Bishnu Prasad Rava is known as a Cultural Icon, one of the triumvirates of Assam along with Jyoti Prasad Agarwala and Phani Sharma, whose death and birth anniversary is celebrated across the state in glittering events.   His thousands of bust and life-size statues can be seen in school and college yards, inside university campuses, and office premises. Auditoriums and parks are named after him, cultural events and competitions are organized in his name. His visibility in Assamese public life is quite intact even after 51 years of his death.

Rava’s high visibility in public life, however, does not get reflected in making serious efforts toward an extensive and intimate understanding of his wide spectrum of work.  Rava’s wife Mohini Rava struggled enormously just to collect and publish his numerous poems, songs, and articles, which has been scattered all over, even today. There are even instances of refusing to publish his works by Publication board Assam, which is an important literary institution of the government of Assam. The first demand for publishing Rava’s writings was not made by ‘Asom Sahitya Sabha’ which is considered as the guardian organization of Assamese culture and literature, but by a certain left-leaning student organization (Gohain, 2002).

On one hand, his high symbolic visibility in public life as cultural icon and on the other hand the indifference of the Assamese ruling class, when it comes to engagement with the wide spectrum of his works, has made Bishnu Rava, the ultimate irony of Assamese identity. We can never understand this great irony without trying to understand his politics.

Young Rava was an Idealist. Compositions and articles of his younger days reflected his devotion towards Sankaradeva and his adherence towards neo-Vaishnavism.  He believed that through Sankradeva’s teaching and neo-Vaishnavism, society could achieve peace and prosperity. The young Rava of the 1920’s was fully devoted to practicing neo- viashnavite art and culture.

After witnessing the Ignorance of Nationalist leaders towards the poor farmers and workers during the liberation struggle and also greatly influenced by the October revolution in Russia, Rava was gradually drawn towards Communist ideology. Scholars like Sashi Sarma and Hiren Gohain emphasized that Rava’s complete surrender to idealism prevented him in his younger days from understanding the dire condition of the oppressed farmers. In 1946 he formally became a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party of India(RCPI). His numerous compositions, novels, and plays like ‘Kuri Bachar Jail’, ‘Sonpahi’, ‘Krishak’,’ ‘Banua panchayat’ reflects his deep faith in Communist Ideology, which he maintained till his demise in 1969. Hemanga Biswas in one of his essays wrote that Marxist – Leninist ideology had transformed a rather restless Bishnu Rava into a person of stability and in-depth political conviction. Rava, now completely devoted himself towards the awakening of the historically oppressed lot and started living a homeless life traveling every nook and corner of the region. In Communism, Rava saw the path of emancipation of the poor Assamese farmers who were continuously oppressed by their feudal lords and abandoned by the nationalist leaders. He was convinced that the freedom aspired by the Indian bourgeois class was not the real freedom that would lead to the total emancipation of the poor and oppressed. Therefore on 15 august,1947, when India gained independence from British, Bishnu Rava led a march holding a black flag and shouting Yeah Azaadi Jhootha Hain, Sirf Chamra Ka Badal( This freedom is a lie, only a change of skin). Even when the Assam government started crushing the communist revolutionaries with an iron fist, Rava kept on performing his revolutionary duties while living in exile for almost five years.  He was finally caught in Kokrajhar in 1952 and was thrown into jail. But that couldn’t stop him from keep indulging in his creative endeavors as he wrote extensively and painted some brilliant portraits during the year in jail.  He was again arrested during Chinese aggression in 1962 under the preventive detention act and was dragged on the street with chained legs as a mark of humiliation.

Bishnu Rava was a living embodiment of the cultural diversity of Assam. He acquired the cultural and linguistic knowledge of almost all the ethnic groups in Assam through his extensive travels. He spent numerous nights in tribal villages, learning their way of life. Rava’s idea of Assam was free from all kind of chauvinistic impulses and was energized by inclusiveness and cultural synthesis.  He encouraged all the tribes and linguistic groups to keep practicing and developing their own cultural and linguistic practices rather than getting succumbed to the caste Assamese and the middle-class idea of assimilation. He never envisioned a paternalistic assertion of a particular dominant linguistic or cultural group. Here we can see the fundamental difference between Rava’s idea of Assam and the Assam imagined as a unilingual state by the Assamese middle-class nationalist leaders.

Major Assamese middle-class organizations that have been playing the crucial role in promoting Assamese language and culture can be seen trying to  appropriate and interpret Bishnu Rava’s ideology for their own ideological and political interest. We can notice a change in attitude of Assam government towards Bishnu Rava since the time of  Assam agitation. The glittering celebration of ‘Rava Divas’ on his death anniversary has started since then. The movement leaders were quite aware of his immense popularity among the masses and used him to facilitate mass mobilization. While communists were being crushed throughout Assam, use of Bishnu Rava as an Assamese nationalist icon was at its peak during the agitation. They strategically alienated Rava from his political ideology by amplifying only his artistic and literary side. (Nath, 2017)  Today Asom Sahitya Sabha celebrates Bishnu Rava, but he was never invited to their Summits in his life time. We should also remember that not even a single condolence meeting was organized by Asom Sahitya Sabha or any other cultural organizations on day of his demise (Sarma, 2007).

The idea of Celebration of ‘Rava Divas’ on his death anniversary in glittering events across Assam, labeling him as Kolaguru( the master of arts) by focusing only on his selected songs and poems therefore can defiantly be considered as a strategic move to prevent the new generation from knowing his revolutionary zeal and emancipatory creations. The creation of this Assamese middle class ‘cultural icon’ out of a great working-class tribal communist revolutionary leader is the ‘irony’ we are talking about here.

Bibliography

Gohain, H. (2002). Bishnu Rava aru axomiya jaatir xomoysya. In H. Gohain (Ed.), Sainik Silpi Bishnu Rava (pp. 103-113). Nalbari: Journal Emporium.

Nath, P. H. (2017). Bishnuprasad Rabha as Cultural Icon of Assam: The Process of Meaning Making. Cosmopolitan Civil Societies: an Interdisciplinary Journal , 9 (1), 60-97.

Sarma, S. (2007). Bishnuprasad Rabhar Jiwanar Adarsha Aru Samaj Jiwanat Tar Prabhaw. In Gariyoshi (pp. 15-19).

Debasish Hazarika, Research Scholar in IIT Guwahati.

Originally published at North-east Now.


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