By Ram Puniyani
An FIR was registered against 10 Assamese poets (July 10, 2019). These poets mostly Muslims; have been pioneers and are leading lights of what has come to be known as Miyah Poetry. One sample, by the initiator of this trend; Hafiz Ahmed goes like this
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?
Many of these poems are reflecting the anguish of the Muslims who are labelled as Bangla Deshis and face the ignominy of being called foreigner. These poems are in different local dialects, some in Assamese, and some in English. The FIR states, “By these lines, the accused persons are creating an image of our state as a barbarian state in the eyes of the world which is a threat to the security of the Nation in general and Assam in particular…”
Some critics said that this poetry since it uses local dialects is an insult to the Assamese language. In the face of this criticism, Ahmed apologized. He also stated that he has been a part of Assamese language promotion movement, so there is no question of his being against Assamese language. The issue which the whole episode raises is multiple. To begin with, all this is taking place in the backdrop of citizenship in Assam. Assam had a significant Muslim population at the time of partition, to the extent that Mr Jinnah wanted Assam to be part of Pakistan. On the top of that Assam saw multiple migrations of Hindu and Muslims both at the time of India’s partition in 1947 and later with the formation of Bangla Desh. There has been a continuous flux of population, and the immigrants were both Hindus and Muslims.
With the NRC process going on in Assam, the tragedy has hit nearly 40 lakh people as they do not possess the relevant documents, and their names are missing in the first list. As agenda of Hindu nationalism is unfolding itself at a rapid pace; the Citizenship Amendment Bill talks of granting citizenship to Sikhs, Jain and Hindus but not to Muslims. As the final list of NRC is going to be out on August 31, the tension all round is that from those excluded in the register, the Hindus will fit into the amended bill and gain citizenship while Muslims will have to suffer exclusion. The recent case of Md. Sanaullah, a retired army officer, being sent to the detention camp shows the possibility of very legitimate citizens being expelled and deprived of their fundamental rights. Mr Amit Shah’s intent of extending the NRC exercise to the whole country is fraught with possibility where the citizenship is likely to be linked to religion.
What does this Miya Poetry, the poetry of protest reflect? To begin with, it is very clear that it is not against Assames or against Assam. Mostly it is an expression of anguish and pain of Muslims. The local citizens have been continuously facing the charge of being ‘foreigners’. This includes mostly Muslim. First the whole exercise of ‘Doubtful voter’ D Voter, then the Foreigners tribunal pushing people into detention camps, and this exercise of National Register of Citizens. The citizenship of people has been on a continuous Test. While Hindus, Bangla speaking, are also targeted, there is a respite for them in the Amended Citizenship bill which regards Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains as refugees and Muslims as infiltrators. As such the Muslim community has been undergoing constant labelling. The process of singling out Muslims as foreigners, ‘Go to Pakistan’, being the constant threat to some Muslims leaders and prominent citizens, who express their opinion or criticize the ruling dispensation.
During last couple of decades the global Islamophobia, in the aftermath of 9/11 2001 and associating Islam with terror, the politics of control of oil being given a garb of religion, has gone on a global level. At the national level, with the massive violence of 1992-93, Gujarat 2002 and Muzzarfarnagar 2013, the popular perceptions about Muslim community have taken a nosedive. Indian Muslim community, which shares with other religious communities, the syncretic traditions of the land and has been the part of the social life here, has been propagated to be the threat to the majority community. The responses of the targeted community come in various forms. My first surprise was around 2005-2006 when a major section of Indian Muslims, writers, social workers, scientist came together to discuss the theme ’What it means to be a Muslim in India today?’ The growing ghettoization is the major response of current times. The rising hold of conservative elements within the community is directly the outcome of the insecurity being perceived by this community.
The Miyah poetry, in a way, expresses the turmoil through which Muslim community is passing in Assam in particular. Many of this turmoil are applicable in other parts of the country as well. Citizenship recognition is basic to the life of individuals. In Assam, Miyah, which are normally honorific title; has come to mean Bangladeshi Muslim; an infiltrator; a foreigner. It is used as a derogatory term in popular parlance. Those who value democratic ethos need also to look into the inner turmoil’s of the community, which is being targeted, is looked down upon.
The expressions of anguish are multi-layered. We saw the protest of Dalits in the powerful poetry of the likes of Namdeo Dhasal, J V Pawar among others. The women’s movement has thrown up the rich literature in India, reflecting the travails of the ‘Half the Sky’. All this needs to be received as the pain of fellow citizens as we aspire to build a society with equality. The touching poems need to be honoured and respected. Attempts should be made to work towards an India where the values of a freedom movement, which united us into a single fraternity are promoted and upheld.