Has Fear Lynched My Conscience?
ABDUL KALAM AZAD
GUWAHATI: These days, I often ask myself ‘am I scared?’
I keep checking my ‘conscience’ – is it dead or about to die an unnatural death because of the ‘fear’ which is engulfing me slowly but steadily every passing day. To be honest, growing up in one of the most prejudiced societies; fear has been a companion since my adolescence.
I grew up in Assam - the land of Srimanta Sankardev who spread neo-vaisnavite movement in this part of the country. His movement outlined the foundation of greater Assamese society, which was inclusive of all castes, creeds and communities. Yes, gurujona’s Assamese society included Muslims too! Chandasai, a Muslim was one of his most devoted disciples.
However, I was born in post-Nellie Assam. Nellie a place just 60 kilometers from Guwahati witnessed one of the largest massacres in the world in 1983. More than 3000 innocent Muslims were butchered in broad daylight.
Perhaps, Nellie is the last nail in the coffin of inclusive greater Assamese society. The greater share this credit should go to civil society for maintaining complete radio silence on the question of justice to the victims.
A dangerously polarized society identified my community as alien to this place even before my birth. Various adjectives, precisely which are derogatory and dehumanizing in nature were added before or after my identity. I grew up swallowing abuse and rejection on every other occasion.
I was growing up in a hostile world around me; which kept me scared. I was scared of being bullied, denied of my wage and perpetuating physical and mental torture by anyone only because of my identity. One day, a group of stray youths physically assaulted my rickshaw puller uncle who gently refused to push a vehicle due to his health ailment. In front of my eyes, they kicked his stomach, my middle-aged uncle pleaded for mercy with his folded hands.
As a seventh standard young kid, I was scared; I moved fast and disappeared in lane behind the rolling mill and reached the slum-like rented house in Lalganesh area of Guwahati city. I couldn’t sleep that night; whenever I closed my eyes, the same scene repeated like a motion picture.
It was not just the unruly bullies; I was scared of my governments too, including the so-called Muslim appeaser Indian National Congress led governments. My uncle who was physically abused by the bullies lost his land to erosion and moved to another village; police framed him as an illegal immigrant from Bangladesh despite the fact that his father was agovernment teacher and whose service was initiated by the colonial government way before the words ‘Bangladesh’ and ‘Pakistan’ came into being! He faced the abuse, and fought his case courageously and defended his Indian citizenship.
But his elder brother couldn’t bear the burn. One day while coming back from the foreigner’s tribunal he collapsed midway and succumbed to the stroke.
In Assam millions have been uprooted by river erosion, climate change has accelerated this displacement in the last few years. Once they get displaced from one place, the risk of being labelled as illegal immigrant increases manifold. There are few hundred thousand people framed as ‘doubtful voters’ , or reference cases have been slapped on them just because of their identity. Most of them are victims of flood and erosion who need to shift their house often. Many of them are languishing in the Nazi Concentration Camps styled detention centre across the state.
Data suggests that more than 90 per cent of the detainees didn’t the get the opportunity to present their side of the story before the court as their case were settles ex-partite. The new government in Assam has increased the number of the detention centres and foreigners tribunal and proposed one gigantic detention centre in Goalpara in western Assam. These are deadly and fearful events unfolding before us and obviously make us all scared.
However, I navigated through my fear, anguish and hope for a better future. I dreamed for reconciliation, peaceful co-existence and a dignified life for everyone guaranteed by Indian Constitution, including the Muslims. Unfortunately, the 2014 general election shuttered my dream completely. The fear of another Nellie like genocide occupied my mind when the then NDA Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi kick- started a campaign by alleging that the much adored one horned rhinos in Assam were killed to clear the land to settled Bangladeshis! Days after his speech nearly fifty Muslims mostly women and children were massacred by militants in league with forest guards.
The rhetoric initiated by PM Narendra Modi eventually revived the four decade old issue of illegal immigration once again in Assam. Without providing justice to the victims of massacres like Nellie, Chaolkhuwa, Mukalmua etc or proving the deceased to be illegal immigrants - another round of campaign has started against the Bengal origin Assamese Muslim community. In the 2016 assembly election, the rhetoric worked and for the first BJP led government came into power in Assam.
The new government in Assam started evicting the climate induced internally displaced persons living across various government lands across the state. As per the government data, by the end of 2016 more than 3500 families (more than 20000 people) were forcefully evicted. Many of the families were evicted from their patta land without any compensation and rehabilitation. Two persons were killed in police firing during forceful eviction and two children died in post eviction IDP camp.
Nobody questioned the government’s inhumane attitude against its own people – this was bone shivering dreadful. The local media played the role of cheerleaders for the government and sometimes as extended arms of the government. Hardly anyone raised a voice against the injustice meted out to one of the most persecuted communities. Even, I too just wrote a ceremonial article and didn’t ask the government why it didn’t rehabilitate the IDPs. Maybe I am too scared.
I sincerely have started believing that I am not the only scared person in the country. I could see a kafila of terrified young men and women who normally used to be the vanguard in any resistance movement against injustice. While seeing the social media videos of lynchings, every day, I am getting convinced that it’s not only mine; but our collective conscience is dying an unnatural death. Otherwise, how could I skip the news and videos of lynching and thrashing of innocent people? It is fear that is stopping us from raising a voice and asking the government to put an end to this brutality!