A Hatred Politics on Bengalis: A Bloody conflict of the 1960s

Daya Sagar Kalita [Translation by Subrata Roy}

This is an English translation of the article originally written in Assamese by Daya Sagar Kalita, Jorhat. Translated by Subrata Roy

Role of Assam Sahitya Sabha:
Holding in high regard, the Assam Sahitya Sabha has been taking steps since 1917, to improve and preserve the language of the Assamese for the interest of the Assamese. It must be admitted that starting from Padmanath Gohain Baruah, the presidents of different times and other leaders of Assam Sahitya Sabha, have been carrying an unnecessarily intolerant attitude towards the Bengalis that has already been discussed here in the introductory part with facts and figure. Many presidents were also dissatisfied with the Barak Valley. For example, it would be a mistake not to mention Benudhar Rajkhowa, the then president elected from Dhubri session. He spoke very harshly to the Bengalis in that session. When a Bengali gentleman raised his voice in protest, he made him sit down. As a result the people of the locale left the meeting. Surprisingly, he did the same thing from the podium on the next day. Beside, the man Benudhar Rajkhowa had ridiculed Bengalis and compared with Japanese. He said that Bengalis and Japanese both eat fish. If so, then both cats and Bengalis eat fish, so Bengalis should be cats.[36] Such kind of lose annotations were made by the presidents of Assam Sahitya Sabha which were apparently disgraceful.

However, the steps taken by Assam Sahitya Sabha for the development of Assamese language reached its climax in 1960 in a form when they demanded the Assam State Language Act. The first proposal was adopted in March 1950, and State Language Day was celebrated across the state on July 16 in the same year. In 1955, the Assam Sahitya Sabha submitted a memorandum to the Official Languages Commission of Government of India, setting a deadline of the year 1960 and at the same time continued to put pressure at various times on Bimala Prasad Chalia, the then Chief Minister of Assam. They published a pamphlet titled ‘Assam State Language’ and distributed among the Ministers of the Cabinet including MLA, Speaker, and Deputy Speaker with the plans to publish an English book called ‘Assam State Language’. On 19 July 1960, a delegation met Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru. On October 4 and 5, 1960, Assam Sahitya Sabha organized an All-Party Meeting and they strongly demanded therein to make the Assamese language official language of the State.

It seems that Assam Sahitya Sabha took the lead in the language movement of the 1960s. Their writings, plentiful memorandums are the shreds of evidence available in the pages of the booklet, have strengthened their claim furthermore and made them successful to great extent. Despite having all organizational advancements, Assam Sahitya Sabha cannot escape from criticism. The organization that was leading the entire movement from the front could have set an example by controlling the people and playing a strong role in alleviating the conflict situation but in reality, uncountable bloody clashes were allowed to happen in the name of the language. Countless women were tortured but they did nothing except to remain silent spectators. This is where the Assam Sahitya Sabha developed a fault. Besides, it should be noted that some of the extremist activities of the Assam Sahitya Sabha also incited the tribes to move away from Assamese society and cultural life. In contextual reference, enormous instances can be cited here but citing just one instance is enough. 

In 1960, Trailokyanath Goswami went to Shillong with Nilmoni Phukan along with Jatin Goswami being the members of the delegation of Assam Sahitya Sabha. They aimed to spread the Assamese language in Shillong and accordingly they first met Chief Minister Bimala Prasad Chaliha. Bimala Prasad told them to bring confidence to the tribal leaders about the need for the Assamese language. With that, they met with Captain Williamson A Sangma, the leader of the All Party Hill Leaders Conference (APHLC). This was what Trailokyanath Goswami wrote about what happened in Sangma's house, ‘‘many hill leaders were engaged in the discussions at Sangma's house; when we arrived the talks stopped abruptly. When Sangma asked us why we were coming, Nilmoni Phukon began to speak, but Sangma growled before he could finish. Shortly after becoming a member of the Legislative Assembly, Phukon once said in the Legislative Assembly, ‘The state of Assam is only for Assamese’. For that statement, Sangma attacked Phukan and said, "If a leader of Assamese has such an attitude, how can the people of the hill tribes believe in them?" Phukon also replied to this question and as a result, we did not get any sympathy for the purpose for which we went to meet and talk with the hill leaders’’.

Was the 1960’s conflict the outcome of the inner dissension of Congress?
The huge input of the Congress factional conflict to the escalation of the whole movement had been proved from various sources because of the removal of the influential Congress leader Deveshwar Sharma from the cabinet.[37] It’s worthy of attention that the “Praja Socialist Party” (PSP) ventured to subdue the Congress Party and many Congressmen had a conspiratorial hand in it. Many Congress leaders in Assam told Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru that his supporters had staged the clash to put the Chaliha cabinet in a corner for removing Deveshwar Sharma from the cabinet. Meanwhile, considering all aspects, Nehru also raised a motion in the Parliament against Sharma. Nehru said he had heard some such thing that the person who was at that time the Education Minister had introduced him. He had since left the Government or was asked to leave. No doubt he was a somewhat disgruntled person and no doubt these things were encouraged by some persons who were opposed to the Chaliha Ministry.[38]

The real crisis came in 1959 when D.K Barooah lost the election in Nagaon but his supporters thought he lost the election at the instigation of Deveshwar Sharma. The controversy started and Deveshwar Sharma had to resign from the ministry. The clashes erupted shortly after the incident; as a result, the supporters of D. K Barooah once again claimed that since Sharma had been removed from the cabinet thus they started this bloody clash to destabilize the Chaliha cabinet in retaliation. He wrote about this in this way……

“The same persons are trying to utilize the unfortunate language disturbance to bring me to disrepute. The local people know that I have done my best to avert the troubles, to ameliorate the condition of the distressed, and the service I have rendered towards rehabilitating the sufferers, inspiration to certain newspapers in Calcutta have been provided, presumably, from the same newspapers in Assam, who know about my activities, will not subscribe to such views. I consider the language disturbance with violence and destruction of property both as inhuman and anti-national and I strongly resent any insinuation against me as encouraging their fiendish acts’’.[39] 

Many Assamese government officials, including District Magistrates and police officers, were involved in the clashes. It was alleged that police officers assisted the attackers in various ways. The party squabbles in Congress had an impact on the workers of govt. officials. Durgeshwar Sharma and Anand Hazarika, the employees of the office of Deputy Commissioner, Sonitpur District were alleged to be participating directly in the movement. They were openly campaigning that Chaliha's cabinet was useless and Deveshwar Sharma was a real patriot so Sharma deserved to be nominated as the Chief Minister of Assam.[40]

The role of the then Chief Minister Bimala Prasad Chaliha was also very noteworthy. It could be seen that he was skeptical about the question of the state language. He knew that making Assamese the only state language could cast doubt on his political life infuriating the Bengalis, the tribes, and the immigrants of the entire state. Notably, he had to be elected from Badarpur in the Barak Valley after he was defeated from his home constituency, Amguri, District of Sivasagar, and for that need, he was blessed by Moinul Haque Chowdhury, the leader of the Bengali Muslims of the Barak Valley. So he must have thought probably that to make Assamese the state language, he might have lost Badarpur constituency. Nevertheless, due to strong pressure from Assam Sahitya Sabha, Chaliha was forced afterward to enact the Assam State Language Act. 

All Bengalis were also not flawless: 
The argument will be entirely prejudiced if we only condemn Assamese extremism taking into consideration the Bengalis flawless in conclusion. Other than some Assamese, a group of intellectuals from the Bengali community added fuel to flare up extremism in Shillong sloganeering the Assamese language was the language of donkeys. A famous Bengali scholar Nirad Chandra Choudhuri was ill-famed for his anti-Assam outlook. This was revealed in his famous book ‘The Continent of Circe’. He over sighted the conflict of Assamese Bengalis in Assam but saw the conflicts of Mongol Ahoms with the Bengalis. His annotation itself is self-explanatory. He wrote, “In Assam, there existed and still exist a good enmity between the Bengali settlers there and descendants of the Mongoloid Ahom conquerors, kindred of the Shans of Burma, who invaded the country in the thirteenth century. In 1960 it burst out in open rioting in Brahmaputra valley. The behaviors of the contemporary Ahoms were in striking contrast with that of the older Mongolians the hills’.[41] 

He wrote while talking about the government,’Government which was predominated by Ahom’. Above and all, one of his crooked discourses was: ‘The Mongoloid Ahoms only demonstrated the general law afresh. They had accepted Hindu Culture from Bengal and none but a madman will say that their language is not a dialectal offshoot of Bengali. Even the war cry is corrupt Bengali. But in recent years they have developed a very strong sense of an Assamese collective personality with which they have also acquired a violent hatred for the Bengals, who brought them into the Hindu civilization, if not civilization itself. Had they remained the primitives that they were when they came like the Garos, Nagas, Khasis, or Kukis, there certainly would not have been massacres among us Indians. Cannibalism in the manner of speaking, is the product, not of, the savage state but of the civilized...‘’[42] 

From his narrative statements, we can easily infer two things; firstly, he was in the heap of praise on the Aryans, secondly, he was carrying a burden of misconceptions about Assam.

Even more frightening was the fact that after the death of Ranjit Barpujari, a doctor from Calcutta issued a falsified postmortem report. In this regard, a well-known writer Dr. Mahendra Bora penned extensively in his autobiography.

On that day Dr. Jagadish Medhi told us that a forensic expert in Kolkata said it was suspicious that Ranjit Barpujari was shot in the head because he did not get a bullet inside his head. Besides, if a bullet hit the back of the head, was there not a possibility of getting a bullet inside the head? Couldn't the bullets have gone off without a shot? Later it was asked whether the forensic expert had any evidence that Ranjit Barpujari did not have a swelling on the back of his head. Dr. Bora wrote, ‘’Dr. Jagadish Medhi brought a few skulls from the museum, and with the help of those skulls, he began to interrogate the expert of Calcutta. Dr. Mahendra Bora wrote the words in this way…….[43] 

‘Putting the skulls on the table, he asked, ‘Do you admit that if you shoot down like this at the back of the head, the bullets can go somewhere? Although, he agreed with his interrogative discourse. 

Dr. Medhi asked again, ‘Does he have any reason to claim that the back of the head of Assamese people is not raised like this? Let me remind you, Ranjit Barpujari was as Assamese’’. On that day, the expert was embarrassed to fall into the trap of such interrogation. 

Meanwhile, advocate Joy Choudhury asked, ‘What are your professional qualifications? 

 ‘MBBS’, replied by the forensic expert.

Joy Choudhury exclaimed, ‘With this qualification Forensic report’! Good Acting![44]

It should be mentioned here that a forensic expert from Calcutta issued a report mentioning that Ranjit Barpujari’s head was injured when he tried to jump over the sharp-edged iron fence and stumbled later on the paved floor and died.[45] On the attack, Dr. Bora also wrote to his dear one friend Akshay Dutta. On the other hand, shortly after that incident, a few houses of Assamese people were attacked in the western Railway lane adjacent to Shilpukhuri. He further wrote during that time in 1960, some bureaucrats and the police personnel inside the administration started a conspiracy against the state of Assam. One of them was PB Pabbi, the Superintendent of Police, on whose order the students were shot. Dr. Bora further wrote that P B Pubby often intimidated the teachers and students of Cotton College. He once told Dr. Hari Prasanna Das that he would not hesitate to shoot down 50 students, if necessary.

Now I must let you in on a secret, on July 6, 1960, P B Pubby lined up the students on the road of southwest highways of the Hostels with 15 Border Guard police merely to discover the source of the fire of a small room of the Hostel No. 2. Shortly afterward, he fired a shotgun aiming at the students, keeping a barrel of gunpoint on the iron fence. As a result, Ranjit Barpujari died tragically and nine more students were injured. Notably, a group of people gathered in the yard of a nearby Telecom Building during the shooting who were overjoyed to see the shooting. There is a good reason to suspect that some of them carried out the conspiracy by setting fire to the house as someone called the police and informed them that the fire was engulfing all around.[46] As a consequence, literary figure Mahendra Bora had to quit his job at Cotton College only because of writing against the murder of Ranjit Barpujari.

Sahitya Sabha Award to the author of the book 'Itihashe Sakiyaai':
The two most famous provocative works of Assamese literature are ‘Mati Kar’ (Land of Whom) and ‘Itihashe Sakiyaai’ (Warning of History). Both the books were authored by Hitesh Deka. The first is based on the conflict of the 1950s and the second is based on the language movement of the 1960s. Before and after 1960, Deka's work was widely criticized. In ‘Mati Kar’, Deka used the Santhal tribes as a shield and provoked the mass killing of ‘Pamua’. On the other hand, the novel, ‘Itihashe Sakiyaai’ is full of communal incitement against Bengalis. In this novel, the grounding of caste-religion communalism was canvassed with a bizarre summation of Assamese, Hindu, Bengali, Pamua Muslims, and tribes. In the novel, Moinul Haque Chowdhury was portrayed as “Anahak Chowdhury”, Nicholas Roy as “Nucleus”, and Williamson A Sangma as “Alexander Sangma”. It can easily be deciphered that the names are satire indicative of sheer neglect. For some time or so, let us admit that a handful of Bengalis conspired against Assam. But what was the fault of the ethnic people? Most of the Assamese people were silent on the question of their advancement those who wanted to impose the Assamese language on the people of Manipuri, Khasi, and Naga, etc. Whether people like Khasi, Manipuri, etc. wanted Assamese the state language or not - there are long historical questions involved in. These questions were related to underdevelopment, deprivation, exploitation, caste, and religion, etc. Hiding all this, he did awful damage to the tribes of the hills by casting ‘villains’ of Assamese with contempt. The reader can easily decipher an excerpted piece from the dialogue of this novel. 

A secret meeting was going on between Mr. Mukherjee and Mr. Nucleus in Shillong town. Mr. Nucleus was anxiously asking. ‘’Suggest what we should do now Mr. Mukherjee?’’

Mr. Mukherjee replied, ‘The entire Shillong will heat up if the fake news that a Khasi nurse of Guwahati Civil Hospital is abducted and tortured by an Assamese gangster and the Khasis will beat Assamese wherever they find them in Shillong for revenge’.

’Well done! Your intelligence is great! We will discuss today and send people to Guwahati. You gave quite a good advice! Thank you Mr.Mukherjee!, Replied by
Mr. Nucleus.[47] 

This is what the pattern of inferior provocative literature of Hitesh Deka. But, surprisingly, this Hitesh Deka was awarded the seat of President in 1995 session of Assam Sahitya Sabha.  Besides, Reverend J. J. M Nicholas Roy desired liberal mentality and international thinking from the people of the plains of Assam, so the editor of ‘Ramdhenu’, Kirti Nath Hazarika titled him in his article ‘North-East Frontier Niharika, 'You too Brutus'’. Later, Hazarika also became the president of Assam Sahitya Sabha.

Ambikagiri was attacked by Assamese people in 1960:
At times, Amalendu Guha and Devabrata Sharma have critically analyzed Ambikagiri Roychowdhury. Mahendra Bora once penned that he had been with Ambikagiri Roychowdhury for a long time. Besides, Roychowdhury was a true lover of Assam and this was his admiration towards Assam gradually made him an aficionado of Assamese partisanship. He made immeasurable fidgety and took childish decisions that had been discussed earlier. Almost certainly, Raghunath Choudhury labeled him 'insane' because Ambikagiri gave much significance to his unstable arguments irrationally. On the other hand, despite firmly criticizing Ambikagiri , a researcher like Devabrata Sharma did not even label him extreme chauvinist, unlike Nilmoni Phukan. However, it’s noteworthy that a man, who did not hesitate to insult Bengalis now and then, was outraged by the Assamese people in 1960. Mahendra Bora was the man who was the eyewitness of such an incident. He transcribed that a group of unsound minds encircled Ambikagiri's house on July 6, 1960, and attacked him for giving shelter to two Bengali families in his house. Eventually, Bora came to his house and saw three hundred people in a group started shouting to evict the Bengalis who had been taken shelter; otherwise, they would burn down the house. Suddenly someone from that crowd uttered, pointing to Ambikagiri, that the man who had been giving a favorable speech in support of Assamese sheltered the Bengalis in his house; so if the Bengalis were not evicted then they would burn down the whole house. To control the situation, Ambikagiri repeatedly tried to explain the crowds that the girl had a fever so they came to his house merely to take shelter, nothing else. Ambicagiri exclaimed, ‘how can I be inhuman to them now’! As soon as the two young men forcefully tried to enter into the house, Ambikagiri immediately stopped them and said that if they step forward, they had to go over his dead body. At that moment, Mahendra Bora stood up in front of Ambikagiri and said angrily, "before you touch Ambikagiri, you have to go all over my body’. Just then a police car came, and Bora stopped the car, and then the policemen tried to convince the people tactfully. Just then, someone from the crowds, a known face of Bora spoke out, ‘‘before sending them with the police, get them out once in front of us. We promise we won't touch the girls.” Looking at Ambikagi, he further said, ‘don’t delay, if you do so, you will suffer more’’. However, the police somehow took the sheltered people out with great complicacy and on their way, the insane crowds also tried to inflict two blows on them. Heigh! Are Assamese people so much bloody-minded? Are they so crazy?  However, the central question is, did the speeches like ‘bangalie desh khelo’ (Bengalis destroyed the State) uttered by Ambikagiri added to the injury that welcomed such kind of insanity? Believe me, to tell the truth, Ambikagiri, despite being the pioneer of extremism, succumbed to the humanist more, on that day.[48] [49] [50]

The compensatory expenditure during 1960s conflict and the refugee problem:
This information has been extracted from ‘Correspondence Relating to Language Riots of 1960’ of Assam State Archives. At that time many people in the state lost everything due to many unpleasant activities like looting, arson, etc. So it became necessary to arrange a loan for their rehabilitation. That is why the government guaranteed to arrange to give a loan of Rs.1000 to each affected person with an immovable property of equal value taken into consideration to ensure the recovery of the loan. On the other hand, those whose houses were set on fire were given an additional Rs 50 as a relief amount along with a loan to buy essential items. In the document, the concerned secretariat had given a list of grants and loans in aid as restoration to be sent to the affected districts. The list follows in details;



Restoration Grant in aid (Rs)

Restoration Loan (Rs)



































Here, it's worth mentioning that the districts mentioned in the list are the then undivided districts of the Brahmaputra valley. In this list, Sivasagar District means the present day of Sivasagar including Jorhat and Golaghat. Now the main point is that with the number of grants and loans mentioned in the list, we can easily estimate the severity of the losses in the districts, and accordingly the highest number of grants and loans were provided in Kamrup District. The total amount of loan and grant in aid in this district was Rs 13,75000/-. That indicates more damage was done to this district whereas Nagaon in second place. The total loan and grant in aid for those districts were Rs 5,50,000/-. Lakhimpur and Goalpara districts were in the third place. The loans and grants in aid in toto amounted to Rs 3,30,000/- for each of these two districts. On the other hand, Sivasagar and Darang districts were in fourth place. The total allocation for these two districts was Rs 2,75,000/-.

From this given statistic we can easily conclude that only in Kamrup district, excluding Nagaon, more money was allocated than Darang, Sivasagar, Lakhimpur, Goalpara districts. This shows how much damage was done to the districts. A total of Rs. 31,35,000 was sanctioned alone in the Brahmaputra Valley. The then Secretariat Office of Assam directed all the concerned district appointees to identify the real victims and to keep a record of all loans and grants that were disbursed by August 1, 1960. In this entire incident 4382 people were arrested and 990 people were released on bail.[51]

Today, after 60 years of the language movement since 1960, it’s the time to analyze thoroughly and keenly what Assam exactly gained and what it has lost. Even after the disintegration of Greater Assam, the state witnessed innumerable forms of heinous genocides as a result of extremism in the name of language. The State had watched many conflicts; one community versus another, one language versus another, and one brother versus another. Is this not the fruits of the poisonous trees that have been consciously or unconsciously sown earlier? History bears witness to the fact that a State and its language or religion can never prosper by murder, oppression, or any form of brutal aggression. It’s noteworthy to highlight that the greatness of prosperity can only be achieved through a sense of mutual brotherhood and harmony. For instance, English is the world’s most popular language today being spoken widely accepted by all willingly, spontaneously, and cheerfully. But, this has happened not because of the reason that Shakespeare wrote all of his great works in English and the British spread it all over the world later. To accept the truth, there are many other reasons behind its extensive popularity. Therefore, the idea to make the Assamese language prosperous further if only all Bengalis are driven out from Assam is nothing but a sheer misconception. It’s unfortunate to note that ethnolinguistic politics is still going on in Assam. On the other hand, even after such bloody movement, why the Assamese middle class are showing their back towards their language today? The unpleasant unfeigned truth is that today's middle class perhaps thinks that the lives of their children are not secure in Assamese language. Moreover, it’s also a matter of a judgmental question hour need to be asked how many children from the family of the then agitators studied to the Assamese schools. Remember, it’s said a language is not just words. It’s a culture, a tradition, a unification of a community, a whole history that creates what a community is. It’s all embodied in a language. Can anyone answer wisely what steps have been taken to make the Assamese language popular in the global field in the last 60 years? All these questions must have to be answered by Assam Sahitya Sabha. It would not be wrong to conclude that the terrible movement of the 1960s gave nothing rather it produced extremism, opportunism, and the politics of hatred. Even after the disintegration of the concept of Greater Assam, the rest of Assam is in turmoil over ethnicity and religion, even the issue of development, unemployment, flood, etc. remain suppressed and these fundamental issues of the common people in general substituted merely by power monger politics. For the glorification of homestead, Assamese nationhood and to glorify further in spreading its traditional language with dignity, the new generation educated class, of course, yearns from other organizations like Assam Sahitya Sabha to act as like as a responsible vigilant but certainly, none will expect furthermore any kind of hooliganism or any kind of authoritarian approach from any. In a true sense, if Assamese language has to triumph over the world, then they must practise the art of accepting the others with love and affection in extension the bond of friendship and brotherhood. We all are acquainted with the fact that the first condition of extremism is created with an 'imaginary enemy' among the masses and a community, and its language and religion can never be great with any kind of inhuman thoughtfulness. The controversial area under discussion over ‘Hatred on Bengali’ and ‘the crisis of Assamese language’ is consequently a large subject that cannot be concluded in one write-up. But the reader will be pleased to know that on the history of Assam, a big work project has been taken as a task at the Jatiya Bhavan in Malow Ali, Jorhat called 'Complete National History of Assam wherein sooner or later we will lay our hands over the pages in the book.

36. Devabrata Sharma; ibid; Page 251.
37. Sukumar Biswas; ibid; Page 150.
38. NMML Papers; ibid. Pg. 338.
39. Ibid; Page. 339.
40. Assam Commissioner (1960): State Language issue. Complaints against Government Servants who took part in the Disturbances. File No C.416/60/pt.ii
41. Choudhury, Nirad Ch; The Continent of Circe, 1987. Bombay; Jaico Publishing House; page. 36.
42. Ibid; Pg. 37
43. Ramesh Chandra Kalita; Tattba tathya itihāsa āru bitarka; 2014, Gawhati, ākhar prakāś; Page 224
44. Mahendra Bora; upalā nadīr dharē, 2005, Dhemaji, kiraṇ prakāśana; Page 247-248.
45. ibid;Pg. 242
46. ibid;Pg. 242
47. ibid;Pg. 242
48. Hitesh Deka's works; Volume II, 2005; Guwhati; Chandra Prakash; Pages 65-66.
49. Devabrata Sharma; ibid; Page 185.
50. Mahendra Bora; ibid; Page 248-250
51. Assam State Archive: Correspondence Relating to Language Riots, 1960.

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Oct 10, 2020

Subrata Roy

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