poetry when he says:

"There's something about poetry which is oppositional and it's a form of dissent. I mean, even in its physical form, it doesn't reach the right-hand margin, it doesn't reach the bottom of the page. There's something a little bit obstinate about it [...] Poetry's always had a complex relationship with language. It's alternative. It's independent. It simply cannot be a mainstream art form."

What is taking place in Assam now is an attempt to structurally take down the voices of these Bengali-Muslims or the Miyas. A poet, Khairul Islam, who recently translated the state anthem of Assam- "O MUR APUNAR DESH" into their own Miya language has been able to spark outrage among the majoritarian population. Most of them are against the translation and of the view that the state anthem shouldn't be translated. It serves a seditionist purpose. It will corrode the Assamese essence as many schools in the Miya region might start singing the Miya version of it. Also, some holds the view that no other country or state has allowed the translation of its national/ state anthem. I have a few points to make- first, the state anthem is a piece of art and any form of art can be translated. It is the artistic freedom of a person. Second, translating the state anthem is the stupidest seditionist attempt I have encountered or read about. Why do you translate? The primary reason is to take the artistic body to your own community. The Ramayana is an example of it. The works of Bharat Ratna-Dr. Bhupen Hazarika are available in both Bengali and Assamese language. Would you consider the Assamese version superior to the Bengali one? Was it an attempt of the Bengali community to protest against the Assamese essence in his art? A translation is often a tribute, an acknowledgement of the fact that somehow, we are connected to the art.If it was sedition, the first they would have done was to condemn the state anthem. Third, the unfair and discriminatory element in the society is causing the fear of corrosion. How can a poem change the linguistic priority of a state where the majority of the population speaks Assamese? To add to the point, none of the schools have yet sang the Miya version of it, so assuming situations is absurd. If people are punished on assumption, then let's kill all the males of the society as they can potential rapists. Fourth, your bottled brain should be exposed to fresh knowledge soon. The very own national anthem of India- "JANA GANA MANA" has been translated in 100 Indian and foreign languages by K.S. Vasu as a tribute to Rabindranath Tagore (News18). Will the translation of "Jana Gana Mana" into foreign languages corrode Indian unity and identity? Or will it promote the diverse nationalism of India? Every national anthem or song is, at first, a song or an amalgamation of words which can be translated. I guess, there is no law which prohibits it. If there is, the doors to the court in always open for justice. But for me, it is a demonstration of "FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION" protected by our constitution (Article 19). Some of the television intellectuals have also argued that the use of the word "NRC" in one of the poems translated in English can have defaming global impact, and thus, letting the Miya Poetry flow is dangerous to the community. Before stating my views, let's read the poem first:

Write Down 'I am a Miyah'
Hafiz Ahmed

Write
Write Down
I am a Miya
My serial number in the NRC is 200543
I have two children
Another is coming
Next summer.
Will you hate him
As you hate me?

write
I am a Miya
I turn waste, marshy lands
To green paddy fields
To feed you.
I carry bricks
To build your buildings
Drive your car
For your comfort
Clean your drain
To keep you healthy.
I have always been
In your service
And yet
you are dissatisfied!
Write down
I am a Miya,
A citizen of a democratic, secular, Republic
Without any rights
My mother a D voter,
Though her parents are Indian.

If you wish kill me,
drive me from my village,
Snatch my green fields
hire bulldozers
To roll over me.
Your bullets
Can shatter my breast
for no crime.

Write
I am a Miya
Of the Brahamaputra
Your torture
Has burnt my body black
Reddened my eyes with fire.
Beware!
I have nothing but anger in stock.
Keep away!
Or
Turn to Ashes.

The use of any word in a poetry is subjective to the poet, and it is his sole freedom to use whatever imagery or metaphor he wishes. No-one should be able to dictate that. What it also makes me think is—why are some people afraid if the poem has no truth in it? I don't think, historians and activists will take a poem for data. It is only possible if statistics prove the discrimination dealt in the poem to be appropriate. Isn't it? In my opinion, everyone has the right to raise their voice, and it is upon time to decide whose voice was that of truth.

The delusions of the post-truth era is contaminating the humanity in the human rationality. The wire report says- "Members of the All Assam Students' Union have filed lakhs of indiscriminate objections on the inclusion of names that sound Bengali Muslim in the final NRC draft." So, is the voice an attempt to defame or to scream about the atrocities, and mental harassment they've sustained for being a "Miya"? With the Islamophobic government of the state, and the nation, and the Bangladeshi-abhorring majority (which includes the language) - what else do you expect them to do if not protest or speak about their situation? All humans have the right to express their feelings, and so do the Miyas. For those who are still thinking that if they consider themselves to be Assamese, why are they translating it to their own language? I guess, if that is your argument, your definition of Assamese is a pretty narrow one. Who is an Assamese? Is he the one whose mother-tongue is Assamese or is he the one who resides in Assam, or is a proud citizen of Assam? For me, Assamese is more of a geographical identity than a linguistic one. So, I believe- any citizen of Assam is an Assamese who abides by the law and order of India regardless of his caste, religion, language and other differences. It is the constitution of India that empowers every community to write, speak and express in their native language. The Miyas fall under the same progressive umbrella of our constitution.

Thus, it is "the" time for us to be democratic in its truest sense, and to consider the voices of our minorities to be equal to us, for otherwise, we will lose the very essence of our diversity.

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Vol. 52, No. 4, Jul 28 -Aug 3, 2019