A few videos surfaced from Darrang, Assam. In one of the videos, a poor man was seen running with a lathi in his hand towards the security forces. There were alteast ten armed men in uniform. He was alone. With angst in his eyes, he attacked the troops and then, the next movement, he was lying there, lifelessly. There was blood in his body and a bullet wound. Most probably, dead. A man holding a camera was then seen jumping and kicking the body with sheer brutality. I went online to see what was the reason for this inhumanity. It was part of the eviction drive ordered by the state government against whom they believed to be ‘illegal dwellers of Assam’. The photographer, according to reports, was hired by district administration to document the entire proceeding.
The more I think about it, the more apposite it seems to question the discourse around migration and in the veil of which human rights are overlooked in Assam. Any form of criticism against what is taking place in Assam is often shut down based on two broad arguments- first, it is nuanced and the critic is too naive to understand the intricacies, and second, the outsiders are settler-colonialists and the indegenous are fighting back. But, even if the critic is naive and it is a defense mechanism (which I would disagree with personally), can the discourse be given the right to shoot people in the name of anti-encroachment drive and to throw them into detention camps when the world is facing a pandemic where the privileged citizenship holders were not allowed to leave their home? How do you expect these poor people, mostly illiterate in legal procedures to react if their homes are taken away from them during a pandemic? For them and their families, they defended their homes in the way they could and knew. Don’t tell me he could have taken down ten armed personnels with his lathi wearing a lungi? Was there a necessity to shoot him down? Couldn’t they simply control him without killing him? Furthermore, why do we need an eviction drive during the pandemic? Is the government vaccinating people to make them homeless and fight the ‘third wave’?
Maybe they wouldn’t have shot him, if he wasn’t wearing a lungi, or if they thought of him as a human being. Maybe they were still part of the ‘mass movement of a large body of ants’ as Mullan compared them to. So, what do you do with ants? You kill them. They don’t have human rights because they aren’t human beings. They are animals trying to capture your lands. By dehumanizing them, it becomes easier to justify throwing them into detention camps and even shooting them. The manner in which the cameraman was indulging with the dead-body showed sheer monstrous disgust, not towards the person but his community. I don’t think he knew the person prior to the incident but might have seen his lungi or heard his language. Imagine if the policeman would have done the same with Floyd, it would have started a global conversation. Just because these are poor working class men from the east, it doesn’t matter. Their lives don’t matter. Their rights don’t matter. The silence of the elites (except few) speak volumes about their hypocrisy and selective outrage. The lives of CAA protesters mattered but not of the man in lungi. What I mean to say is that human rights is for everyone or none. It can’t be for one and not the other.
As you go along dehumanizing the ‘Miya’, you create a class of breathing human beings that are neither animals nor humans. They lie somewhere in between. You treat them like animals and don’t allow them to have any humanistic attribute yet they are not animals. Their lives mean nothing more than the lives of a vulture or ant. As you alienate the human from the Miya, you are able to do terrible things and there is no conscience stopping you. The same process of ‘Animalizing’ the Miya is taking place in Assam where they can be caged in detention centres like you do in zoos, they can be stripped off their homes and shot.
BJP’s anti-Muslim politics have found a new ground in Assam. From Cattle Protection Bills to now eviction drives against a particular community. The three deceased in this incident were Maynal Haque, Farid Sheikh, Joban Ali which included a seventeen years old (I don’t know what threat he possessed). In Assam, BJP has found a niche to both carry out its propaganda and satisfy the demands of the masses. As both have a common enemy in Bengali Speaking Muslims, it is easy to carry out the inhumane and genocidal acts to please the voter and to remain in power despite the killings. The voters, on the other hand, must have been very happy their common enemy has been struck down. (I hope they are not). Those who are not happy with the incident are generally of two types. One, who were absolutely fine with the proceeding if people weren’t dead despite the fact that people were forced out of their homes during a global pandemic. Second, those who support the rights of all people and share a relation of solidarity in these tough times. The first category is as problematic as the ones supporting the drive. You can be a supporter of the systemic torture of human beings and than say otherwise when casualties happen. Many might claim that migration is the crisis that Assam is facing, but migration is not the crisis that Assam is facing. It is facing a crisis of ethics, compassion and care. It is facing a crisis of human rights.
There are few lessons to learn from what has happened. First, human life is cheaper than land. (Or maybe the life of a miya). Secondly, one lathi could have killed ten armed men in uniform. Third, it’s the miya fault like always. Assam’s Chief Minister has recently linked the protests during eviction to PFI. He also added that eviction was done with the consent of all. If his words are to be believed, all the political parties were in it together. So, is it possible to separate the intersection of regionalist linguistic sentiments with that of Hindutva’s anti Muslim sentiments? The answer is negative. In Assam, there is this unique blend of ethnic nationalism where religious national views have coincided with the regional linguistic sentiments to create a common enemy, the Miya. They are bengali and muslim. So, it never ruffles any feathers to harm them. And if something goes South, you can always call them ‘collateral damage’.
Assamese subnationalistic politics in Assam has to be blamed equally for what has happened alongside BJP and Hindutva nationalism. It is the cry for ‘Jati, Mati and Bheti’ that is the symbol of Assamese Ethnonationalistic politics. In this particular case, it was about the land. The masses of Assam have demanded the eviction of the ‘Miya’, the ‘demonic other’ who commits all crimes and snatches land. The Sarma government has just acted on it as any populist leader would do. So, to say it’s all BJP’s political game is ridiculous. Rather, it is one helping the other to eradicate a common enemy or to imprison the agency of the other.
These collateral damages of capitalism, or as you may know ‘Miyas’ have no right to protest even when you bulldoze over their homes. These collateral damages should shut up and throw away their language while writing poetry. These collateral damages have no right to the nation, land or home. They must be displaced and dispossessed of any dignity they might have saved. And if they don’t easily let you do it, shoot them. It’s easy. One bullet to the chest and the work is done. We can then let the photographer do a necro-dance over the body, jumping and reestablishing the superior agency of the majority.
Sutputra Radheye is a poet and commentator who delve into the themes affecting the socio-eco-political scenario. His works have been published in prestigious platforms like ‘Frontier’, ‘Countercurrents’, ‘Janata Weekly’, ‘Culture Matters’ (UK), and many more throughout the years.