STILL I RISE

Anjan Sarma

Would like to begin with immortal words of Paster Niemoeller, a victim of the Nazis:

“First they came for Jews
and I did not speakout-
because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the communist
and I did not speak out-
because I was not a communist.

Then they came for trade unionist.
and I did not speak out-
because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me-
and there was none left
to speak out for me!”

Snapshots:

ONE

In 1931, Mr. S.C. Mulan, ICS, the then Census Superintendent of Assam wrote in his Census Report : “…….probably the most important event in the province during the last twenty five years – an event, moreover, which seems likely to alter permanently the whole future of Assam and to destroy more surely than did the Burmese invaders of 1826, the whole structure of Assamese culture and civilization – has been the invasion of a vast horde of land hungry Bengali immigrants; mostly Muslims, from the districts of eastern Bengal sometime before 1911 and the census report of that is the first report which makes mention of the advancing host. But, as we now know, the Bengali immigrants censused for the first time on their char islands of Goalpara in 1921 was merely the advance guard – or rather the scouts – of a huge army following closely at their heels. By 1921, the first army corps had passed into Assam and had practically conquered the district of Goalpara. Where there is waste land thither flock the Mymensinghias. In fact, the way in which they have seized upon the vacant areas in the Assam valley seems almost uncanny. Without fuss, without tumult, without undue trouble to the district revenue staffs, a population which must amount to over half a million has transplanted itself from Bengal into Assam valley during the last 25 years. It looks like a marvel of administrative organization on the part of Government but it is nothing of the sort; the only thing I can compare it to is the mass movement of large body of ants…it is sad but by no means improbable that in another 30 years Sivasagar district will be the only part of Assam in which an Assamese will find himself at home.”

TWO

Mr. E.H. Pakyntein, the then Census Superintendent of Assam, observed in 1961 that “From 1901 onwards, the men of Mymensingh began to advance to Assam, driven apparently by pressure on the soil at home. They were joined by the people of other East Bengal districts in less numbers.”

THREE

On 8th November 1988, Mr S.K.Sinha, Governor of Assam submitted a report to the President of India and he clearly mentioned that the unabated influx of illegal migrants from Bangladesh into Assam and the consequent perceptible change in the demographic pattern of the State has been a matter of grave concern which threatened to reduce the Assamese people to a minority in their own State, as happened in Tripura and Sikkim. He observed:

1) Bangladesh census records indicate a reduction of 39 lakh Hindus between 1971 and 1981 and another 36 lakh between 1981 and 1989. These 75 lakh (39+36) Hindus have been obviously coming to India.
2) In 1970, the total population of East Pakistan was 7.5 crores, but in 1974 it had come down to 7.14 crores. On the basis of 3.1% annual population growth rate of that period, the population of 1974 should have been 7.7 crores. The short fall of 6 million people can be explained by large scale migration.
3) Muslim population of Assam has shown a rise of 77.42% in 1991 from what it was in 1971. Hindu population has risen by nearly 41.89% in this period.
4) Muslim population of Assam has risen from 24.68% in 1951 to 28.42% in 1991.
5) The much higher percentage of growth of Assam from 1911 to 1971 compared to the rest of India and Bangladesh figures indicate migration into Assam.

FOUR
Observations from the days of Mr. S.C. Mulan to S.K.Sinha, and observations for more than hundred years by hundreds & thousands natives of Assam already proved that it has happened. It is an unimaginable planned immigration to Assam from Bangladesh. Not only that, in the context of the Indigenous people of Assam, there are large scale immigration from Nepal and some other states of India through the so-called ‘Chicken-Neck’, years after years without any obstacles, which changed the whole scenario of Assam. And, ‘Are we worried?’ Yes, we are worried, decades after decades! But, so what? ‘Observations’ and ‘Worries’ do nothing. Even the 6 year long historic ‘Assam Agitation’ did nothing. It only ‘legalized’ the ‘illegal’ immigrants at the cost of sacrificing hundreds of lives of innocent, indigenous, democratic agitators, and created a long list of thousands of Assamese victimized by police atrocities in the time of Assam Movement; not to forget the massive loss of career, livelihood, property and invaluable time of millions of students, employees, women and senior citizens of Assam. The bitterest historical tragedy is that the number of deportation of Bangladeshi citizens from Assam is less than the martyrs of Assam Movement. The leaders of the Assam Movement cheated the people of Assam and the practice is being continued till now. So, a hopeless and rootless syndrome-like situation is seen everywhere, and at the same time ‘constitutionally legal’ immigration from the other parts of the country through the ‘Chicken-Neck’ to Assam is going on full swing like never-ending waves of sea accompanied by planned political and cultural invasion to ‘conquer’ the Brahmaputra valley as tried by the Mughals hundreds of year ago. Since time immemorial, the land of Assam became an open field and open market for everyone—may it be the British or ‘Brown British’ alias new imperialists. Except few, the majority of indigenous people already forgot their history, their struggle for freedom, the oppression and cheating they faced—almost everything! The ‘State’ and its faithful associates successfully transplanted the kidney and liver of Assam and within a few years transplantation of its heart will be completed! Now the million dollar question is—on the basis of the histories of ancient Kamrup, Pragjyotishpur and Assam, the Brahmaputra Valley belongs to whom and for whom the bell tolls now? Whether the ‘generic’ immigration from East Bengal/Bengal from the days of British in Assam or the ‘unconstitutional immigration’ and ‘constitutional immigration’ from the days of Nehru to Modi from East Pakistan/Bangladesh or the ‘constitutional immigration’ from the other side of the ‘Chicken-Neck’ from 1826 till 2019 A.D., along with ‘synthetic political and cultural invasion’ has created today’s horrible scenario due to the spineless characters of so-called political leaders of Assam.

FIVE

Immigration and colonialism after 1826 (or the days of Burmese invasion) is not the only issue of Assam. 322000 hectares land of Assam was given to 765 tea-gardens, 111981 bigha 4 katha and 13 lecha land was allotted to the Railway department, thousands of bighas of land were occupied illegally by the East-Pakistani/Bangladeshi people on both sides of Brahmaputra river and other places of Assam (for example, 5548 bighas of land belonging to 26 numbers of Satras, were forcefully occupied by the Bangladeshis). So where is the land for indigenous people of Assam? According to an estimate, more than 8000 bighas of lands belonging to different Satras of Assam are under encroachment of the Bangladeshi encroachers.

SIX

The Bangladeshi immigrants already occupied thousands and thousands bighas of agricultural land, almost 8000 bighas of Satras’ lands, temples’ lands, and riverine islands (char areas), moving from paddy-fields to jungles & hills, and Assam became a helpless witness of this massive environmental degradation. The table, shown below, is the proof of the scenario.
According to the Forest Survey of India Reports, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015, Assam’s 20000 Sq. Km. forests have been destroyed from 1991.

Role of Indigenous people of Assam and NE States:

There are endless snapshots of Assam and the whole NE Region from the time of British to this time. The indigenous people of Assam & whole North-East is going through a period of uncertainty without serious thinking about it and busying themselves in the name of so called ‘festivals’, policies, Govt. announcements and advertisements of ‘Development’, ‘Look East— Act East’ and what not. And this is the lull before the storm for all of us, and we are waiting for the-Day! And who will be our savior? Modi? Shah? Gandhi? Why? Why Delhi? Does our history say that we must pray to Delhi? No. Yes, a big ‘No’! So, it is final that we must stand-up on our own feet. We must have plans, road-maps, visions, skills, knowledge, strength, power and will, so that we will be able to face the storm.

Yes, there is a vast diversity among the indigenous communities of Assam, of the North- East and each has its own distinct culture, language, history, and unique way of life. Despite many differences, the indigenous people across the North-East or Assam share some common values derived from an understanding that their lives are part of an inseparable form of the natural history & geography of this small part of the world with the strong backbone of the mighty river Brahmaputra. Yes, we all belong to green ‘bamboo-land’, we belong to high mountains, we belong to jungles, we are the indigenous people of Assam, of North-East; and due to the spinelessness of our so-called politicians, we are going to lose everything within a short time because of multiple invasions from different fronts.

Virtually there are almost more than 300 million indigenous people in every region of the world, which includes the Maya of Guatemala, tribal groups of the Amazonian rainforest area, the Sámi people of Scandinavia, the San and Kwei of Southern Africa, Aboriginal people of Australia, Mexico, Central and South America, and, of course the hundreds of indigenous people are here in what is now known as Assam, and as well as North-East region.

Oren R. Lyons Jr. is a Native American Faith-keeper of the Turtle Clan belonging to the Seneca Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. Now 89 years, Lyons is one of the most respected and recognized advocates of indigenous rights. Once he said, “Our knowledge is profound and comes from living in one place for untold generations. It comes from watching the sun rise in the east and set in the west from the same place over great sections of time. We are as familiar with the lands, rivers, and great seas that surround us as we are with the faces of our mothers. Indeed, we call the earth ‘Etenoha’ (mother Earth), our mother from whence all life springs.”

Now, it should be clear for us, especially for Assam, that the concept of an “indigenous person of Assam” has been intentionally misinterpreted or hyped in the petty political interest by politicians and motivated vested groups who think that they will be nowhere if controversy vanished from Assam. As stated in the famous Assamese dictionary “Hemkosh”, ‘Khilonjia”( Indigenous) means an ancient person, who is living at a particular place for many generations, that is a person who is an ancient, aboriginal, indigenous, and has been living in his land for many generations; and as per “Chandrakanta Abhidhan” also the indigenous means a person living in a place for many generations, an ancient person, etc. Oxford dictionary told us that, the words ancient, aboriginal, indigenous are same and synonymous. In 1970, the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities recommended that a comprehensive study be made of the problem of discrimination against indigenous populations.

In 1971, Jose R. Martinez Cobo of Ecuador was appointed Special Rapporteur for the study of the issues of indigenous by UN. He was charged with recommending national and international measures for eliminating such discrimination, and submitted his final report during the years 1981 to 1984. The report addressed a wide range of issues including the definition of indigenous peoples, the role of intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, the elimination of discrimination, and basic human rights principles, as well as special areas of action in fields such as health, housing, education, language, culture, social and legal institutions, employment, land, political rights, religious rights and practices, and equality in the administration of justice. As per definition given by Jose R. Martinez Cobo, “indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre- invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other section of the societies now prevailing on those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sections of societies and are determined to preserve, develop, transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the base of their continued existence as people, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal systems.”

According to “Indigenous Forum, Assam” and ‘Sanmilita Mahasangha’, two most important organizations representing many indigenous tribes of Assam, “indigenous person of Assam” means who have been living in Assam continuously from 24th February, 1826, from the date of ‘Yandaboo Treaty’ and they alone should be termed and accepted as “indigenous people of Assam”. Not only “Mahasangha”, the indigenous people of Assam knows it well that if a person is an aboriginal or ancient person living in Assam for many generations; and if a person belongs to an ancient tribe or ethnic clan living in Assam for many generations sustaining the linguistic, cultural and social tradition and value of the pre-colonial or pre-invasion era; and if the social, cultural, traditional value of that person’s ethnic clan is pristine too and has originated in Assam and further- if he believes his culture, tradition, language to be different from others inhabiting in his land due to their exodus; and if he believes that the ancient people of his clan have become or are poised to become minority in his own land due to migration of invasion by outsiders or foreigners; and if he is not an indigenous person of any other parts outside Assam; and if a person is committed & determined to continue to live in his ancestral land preserving for the future generations their ancestral heritage, culture, language, literature intact; etc …..then he is the ‘indigenous people of Assam’.

Anyway, the struggle for human and land rights will continue everywhere in the future, including Assam, as well as the North-East. We may be optimistic enough to believe that the future will be a little better for the indigenous people—because the three decades of untiring pressure of the indigenous people of different countries has compelled the United Nations to finally pass a declaration supporting the distinct human rights of the indigenous people. Now, we have an important challenge to ensure that the provisions of the declaration are honored and the rights of indigenous peoples of Assam & North-East along with all over the world are well- protected, and in the meantime we must prepare a road-map for all indigenous people of Assam and North-East, so that we can stand-up, run, and be able to conquer the 21st century world with our skill, knowledge, strength and unity.

Further, we have to face lots of challenges i.e. immigration, invasion, exploitation, repression, black-laws, non-development, non-infrastructure, non-independency in the days to come. But we must rise. We must have a road-map- which can be prepared by North-East Indigenous People’s Forum by remembering the day, 9th August, the International Day for the World’s Indigenous People.

Before concluding, I would like to share a poem ‘Still I Rise’ penned by Maya Angelou:

Still I Rise
You may write me down in history With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you? Why are you beset with gloom?’
Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns, With the certainty of tides, Just like hopes springing high, Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken? Bowed head and lowered eyes? Shoulders falling down like teardrops, Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you? Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide, Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream
and the hope of the slave. I rise
I rise I rise.

e-mail: sarma.anjan@outlook.com

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