NRC and CAB is very much a part of our history now. NRC, in particular, have been an extraordinary exercise in identifying a citizen in the state of Assam in India’s Northeast. These are a list of the articles that members of Pangsau Collective have critically engaged with the multiple concerns that is intrinsic to the NRC process. Spread over an year, these articles have appeared in forums such as Fountain Ink, Newslaundry, Asia Times, LSE South Asia Blog, Sabrang, Countercurrents, The Wire and The Statesman. We as a collective stand affirm in our commitment against all forms of discrimination, humiliation and injustice that grips our times. We also stand unconditionally against all forms of academic endogamy and philistinism that have created an exercise in academic and intellectual field which suffocates critical thinking and freedom to think.
This article is a rebuttal to Sanjib Baruah’s piece in The Indian Express where he makes mockery of Hanif Khan, a victim of the NRC process. He also presents enforced settlements as normal human condition, a fate to be endured for some.
2. Saikia, P.J. & Gogoi, S. (2018, July 2) The silence of the media: National Register Of Citizens in Assam, Newslaundry.
People have been waiting to be reported, deported, identified, excluded, humiliated and perhaps, to be loved. They all hope to be included. The waiting and exclusion have caused deep trauma, anxiety and fear. Hanif Khan and Akram Uddin Barbhuiya and Anwar Hussain are memento moris of the effects of this exclusion. In essence, the NRC has managed to reinforce social hierarchies and deepen social differences, and in the process integrated the dominant culture of the state. Moreover, the language used to define and describe the process of NRC is not only misleading, but also aimed at creating an environment of fear psychosis and xenophobia.
A writer should always stand with the victim, above anyone else. An intellectual should alleviate human suffering, not celebrate it. Such a practice also serves as a public memory, one which speaks against the fixed nature of truths—of contemporary events and history. Now, when we look at contemporary Assam, a public intellectual or any writer that speaks against authority—both of state and culture—in the context of the NRC and the Bill, is targeted, savaged on social media, and even accused of creating social tension. In essence, the public sphere in Assam is such that there is no intellectual freedom and it has become impossible to condemn anything.
4. Saikia, P.J. & Gogoi, S. (2018, August 2) How NRC legitimised xenophobia and chauvinism in Assam, Newslaundry.
Fascism is the other side of nationhood. The NRC as an exercise shows us its potential as a legitimate bureaucratic infrastructure that can shelter xenophobia and chauvinism, while acting as a machine to create anxiety and social pain. Intimidation, silencing and hounding are already at display in the streets and in newsrooms.
Dr.Hiren Gohain tries to create a separate entity of hatred by suggesting the hatred towards the Muslims in Assam is different from that in North India. It appears as if he takes pride in being mildly racist and xenophobic. Discrimination is discrimination. Hatred is hatred. Violence can also be symbolic. Period.
6. Gogoi, S. (2018 August 23) NRC Muddle: vigilante students union and India’s borderlands, Asia Times.
The term “illegal” being attributed to a human body is demeaning and dehumanizing, for illegality is attributed to actions, not persons. This devaluation of human beings is at the core of the National Register of Citizens, and the joint actions carried out by the student unions in various states are but its extension. “Operation Clean Drive” in the borderland state of Arunachal Pradesh and “infiltration gates” in Meghalaya internalize such a philosophy by locating “illegal” bodies and restricting movement.
Udayon Misra and Harekrishan Deka, like many others, have painted an Assamese culture which is domesticated and comfortable with xenophobia, detention camps and jingoism. In their search for a contrived authenticity and turning citizens into illegal, they de-appreciate universal human values embedded in Assamese culture, while they attribute renewed nativity to it. In constructing their intellectual zeitgeist, in order to do good, they make it chauvinist and exclusivist and purge out millions from Assam’s multi-ethnic humanscape and their shared lived experiences. Needless to say that such a grand project of exclusion and statelessness is based on deep ethnic and racial prejudices that turn the humane interior of Assamese culture into a Mein Kempf discourse.
In the articulation of Jyoti Prasad Agarwala and Bishnu Prasad Rabha one finds a fine balance of political emotions and freedom. The human journey is a cultural journey toward light and beauty. Agarwala thought that in worshiping that beauty we decorate our culture. Rabha recognizes a syncretic Assamese culture that embraces Satriya, Bhatiya and Janajati traditions. He recognizes the cultural debts of all the groups and places alike, and frames Assamese as a cultural complex with is heterogeneous and accommodating nature. For him, Assam is a place of flow and a cultural landscape that is touched by various contiguous groups and in its practice, it lights up many cultural worlds.
Portraying Assamese as a homogeneous identity and culture, which the Assamese nationalist tries to do, is a theft of history.The skies of Assam are very different today from how the poet Mulla Darviah imagined it in the 17th century. The milieu is suffused with hatred. We have lost the language of love. One senses the odour of decay when the world around you looks in amused contempt at your grief or demands patriotism. Will the tales of suffering be ever told, as silent hatred ignores the cry of heartbreak? NRC will add another character to Assamese identity, a stain even the waters of the Brahmaputra won’t be able to wash away.
10. Gogoi, S. (2018 October 29) Intellectuals shaping a Narrow Homogenous identity in Assam, Asia Times.
Under such a grip of intellectual practice, a homogenous life world of Assam finds adequate mention by destroying all others forms of storytelling. The homogenous nature of intellectual practice in Assam, on the backdrop of the NRC, shows how it stands by nativism, takes pride in one culture and ignores chauvinistic triumphalism. To agree with Du Bois, the price of culture is indeed a lie.
Language is another key cultural facet. The remarks of minister Hemanta Biswa Sarma that the victims of the Dhola killings and their families “speak fluent Assamese” and “their children are studying in Assamese medium” schools shows the importance of language. His remarks reflect the dark underside of Assamese nationalism entwined with linguistics. Moreover, the sandbars of Assam have always been stained with blood and the killing in Kherbari is an outcome of hatred cultivated for decades.
12. Gogoi, S. (2019 January 9) Narrow Assamese identity thrives amidst shameful citizenship process, Asia Times.
The bhaluka (a bamboo species found in Assam) incident shows how symbols are also expected to be masculine and strong, appropriated from another culture and passed off as our very own by elite middle-class linguistic nationalists. One can also see how ecology is reduced to an artificial construction of nationalism and belonging. One can visibly witness how raw products of nature are used to enunciate a narrative of blood, soil and culture.
To be really free, we don’t need freedom for the homeland, but freedom from the homeland.
13. Gogoi, S. (2019 January 23) Strikes have become test-cases for freedom of space in Assam, Asia Times.
Strikes is a marker of ethnic and student politics in Assam and the northeast — a proven political tool to make your case publicly and become more visible. There has now been a certain acceptance of this culture; however, the comments by Himanta Biswa Sarma should be taken seriously, for they may point to the potential misuse and monopolization of legitimate power by the state and its supporters. The legal framework, already in place, certainly adds to existing curbs on free speech and expression. Given the political will and ideology of the government in Assam, democratic practices are in serious decline.
The National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) have lit up Assamese nationalism. They remind us of the Assam agitation days that ended with the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985. Decades of agitation cultivated a communal social distinction that singled out “Bangladeshis” as an unwanted body “polluting and occupying” Assam. This also made the self prominent as us, while they, the other, were reduced to “illegal bodies” by brushing aside cultural commonalities and shared living. Misplaced ideas of ecology are also used to speak of unwanted bodies.
15. Gogoi, S. (2019 February 7) A lack of citizenship will produce second class citizens, Asia Times.
Detention camps in Assam function precisely like the apartheid regime by creating zones of containment and they seek to create hierarchic labor. The legitimate NRC process was made possible by a long history of social and political movements which rested on a very xenophobic and chauvinistic plane. The remainders of the NRC process are a product of a racialist order where the people will become “Bangladeshis.” The NRC has far greater consequences which our governments are not equipped to handle. By attempting to solve the Assamese citizenship situation, it has created more social upheaval than we could ever have imagined and even legitimatized xenophobia. In this whole process, the suffering of the victim is erased and conveniently forgotten.
16. Gogoi, S. & Chakma, S. B. (2019 February 8) Dissent over citizenship bill causes havoc, Asia Times.
The CAB has lit up xenophobic politics in Mizoram yet again and the minorities in the state are bearing its brunt. The voice against the CAB is in fact an opportunity to mobilize, galvanize and campaign to express hate toward non-Mizos whether it be Chakma, Reang or even Indian citizens who share historical roots in Chin areas of Myanmar, although the latter are seen as part of their society now.
17. Chakraborty, G., Gogoi, S., & Saikia, P.J. (2019 February 13) Professor Hiren Gohain, Let’s talk about Assam again, The Wire.
Scholars like Hiren Gohain and his sympathisers are practicing what Portuguese legal thinker Boaventura de Sousa Santos calls as “epistemicide,” that is, the extermination of knowledge and ways of knowing. In the name of the legitimacy of the NRC process, they seek to brush aside critical voices and subvert them. Gohain denies the unequal power relations of the colonised and this denial of uneven power relation signals a hidden hegemony. This becomes a hegemonic practice among the colonised in a post-colonial setting. Every individual, despite the horrors of colonialism, carries an independent agency to not be racist or to be secular. Is Gohain suggesting that one should not have class consciousness, but should follow the consciousness that is given by the caste Assamese middle class? Or, is he denying any agency of a post-colonial self which is critical and rational and de-colonised?
This piece is a reply to two articles written by Professor Sanjib Baruah, a noted academic and social critic, where he performs a Tocquevillian blunder about racism and oppression, and becomes a talkative mute when he “overmines” the Citizenship Amendment Bill and undermines the National Register of Citizens.
19. Gogoi, S. & Saikia, P.J. (2019 March 12) Waiting for citizenship: a global phenomena, Asia Times.
Waiting entails a host of emotions. It may involve hope, anxiety, boredom, anger and even fear. Waiting is always in relation to a certain understanding of time that we have, but not just that. It may even persuade someone to take his or her life when waiting entails possibilities of losing a home or citizenship or being put in a detention camp. In the state of Assam in northeast India, after marking more than 4 million people as non-citizens through the National Register of Citizens (NRC) process, “waiting” for many had become a part of their everyday struggle. This trauma has driven many to commit suicide.
Normalization of detention camps in Assam among the masses, media and intellectuals alike only adds to the dystopia.
20. Gogoi, S., Saikia, P.J., Chakraborty, G. & Borbora, A.P. (2019 March 14) Real Burning Questions of Assam, The Wire.
Hiren Gohain muddles up the question of ‘agency’. This is executed in two stages through which the role of an external element is exaggerated to relegate the scope of the agency exercised by the Assamese leadership. He exaggerates the role of colonialism in determining the politics of Assam after Independence. Such a line of argument has inevitably led towards an extremely mechanistic interpretation of the postcolonial political trajectory of Assam. In doing this, the agency of the postcolonial subject is negated. This is an intellectual ploy; by undermining the agency of the postcolonial subject, Gohain is also shifting responsibility of the excesses of the period to a residual colonial consciousness. This paves the way for acquitting the caste Hindu Assamese leadership of any charge of chauvinism.
21. Gogoi, S. & Borbora, A.P. (2019 March 21) In Assam, Nostalgia shelters Assam Gana Parishad’s flexible regional beliefs, The Wire.
The hope is embedded in a sense of nostalgia. The youth played a leading role in the Assam Movement. The AGP reflects the culmination of an extraordinary phase of struggle and embodies the memories of a generation. Many of these former students are now part of the civil society elite that emerged in the period following the agitation. They occupy senior positions in academia, media and the bureaucracy, which allows them to shape the local political discourse. It is, therefore, a small section of the citizenry – led by this elite group– that continues to be nostalgic about the AGP and precludes alternative political imaginations. However, nostalgia cannot justify exclusion – an everyday experience for the so-called ‘Bangaldeshi’ in contemporary Assam, which is largely fuelled by this elite section.
22. Gogoi, S. & Borbora, A.P. (2019 May 9) In the Guise of Protest Music, Assamese Artists Churn out Hate Speech, The Wire.
There is a social economy that maintains and even promotes this popular culture, materially and culturally. Assam’s popular culture affirms responsibility to its elite by singing the exact verses of untruth and bigotry that it wants to hear. Popular culture in Assam has shown a surprising capability to turn such genres on their head and co-opt protest music for furthering xenophobic political projects.
23. Ghosh, S. & Gogoi, S. (2019 April 14) What Do Walls in Guwahati Tell Us About Its People and Their History? The Wire.
The ants and crows that have suddenly come to occupy the walls of Guwahati in the election season are embedded within this larger narrative of an ongoing conflict. The locations of the wall inscriptions that depict the ants and crows dotting the primary nerve centres of the city speak about a strategy of letting know. These panels ask the viewer to comprehend and participate in the ongoing conflict and their banal existence is indicative of the way in which they have been normalised in the everyday sphere of the public. These wall inscriptions are an articulation of the thunder call of the insiders (khilonjiār bajroninād) that tears through the present with the promise of a political future lying on the other end of an elimination.
This list originally appeared in PangSau.
PangSau is a blog rooted in bringing out the joys and pains of India’s North-East. It is a humble effort of a few young scholars researching on the region, sharing common concerns and commitments of ‘setting afoot a new humanity’.
Featured image: Labourers in Assam | Wikimedia Commons