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Gohain’s “Of 'Miyan' and 'Miyan' Poetry”- A comment

Sutputra Radheye

(Hiren Gohain Sir has been the face of free-thinking, and dialogue for decades now, and I take this as an opportunity to disagree with his opinion, though it doesn’t happen usually. What he has done for, or simply taught our generation about intellectual liberty, and right to speak up is unmeasurable, and it is his footsteps, we try to imitate- keeping the originality our arguments alive.)

 “Resistance is not worth the name if it does not aim at defeat of the enemy. An important lesson from present times. The Deep State allows you to vent an anger and frustration unless you threaten its designs. My dissatisfaction with so-called Miyan poetry arises from this disquiet even though it has now won plaudits from metropolitan patrons.”

If his statement means the cultural resistance through “Miyan” poetry is not worth a name, I would like to humbly disagree. It is worth the name it is getting. Why? Because it is what cultural resistance stands for- an artistic expression in opposition or as criticism to a political, economic, or social group or idea.  And, if some poets intended to direct their art to express their insecurities, and perspective- it should be respected.

Sometimes, the aim of artistic protests is not to speak against a person, but against an idea like racism, bullying, or body shaming. I feel, a broad reading of ‘Miyan’ poetry will delineate their anger against “xenophobic mindset”, “racism”, and their personal fears of injustice in the process of NRC considering the radical Hindutva Nationalism government in power, and the constant attacks on them from the Assamese Ethno-Nationalist organisations. Entrapping it within these themes would be highly inappropriate. There are poems written in ‘Miyan’ dialect that seek justice for their ailing condition, and the blind eye of development. Moreover, the other side of the same coin is self-empowerment. In some of the “Miyan” poems that I have read, what I have seen is a cry for existential acceptance, or a voice asking for their dignity as citizens. Though, I agree that the Deep State often tends to kill protests that hurt their propaganda, but I feel, it is the constitution that is keeping the essence of ‘Miyan’ resistance in democracy alive despite the FIRs, and not the silence they have been accused of in his article. The same argument is true for Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar and Rashid, or artists like Kunal Kamra, Varun Grover, Rahul Ram among many others who have been puissant critics of the authority.

To point out to the assertion of aim, to my knowledge, it is subjective when it comes to poetry. If you will ask for my opinion, I would say that the purpose of poetry is to draw attention or spark a conversation. ‘Miyan’ poetry is exactly doing the same. I feel, that’s their reason as well, as confessed by Abdul Kalam Azad- “The main reasons which led to the rise of Miya poetry—the suffering and humiliation of the Miyas, the existential crisis that is looming over us—are not getting sufficient attention.” (The Caravan)

“Miyan poetry is so far confined to the facebook. It has not been practised in print. That provokes the first doubt. Why not send these poems for publication to Assamese magazines, which are of unimpeachable radical credentials and which have no prejudice against Muslims of whatever origin?  Esp. when these poets emphatically declare their Assamese identification? For one thing it might have aroused sluggish mainstream conscience about plight of immigrant Muslims like Dalit poetry in Maharashtra and found wider support among broad masses.”

It is one’s personal liberty to choose where he wants to publish or showcase his art. And, we all have to agree that in recent times with the upsurge of internet users- web is replacing print media. All the prominent media houses are sneaking their way into social media, and thus, the inclination towards internet publication, to be precise- the social media isn’t astonishing. And, when we talk about preference to internet, we must consider its contribution to eradicate the authoritative censorship culture of many print houses. It provides freedom to write, and express without any certification.

The argument of not sending it for publication to Assamese magazines is paradoxical to his previous articles where he questions their dialect and their reason of not writing in Assamese considering the mass reach of it. How is it paradoxical? It’s simple. If he considers their work as non-Assamese, then asking them to publish in Assamese magazine seems naïve to my eyes. It is for a reason they’re called “Assamese Magazines”. I feel, the reason is more linguistic than geographical. So, will they ever publish a non-Assamese poem? I have doubts about that. Also, will the publishers be willing to take the risk of publishing poetry which can be termed radical in regards to the social construct of the society, and that too from young, and unfamiliar faces? I am a sceptic in this regard.

“Secondly in most Miyan poetry available in print so far (in English rendering) the enemy turns out to be the churlish Assamese who are shown abusing them in a vile manner. This is not uncommon in fact. But why ignore some of the people of purest Assamese origin who have stood up for them and fought against such victimisation? The most important fact is that both immigrant Muslims like those poets and Assamese chauvinists share a common narrative of inherent and unceasing antagonism. But that is a gross distortion of history. The fact is that under the influence of left and democratic ideas the late sixties and the seventies saw a great change in mutual attitudes and a coming together. Many gifted writers of immigrant Muslim origin arose in Assam and were acclaimed. There was an atmosphere of tolerance and fraternity. A student of immigrant Muslim origin became the General Secretary of the biggest and most prestigious college in Assam Cotton College.”

In my opinion, the argument of ignorance of the flagbearers of liberal thinking is pointless. ‘Miyan’ poetry, being a form of protest, is directed towards the Assamese chauvinists, the oppressors in context of the ‘Miyans’ and thus, there is no necessity of mentioning the “good” guys. Yes, there is antagonism, but isn’t there antagonism everywhere? The Marxists found their antagonist in capitalist bourgeoisie class, the liberal in the conservative class, Dalits in the Brahmanical class, and the list goes on. Now taking on the question about distortion of history, I have a question in mind: Is poetry about facts or about perspectives? I believe in the later, and so comes the Rashomon effect in to play. I agree, there was tolerance, but was there acceptance? Do we need to tolerate people, or do we need to accept them? In recent years, regrettably, “Bongal” and “Bangal” are used as synonyms, and the word “Miyan” is a discriminatory remark made to label one as “Bangladeshi”, in the illegal immigrant sense of it.  Though, most of the people are not racist, we must accept the fact that even one man is being discriminated, he has the right to speak up. More than anything, I am defending his right to speak up.

“Then there was a sudden turn in events. The Assam Movement, it can now be said openly, was overtaken if not hijacked by the saffron organisation and its political organ. (They now proudly proclaim it themselves). Leaders of the Assam Movement did not see through the game or underestimated them. Hundreds of saffron workers worked tirelessly in the countryside for years. Their big leaders addressed massive rallies everywhere in Assam. The result was both a currency of virulent hatred of alleged 'Bangladeshis' and a campaign of vicious harassment and persecution against them criminating in the infamous massacre of Nelie. The Miyan poets show no awareness of this. Perhaps for a reason.

In no Miyan poem in spite of the passion and animus is there the faintest hint of any anger or at least unease against such saffron forces. Even if the younger lot may be naive their older leaders are well aware of this, their real enemy. Grapevine has it that some sponsors are in cahoots with the saffron party.”

Do I feel they should protest against the saffron forces? Yes. We all should. Does not doing it take anything away from the poets? No. Considering the fact that it was the members of the Lalung tribe, and the Hindu Assamese speaking who massacred the 2000 “Miyan” souls of Nellie, the sense of linguistic oppression can echo in their poetry. Even though, the people were manipulated by political rallies of a party, it was the people who performed the act. Sometimes, poetry can be confessional or from first person perspective, which can be built on what they have observed or heard from their ancestors without any political right wing motive. So, the sponsor theory can just be another conspiracy theory with no solid proof.

“How does one explain that? There is a strong undercurrent of resentment against the Citizenship Act Amendment Bill. Both indigenous people and immigrants had united in opposition to it. The saffronist are hard put to manage this alliance to suit their agenda. Hence the Deep State which harnesses both soft and hard saffronism with a view to protecting capitalist, feudal and imperialist interests comes to their rescue. Behold! The sudden and vehement upsurge of Miyan potetry.... both safety-valve and diversion.

Is it such an outlandish idea? No, it is now a known fact that the CIA had at one time financed Congress for Cultural Freedom to combat communism and at another time radical Islam and still another time abstract expressionist art to take the wind out of the sail of left radical movements that were gaining popularity.”

To the statement of unification of both indigenous and immigrants in opposition to NRC, I would say, it is partially true. Why? Because that number is a minority. The ethno-nationalistic organizations are working for months now to make NRC a success. From filling complaints against inclusion of non-Assamese people to setting up mass conclaves in favour of it- they’re doing everything that is possible. To speak of the accusation of diversion, I believe, it is a false one. ‘Miyan’ poetry is providing NRC the focus it requires from media, and humanitarian activitists. And, bringing an issue to limelight is the purpose of cultural resistance.

Also, there is no movement except for the ‘Miyan’ poetry movement that is gaining popularity. There was no proper representation of the people whose life would have been affected the most. Though, a few scholars were writing against NRC, it is due to Miyan poetry that the issue have grabbed the eyeballs of intelligentsia, and the mainstream independent media, who are now, all of a sudden, interested in researching about the “Miyans” and their life in regards to NRC.

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Oct 16, 2019


Sutputra Radheye [email protected]

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