Looking Back

Politics of Hatred

Daya Sagar Kalita

After 1955, the final stage of the Assamese-Bengali conflict was the Bengali Language Movement, which took its shape in 1960. All Assamese took this movement as the last battle of Saraighat to protect the Assamese language and literature and indiscriminately took a belligerent attitude against the Bengalis. But most of the time, inevitably, the people who came out to defend the State turned out as oppressors.

For one thing, there has been no significant research analysis of the language movement of the 1960s to date. With the introduction of the 'State Reorganization Proposal' of 1955, the question of recognition of state language in every state was also raised and Assam was not out of exception. But some anti-Assam people in Assam started a movement against it. They smashed the nameplates written in Assamese in some places and raised the slogan 'The Assamese language is the language of donkeys'. Meanwhile, on July 4, 1960, police opened fire on protesters on the streets. Ranjit Barpujari was shot dead on the spot while he was talking with the hostel students of Cotton College. In the same year on July 7, Mofizuddin Ahmed of Dimaruguri Narottam village near Nagaon town was killed. In front of the normal school on Shankar Mission Road in Nagaon, Matiullah Hazarika's son Mofizuddin was shot dead by unidentified gunmen. On October 10, 1960, Chief Minister Bimala Prasad Chaliha introduced a bill on language in Assam Legislative Assembly, immediately Ramendra Mohan Das, MLA of North Karimganj constituency opposed it. Amid protests, the Bill was passed on 24 October in Assam Legislative Assembly. In response, on 5th February 1961 under the leadership of Rathindra Sen 'Cachar Gana Sangram Parishad' was formed and called a complete strike on May 19 and as a result, many people including Rathindra Sen and Bidhu Bhushan Choudhury were arrested. In the meantime, one of the tragic barbaric incident took place on 19th May in the context of the language movement. Police opened fire near Silchar Tarapur Railway station where nine people died there on spot and two died later in the Hospital. On the other hand, a Public Relations Officer of the Northeast Frontier Railway Surya Bora was brutally killed by some miscreants at the Siliguri Railway Station. The killings were so brutal that his body was not found.

The attack on Bishwaprasad Basu, editor of the Bengali weekly 'Desh-Bani', in Guwahati was the first incident of the 1960's clashes. His only crime was to utter in public 'Bangla' as the second state language of Assam.

On 20 May 1960, a Bengali manager of the Guwahati oil refinery was attacked. The Assamese were angry complaining that the Assamese were not given enough jobs in the refinery. But then Feroze Gandhi, the chairman of Indian Oil Refinery, stepped in Guwahati and stated that the allegations were completely false saying that 66.7% of employees are Assamese. He further stated, many people with high technical knowledge had been employed there citing an instance of a female employee who holds the surname 'Deka'.

This was followed by widespread violence in Simaluguri, Dibrugarh, Nagaon, and other areas. The Railway stations were often targeted rioters attacking the passengers with bricks, stones, and sticks. The trains were stopped at Sivasagar, Mariani, Tinsukia, and other places in Assam in search of Bengali passengers. On June 5, 1960, a group of miscreants targeted Bengali students, thrown stones at them in Dibrugarh. On the other hand, the shops of the Bengali traders of the city were looted.

In July 1960, clashes took place in Kamrup, Jagiroad, Chaparmukh, Jamunamukh, Hojai, Yogijan, and other areas. There were massive attacks on railway stations in those areas where railway security guards were beaten up by armed assailants.

On 2 July 1960, there was a massive clash in Shillong, the then capital of Assam where about 14 people were stabbed.

Two days later, on July 4, one of the most horrific events of the language movement took place. On that day, terrible communal clashes started near Cotton College. Many shops were set on fire. The Police fired to control the situation. Ranjit Barpujari, a student of Sivasagar, was gossiping with his friends on the verandah of the hostel of Cotton College but he was shot to death. Six more students were also badly injured. The injured were Amit Bhattacharjee, Netradhar Das, Tilak Hazarika, Bhupendra Nath Sharma, Rudra Gohain, and Amar Hazarika.

On the death of Ranjit Barpujari, angry mobs surrounded the Bungalow of District Magistrate P L Shome and from the crowds, someone stabbed him and in a bloody condition, he was admitted to the hospital. The death of Ranjit Barpujari gave a new dimension to the conflicting environment. The fire of conflict spread all over Assam attacking only Bengalis. Two people were killed in an attack on the Narangi Railway Station in Guwahati where from the Station was abducted but it was not clear aftermath who abducted him. On the same day, an agent of Jugantar and Amritbazar newspaper was stabbed to death in Palashbari, Guwahati.

On July 5, a group of miscreants killed a railway doctor in Pandu and brutally tortured his wife. On the same day in Goreshwar, a group of five miscreants opened fire on 13 Bengali villages. Around 3,000 houses were set on fire and 25-30 people were injured. The Bengali officer who was in charge of Palashbari police station was killed on that day. The pharmacist of the hospital in that area was chopped to death. Bengali Railway workers in Narangi were attacked on 5 July at 10 o'clock wherein two Bengalis died instantly. At the same time, a Bengali and another Bihari employee of the Central Khadi Board were brutally beaten.

On July 6, two Bengalis were stoned to death in Tezpur. One of them was Gopal Dey. Some schools were also set on fire. On the same day at noon, five hundred people attacked the house of Kanailal Adhikari at Jamunamukh in Nagaon District at the time when he was not at home. His wife Kusum Bala fled with her mother-in-law and two young children to the nearby forest. But sadly, Kanailal Adhikari never returned home.

Brindavan Roy of Nagaon Kampur slum area who used to run his family by selling tea went out on the morning of July 5th but in the evening people saw his body lying on the side of the road.

On July 6, a group of miscreants set fire to 60 houses in a village, five miles from Barpeta which resulted the death of four people. On the other hand, a total of 34 Bengalis were stabbed in Tinsukia, Nagaon on the same day. On the same day, Shishir Nag, a rising youth from Nagaon, a youth leader of the RCPI, a student of Nagaon College and also a joint secretary of the Nagaon District Committee of the 'Assam State Language Student Action Council', was killed and after three days his body was found in Kolong River. Two people were also killed in Nagaon that day by gunfire.

On the night of July 7, fierce clashes broke out in the main areas of the Bengali settlement in North Kamrup. On the morning of July 8, police recovered five bodies from the area.

On 9 July at Chabua, about 500 people attacked the Bengali employees of Tea Garden with sharp axes and sticks, and in the attack four people were killed and 35 were injured.

At around 11:30 pm on July 9, a large crowd gathered at the house of Paresh Chandra Chakraborty, a small trader in Laokhowa Bazar, Nazira. His house was set on fire by pouring petrol. When his son Harul Chakraborty tried to get out of the house, people grabbed him and threw him into the blazing fire. The other family members somehow managed to escape through the fence and could identify some attackers.

On the night of July 9, 1960, at 9 o'clock hundreds of people attacked the house of Hari Ranjan Dutt, a newspaper hawker, in Noakhali Colony, Guwahati at a time when his wife Mukul Rani Dutt was at home. Although Mukulrani and his son somehow managed to escape, Hari Ranjan Dutt went missing on forever.

On July 10, 1960, Birendra Kumar Dev, the owner of Kamakhya Restaurant in Nagaon, was attacked with the dagger, was injured badly, and could manage to save his life by hiding it behind the rock.

On July 11, 1960, horrific clashes took place at Sivasagar, Golaghat, and Jorhat wherein one person was killed and 36 others were injured in the Golaghat subdivision whereas in Lichubari, three people were killed and six others were injured.

On the same day, Satyabrata Nandi, an employee of the Central Excise Department, the eldest son of Surendra Kumar Nandi of Silchar was brutally killed at Rajmai Tea Garden in Sivasagar District.

On 12 July 1960, another large number of Bengalis were chased away from Shivsagar, North Lakhimpur and Jorhat. As a result, an Assistant Station Master of Nakasari Station was seriously injured. Meanwhile, a man was also stabbed. On 13 July, a Bengali Excise Inspector was killed in a tea garden, thirty miles far from Dibrugarh, at a time when all four family members of an employee of Digboy tea garden were killed.

On July 14, Dr Ghatak, a doctor of Khumtai Tea Estate, 26 km from Guwahati, and Gopal Bhattacharjee, a warehouse assistant were stabbed. Similarly, on 17 August, a man named Saroj Dasgupta was killed in Dhubri.

Meanwhile, a Public Relations Officer of North East Frontier Railway, Surya Bora was brutally killed. He was going to Calcutta by train for depart mental work but he was killed at Siliguri Railway Station. Similarly, Hareshwar Goswami and his family were also humiliated on July 8 in Siliguri. He was the Speaker of the Assam Legislative Assembly.

On May 19, 1961, eleven innocent Bengali protesters were shot dead by police near Silchar Railway Station, Tarapur. They were Kamala Bhattacharjee, Sachindra Chandra Paul, Birendra Sutradhar, Tarani Mohan Debnath, Chandi Charan Sutradhar, Hitesh Biswas, Kumud Ranjan Das, Satyendra Dev, Sunil Sarkar, Kanai Lal Niyogi, Sukmal Purkayastha.

Shortly afterward, on June 19, police also shot dead 11 Muslim supporters of the Assamese language in Hailakandi in Cachar District. They were Sikandar Ali, Muzaffar Ali, Mahmud Ali, Amir Hussain, Matiur Rahman, Nezamat Ali, Siddique Ali, Surman Ali, Rahman Ali, Mafur Ali, Murmia Ali.

Here are just a few of the key events that have had a huge impact. Countless such incidents took place in Assam during the language movement, as a result of which the fire of hatred engulfed the whole State of Assam. And it continues still. The controversial Citizenship Law seems to have revived old 'politics of hatred' with an added dimension of communal polarisation.

[Translated from original Assamese by Subrata Roy]

Vol. 53, No. 17, Oct 25 - 31, 2020