Bangladeshi

In India’s Assam, Muslim families evicted weeks before elections

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After battling for life for five days at a hospital in Guwahati, the capital of the northeastern Indian state of Assam, Kulsuma Begum succumbed to her injuries on March 11.

Her mother-in-law alleged police and paramilitary forces barged into her house to physically remove Kulsuma – who had given birth to a baby boy just two hours ago – during an eviction drive at Sarkebasti village in central Assam’s Hojai district, about 150km east of Guwahati.

Authorities in the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council (KAAC) forcibly evicted more than 600 Muslim families from their land in Hojai, saying the families, including Kulsuma’s, had encroached upon government land.

“Seven to eight policemen entered the house and started ransacking it. I could take some stuff out. When I came back I saw Kulsuma was lying on the floor and couldn’t move,” Ramisa Khatun told Al Jazeera.

“I took up the baby as I feared they might kill him,” said Ramisa, 50. As Kulsuma was being ushered out of the house she collapsed, said Ramisa.

The 22-year-old was rushed to Guwahati after a local hospital in Hojai referred her to Gauhati Medical College and Hospital, where a doctor said she had “suffered shock”.

In one corner of the Guwahati hospital corridor, the newborn baby was sleeping next to Ramisa on a visibly dirty blanket. The baby has now been handed over to the family.

FIR filed

Following public outrage, a formal police complaint (First Information Report) was filed against several KAAC officials as well as a local police officer.

“A case has been registered and the investigation is going on,” Hojai Deputy Commissioner (DC) Tanmoy Borgohain told Al Jazeera.

A court in Guwahati has put a stop on the evictions [Courtesy of Ain Uddin/Al Jazeera]

Tuliram Ronghang, chief executive member of the KAAC and leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Assam, alleged that undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh had encroached upon the land, which belonged to Karbi Anglong.

However, the evictees refuted Ronghang’s allegations, saying they are genuine Indian citizens. Some activists questioned the legality of the entire operation, saying Sarkebasti village fell under Hojai district and not under KAAC jurisdiction.

“The Karbi Anglong district doesn’t have any locus standi to evict the people here,” Saidur Rahman, president of Hojai district committee of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, a peasant movement, told Al Jazeera.

A letter by a top Hojai official to Assam’s chief secretary corroborated their claims. The letter written on February 28 rejected the allegation that people had encroached upon forestland and warned against any eviction drive.

Despite concerns of human rights violations and legal complications, the Karbi Anglong administration still went ahead with its operation to uproot hundreds of families weeks before the general elections scheduled in April and May.

A court in Guwahati finally put a stop on the evictions asking the administrations in Hojai and Karbi Anglong to settle the border dispute.

Eviction drives

Under the BJP government in Assam, which came to power in 2016 on an anti-immigrant plank, eviction drives have escalated.

Less than six months after coming to power in Assam, the BJP government – the first in the northeastern states – launched eviction campaign near the famous Kaziranga National Park against what it called “illegal encroachment”.

In February 2017, the government informed the Assam assembly that about 3,481 families were evicted from 13 districts. While most of them were Muslims, they also included other marginalised social groups such as the tribal people.

However, government records reveal hundreds of people were evicted from the lands they officially owned.

Indrajit Bezbaruah, an associate professor at Assam’s Lumding College, said those evicted were either internally displaced persons (IDPs) from flood-affected areas, IDPs from ethnic conflict-ridden Bodoland districts, or the local landless peasants belonging to the indigenous Kachari Muslim community settled in the area since the 1970s.

Experts say that recurring ethnic strife and floods in Assam have resulted in the state having one of the highest numbers of IDPs in the country. In 2015, Assam hosted an astounding 74.4 percent of all the IDPs in the country.

Assam has 362,450 landless families spread across 31 of its 33 districts, Forest Minister Pramila Rani Brahma told the state assembly in February last year.

Peasant organisations in the area have been demanding the government to provide them with land ownership for more than two decades.

However, neither the central nor the state government has laid down any policy to rehabilitate Assam’s IDPs. With little institutional support, many of them have settled on government land over the decades.

Muslim IDPs

Suprakash Talukdar, a leader of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM), alleged that Assam government has not conducted any land settlement survey since 1965, which has denied land to the landless and kept them vulnerable to forced evictions.

Bhabesh Kalita, Minister of State for Revenue and Disaster Management in Assam, however, said his government was working to rehabilitate those displaced by erosion.

“We have a policy for rehabilitation for erosion affected families only for those people who are displaced from patta [documented] land and we are rehabilitating them,” Kalita said.

“Our government has taken a target to provide land patta to one lakh [100,000] people this year. No government has taken such target based initiative so far.”

Muslim IDPs in Assam carry an additional risk of being stripped of their citizenship rights, according to Guwahati-based activist Hafiz Ahmed.

Ahmed alleged the government has built an anti-Muslim sentiment to marginalise the community.

“BJP came to power in the state on the premise of hatred against the Muslims. They want to keep the momentum of hatred on till the general election,” he said, referring to the national elections.

Kalita, the Assam minister, however, denied the government was targeting a particular group.

“Eviction policy doesn’t discriminate against people based on caste, creed or religion,” he told Al Jazeera.

Syed Burhanur Rahman, a lawyer at Gauhati High Court, said the eviction could result in the affected Muslims being declared stateless.

Last July, nearly four million people, mostly Muslims, were excluded from a draft citizenship list, effectively stripping them of their citizenship. A Supreme Court-monitored body National Register of Citizens (NRC) is working to publish its final list that aims to identify undocumented Bangladeshi immigrants.

“Despite the warning from the highest authority of the district administration that it will affect the NRC process, how the government could go ahead with the eviction drive,” asked Rahman.

Meanwhile, Mafijul Islam, Kulsuma’s brother-in-law who works as a construction worker in Guwahati, told Al Jazeera that they were asked to attend the NRC hearing in Nagaon district, about 50km from Hojai, three days after their house was demolished.

Nearly 3,000 people have been rendered homeless [Courtesy of Ain Uddin/Al Jazeera]

As Kulsuma fought for her life at the Guwahati hospital, her family members travelled over 120km to Nagaon to meet the NRC official, who refused to meet them since they had reached the venue after the 4pm deadline.

Back in Hojai, hundreds of families have been rendered homeless.

Hojai Deputy Commissioner Borgohain said on “humanitarian grounds we have sent a medical team and trying to provide drinking water”.

Activists have raised concerns at the timings of the evictions as elections are barely a couple of weeks away.

But Borgohain assured his administration has taken steps to address the concerns regarding the conduct of the elections (among the displaced people).

In Guwahati, Talukdar’s CPM party and other civil society groups organised a protest march to seek justice for Kulsuma.

Assam’s Muslims are more vulnerable as certain political forces treat them as “second class citizens because of their identity”, Talukdar said.

Originally published at https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/03/india-assam-muslim-families-evicted-weeks-elections-190325064004315.html

Growing up Miya in Assam: How the NRC weaponised my identity against me

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He has settled down now. He has many friends. Every day, he has a new story to tell. In the living room of our rented house he often plays with our landlord’s young daughter. They sometimes sing together: “bilote halise dhunia podumi phool”—In the pond a lotus sways. I never had the flawless Assamese pronunciation that he has already acquired in the first three years of his life. Listening to him, I feel immensely proud.

But when I look at him, I also feel immense fear.

I am reminded of my own childhood. My father never told me that the world outside his warmth and protection would be hostile to me. This only became apparent to me when I first visited Guwahati. It was here that I first realised that I have another identity, a subordinate identity—I was miya, a Bengali-origin Muslim, seen in Assam as an outsider, a suspected Bangladeshi.

Every year, a large number of people from my native place in Barpeta district of western Assam migrate seasonally to Guwahati to work in various unorganised sectors. When I was 14 years old, I went to see the city and write a homework essay on how I spent my summer break. Late one afternoon, my uncle Sirajul Haque and I were waiting to cross a busy road in Guwahati’s Lalganesh area. My uncle, who was then in his forties, had not been keeping well for two days, and had been unable to ply his rickshaw.

A group of young men stood nearby. They asked him to help push start a vehicle. My uncle began telling them about his health. The words had barely left his mouth when the young men began cursing at him. They called him “Kela Miya” and “Bangladeshi” while kicking him. My middle-aged uncle pleaded for mercy with folded hands, but the young men did not relent. I was scared and fled the scene. I ran down a dark lane and disappeared, reaching the rented tenement where we were staying. Uncle also returned after a while. He didn’t go to the pharmacy. As my other relatives prepared the evening meal, he lay in one corner and would not speak to anyone. He could not eat properly. I also kept quiet, did not tell anyone about the incident. I could not sleep that night. Whenever I closed my eyes, the image of my uncle played again and again, like a motion picture.

I came back to my village with a heavy heart. I could not write that essay. For some reason, I resolved that day that I would continue to study, at any cost. I wanted to be Assamese—a better Axomiya then anyone else, whose identity cannot be questioned by anyone. I learned the language. I imbibed the cuisine. I immersed myself in the tunes of Bihu songs. I did not realise when this became my life’s biggest mission—from my classroom to my workplace, from my emotions to my imagination, my focus was to be Axomiya.

But every so often, I would be reminded that my efforts to be Axomiya were not enough. My accent was not pure—I was reminded that the dialect I spoke at home was filthy. I was warned that my lungi could not be a part of Axomiya identity. I was reminded that my ancestors were not the sons and daughters of this soil.

Sometimes these warnings were violent—either verbal or physical—but sometimes, they were devoid of any action. I studied law for a few years at Assam University in Silchar, although I was unable to complete the course due to financial constraints. Silchar, a town in the Barak Valley, is known as the heartland for Bengali nationalism in Assam. One day, I met an Assamese senior in the hostel. We introduced ourselves. When I told him where I lived—an address in the Barpeta district—he nonchalantly replied, “Oh, tumi Miya?”—You’re a Miya? When I said yes, he silently walked away down the stairs, as if uninterested in talking to a Miya. I could not move for a few moments. I never had the courage to talk to him again.

I often wonder what makes him—and others like him—so powerful, and me so vulnerable. I ask myself why I felt subordinate in the first place. Why did I not revolt against the young men who punched my uncle? Why didn’t I kick them back? What made me think the quality of their Assamese accent, the language and culture they possess is superior? What compelled me to think that without imitating their way of life, I could not be a dignified Assamese? Why can’t my accent, my dialect, my costume and culture be the part of the greater Assamese identity?

 

The answer lies in the century-long histories of oppression, persecution and production of unlimited fear. Miya Muslims like me are not part of the Assamese vision, which begins and ends with the indigenous Axomiyas. Though we have been living and working on this land for centuries—often for the so-called indigenous Axomiyas—we are not to be allowed in. This xenophobia has been formalised in the National Register of Citizens, which threatens to delegitimise any person who cannot prove their credentials to the satisfaction of the Axomiya state. It has weaponised all aspects of our identity, using them to keep us out of our own state and nation.

*

My uncle, who was abused by the so-called sons of the soil, has lost his soil to the erosion of the river Beki, one of the ferocious tributaries of the mighty Brahmaputra. Every year in Assam, thousands of people living on the chars—riverine islands—and along river banks, mostly Miya Muslims, get uprooted because of erosion. The Brahmaputra and its tributaries swell during the rains, swallowing parts of the chars and leaving their residents with no choice but to move inland. In any other part of the country, the victims of such erosion would be likely to receive compensation and rehabilitation from the government, or at least ask for it. In 1995, my uncle lost his land to the river and shifted to our village, hardly three kilometres from his previous home. Instead of a rehabilitation grant, he was served a notice by the Foreigners Tribunal, asking him to prove his Indian nationality.

He was not the only person in the family whose identity fell under suspicion after they moved inland. His elder brother, who also settled in our village along with him, was marked a D-voter—a “doubtful” voter, suspected of being an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant and required to prove his identity before the tribunal as well. Though our village is hardly seven kilometres from the district headquarters, it still does not have access to all-weather roads. Throughout the summer and monsoon months, our houses remain surrounded by water. Often, my uncle would call out my name in his loud voice, telling me to come to his house, or he would sail his banana raft across the water to come to ours. We would discuss the progress of their cases. In these conversations, he would appear confident in his ability to prove his Indian nationality. But I could see the fear and anxiety on his face.

One Monday, both my uncles went to the Foreigners Tribunal at the district headquarters to face trial. While they were on their way back, the elder brother suddenly collapsed from a stroke. He died before he could be taken to the hospital.

This is the cost my uncle paid to defend his Indian citizenship—the life of his elder brother, then five bighas of land, which he sold to cover the court expenses. After his brother’s death, my uncle also became responsible for four more family members. He risked the abuse of being called a Bangladeshi once again, and went back to Guwahati to pull a rickshaw so that he could feed his family.

My uncles are not my only relatives to be labelled D-voters. In 1997, nearly four lakh people across the state—mostly Miya Muslims and Bengali Hindus—were marked D-voters. Two members of my extended family made this list—a widowed aunt, and another uncle. My aunt became a widow at a very early age. She had a tough time looking after her five minor children. Being designated a D-voter increased her vulnerability, but her indomitable courage and resilience helped to look after the family with her meagre income from labouring in the fields. My “doubtful” uncle has a master’s degree in economics from Gauhati University and teaches in a government school. During elections, he would perform the duty of a presiding officer, even though he was barred from exercising his voting rights for almost two decades.

“D” is not the only category that haunts my family members and me. A few years ago, personnel from the Assam Police’s border unit—which has over four thousand members, who have the power to ask anyone to prove their identity as Indians, and to refer any citizens to a tribunal—raided a rented house in Guwahati’s Dhirenpara neighbourhood, where residents of my village, who had travelled there to work in the informal sector, were staying. The police asked for their citizenship documents, noted down their names and addresses, and took impressions of their fingerprints on blank papers. After almost a year, they started receiving notices from the Foreigners Tribunal, asking them to prove their citizenship. Among those who received these summons were two of my uncles, and one cousin, who sells jhaalmuri—a type of rice puff—on the streets in Guwahati. My relatives were able to successfully defend their citizenship, but I cannot forget the looks of fear on their faces when they first received the notices.

Compared to many others, my family members were fortunate. Even aside from the D-voters, nearly 2.5 lakh people in the state—most of them poor like my uncles and cousin—have been referred to the Foreigners Tribunals under suspicion of being illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. There are cases where government officials, including those from the army, the air force, the border security forces and the police, as well as schoolteachers, have been suspected and referred to the tribunal. There are cases where one person has been referred to the tribunal several times, even after the same tribunal declared them an Indian citizen. The border police is never held accountable for such errors, or for inflicting this burden on citizens—it does this work with absolute impunity, guaranteed under the draconian Foreigners Act of 1946.

The tribunals themselves have become houses of horror for Miya Muslims and Bengali Hindus. The institution is supposed to deliver justice, but has in reality worked like a slaughterhouse, snatching the citizenship and rights of rightful residents of Assam. Like the border police, the tribunals are a one-of-a-kind system, plying only in Assam. The quasi-judicial body hears the cases of people whose citizenship is doubted by the state. The cases are decided not by judicial officers, but by mostly lawyers appointed as members of the tribunal on a contractual basis. There are a hundred such tribunals operating across the state. Their members are appointed by the government, remunerated by the government, appraised by the government, and if found unsatisfactory, shown the door by the government. In 2017, 19 members of the tribunals were removed from office. It has been reported that these members were removed in part because they did not declare enough people “foreigners,” as the border police that referred these cases had claimed they were.

According to government records, over ninety thousand people have been declared foreigners, of which more than twenty-six thousand cases were decided by ex-parte decree in the absence of the respondents. Nearly a thousand of them are being held in six makeshift detention centres, housed inside jails across the state.

I visited several of these jails. I went to the detention centres as part of a research contingent—in January this year, the activist and writer Harsh Mander, then the special monitor of the National Human Rights Commission, invited me to join an NHRC Mission to examine the due process through which a person is sent to a detention centre, study the centres, and assess the human-rights situation of the detainees.

Over these visits, the little hope I had remaining turned into despair. The detention centres are nothing but sections within district jails that have been cordoned off to house those who have been declared foreigners. The detainees are not allowed any formal communication with their relatives. The detainees do not have access to legal recourse such as appeals—the tribunals do not hear appeals, so the detainees can only file cost-intensive writs in the high court or the Supreme Court. Inside the detention camps, they live as convicted criminals.

At a camp in Kokrajhar, I met an elderly woman detainee, who couldn’t stand straight. With her half-bent body, she crawled towards me, and tried to touch my feet. I stepped back. She rolled on the floor of the camp and began howling, with what seemed like all the might of her skinny body. She begged me for death—a mercy death.

I met a woman whose four-year-old son lives in the camp with her. She told me that when she was brought to the detention centre, he was 14 days old. Since then, the boy hasn’t seen the world outside the four walls of jail.

In the Goalpara detention centre, there were more than fifty actual Bangladeshis. Their circumstances showed how little concern the state has for those it deems foreigners. Some of the people we met had been there for nearly a decade, with little or no contact with the outside world. One of the detainees showed me a torn piece of paper with a Bangladeshi phone number. He had memorised the number five years earlier when he was first brought to the centre, and had now scrawled it on the paper, in the hope that he would one day get to call his family and inform them of his whereabouts. While my community is abused as illegal Bangladeshi on a daily basis, while lakhs of us are stripped of our citizenship rights, thousands arbitrarily declared foreigners and hundreds detained, actual Bangladeshis are dying to go back to their country. The government is taking no steps to make this happen.

*

After I returned from the detention centre, the innocent face of the boy continued to haunt me for a long time. Even now, I imagine my son in his place. The very thought sends a shiver down my spine.

I tried thinking of my visit as a privilege. After all, I had a firsthand experience of the horrors that people from my state were being subjected to. I became hopeful. I worked to document every important detail, so that when the report went to National Human Rights Commission and subsequently to my government, it could result in some positive change. My confidence was bolstered by various details that I was privy to—for instance, the mother of the four-year-old child was neither a Miya nor a Bengali Hindu, she belongs to the so-called indigenous Muslim community, a khati—pure—Axomiya. I was sure that my chief minister, Sarbananda Sonowal, who has built his political career on the campaign platform of protecting the rights of indigenous Assamese, would not tolerate this gross violation of their human rights.

But I was wrong again. Mander submitted the report to the NHRC, detailing the inhuman conditions of detainees and the procedural drawbacks of the process, as well as suggesting remedies. The NHRC—the highest quasi-judicial body in the country, which is mandated to protect the human rights of every individual, especially disadvantaged groups such as women, children and minorities—did not respond even after repeated follow-ups. This forced Mander to resign from the position of special monitor. He wrote a compassionate essay calling the detention centres “the dark side of humanity and legality.”

In June, four special rapporteurs of United Nations Human Right Council wrote a letter to the ministry of external affairs, expressing its alarm and concern at complaints it had received about the exclusionary measures being taken by the NRC authority and the Election Commission. The measures, it feared, would exacerbate the discrimination faced by Miya Muslims and Bengali Hindus, “who may wrongfully be declared as ‘foreigners’ and consequently rendered stateless” or deprived “of the right to political participation and representation.”

The letter cast the national spotlight on the NRC process. National and international media, which had so far paid little attention to the issues and concerns of Miya Muslims such as myself, began giving us coverage. No doubt there were issues—a community, many members of which have lived in Assam for generations and have done everything within their power to assimilate into Assamese society and culture, was referred to simply as “Bengali,” either Muslim or Hindu. Nevertheless, these stories highlighted the plight of the Assamese speaking Miya Muslims, especially the role of foreigners tribunal and border police, or the pathetic conditions of people living in the chars of Assam.

I expected that this would help bring some justice to the people fighting the biased tribunal and languishing in detention centres across the state. But the Assamese nationalists had a different plan. A counter-campaign soon ensued in Assamese media, accusing an imaginary vested interest group of acting against the interests of the state, and attacking human-rights workers such as Mander for attempting to throw a spanner into the works of the NRC.

An error-free NRC is not the demand of only the so-called Assamese nationalists, but also for a Miya like me, whose Assamese identity has always been under question. In July 2010, along with three others, my wife’s nephew was killed in police firing. They were protesting against the pilot project of the NRC being conducted. One of the columns in the form led to much anger as it asked for the country of origin. They were demanding an error-free NRC. My community viewed the NRC—a document that would officially grant us our identities—as a weapon to fight the humiliation and persecution we faced.

This belief was systematically destroyed as dozens of exclusionary filters were put into the updating process, including the clause of the so-called “Original Inhabitants” to exclude Miya Muslims and Bengali Hindus. The issue of D-voters could have been solved along with the NRC updating process, but excluding the descendants of people deemed foreigners by the tribunals has created more problems.

When someone raises these questions against these exclusionary and discriminatory processes, they become anti-Assamese even in the eyes of the so-called liberal Assamese intellectuals. My liberal Assamese friends accuse me of not being sensitive to the “threat” they are facing from the supposed large-scale migration from Bangladesh. I almost want to feel this threat, but when I look back at my life, I realise that this threat is me—a Miya.

I think of my mission to be called Axomiya.  If I lay claim to Srimanta Sankardev, the architect of modern Assamese society, if I prefer organising Bihu over an Eid mehfil—we stopped celebrating the Bengali New Year over a century ago—if I feel proud when my son sings the songs of the revolutionary Assamese cultural icon Bishnu Rabha, then what threat do I carry? Why do the Assamese chauvinists question my identity despite me having a history of five generations living in this land?

I realise that my Axomiya qualities do not matter. What matters is that I am not them. They are not concerned about deporting illegal immigrants. The “threat” is not about a threat to the Assamese language or the culture—Miya Muslims like me are a threat to their privilege and supremacy.

I do not know how to explain to them how I feel when I see my mainstream Assamese friends and their children being included in the NRC without having to produce so much as a document, while our credentials are examined thoroughly. If the NRC process is a test and everybody consented to participate, why is there not a level playing field?

Even our supposed allies appear not to understand. During the Assam Agitation in the 1980s, when the demand to update the NRC became a point of fierce contention, Hiren Gohain was one of the few intellectuals who described the agitation as hollow. An outspoken public intellectual, Gohain is also a fierce critic of the BJP’s majoritarian rule. But even he couches his descriptions of the suffering of Assam’s Muslims with the terms “seems” and “maybe.”

Although he said in an interview with Al Jazeera that everyone who came to Assam before 1971 should be termed natives of this land, Gohain clarified many things for the people of Assam, especially Miya Muslims, in a recent Assamese-language article. He gave us a suggestion, saying that Miya Muslims “should not forget that seeking safety from platoons of police and CRPFs is delusional. Their safety and the preservation of their basic day to day life is chiefly dependent on the trust and goodwill of the indigenous people.”

If I understand him correctly, I must console myself that my self-respect, my pride of being Assamese, or even my mere existence in this part of the world, is not only dependent on the trust and goodwill of the indigenous Assamese people but also on their kindness and grace. If the indigenous people do not trust us, Gohain appears to be saying that the world’s largest democracy cannot provide us security or protection. Gohain is not just another intellectual— for our community, he was the epitome of courage and struggle. When he suggests that we not seek protection and justice from the state and surrender before the supremacy of indigenous people, I understand why thousands of my community members massacred in Nellie, Nagabanda, Chaolkhuwa, Bahbari, and Khagrabari did not get justice.

Gohain’s words, though hurtful, have a kernel of truth—I no longer trust the state to accept that I am Axomiya, to protect my rights. But I will survive. Swallowing abuse and humiliation has made me resilient. I have learnt how to live like a second-grade Axomiya. I only wonder how to prepare my three-year old son.

 

Originally published at https://caravanmagazine.in/politics/growing-up-miya-in-assam-how-the-nrc-weaponised-my-identity-against-me

মোৰ নাম আব্দুল কালাম আজাদ; কিন্তু মই বাংলাদেশী নহয়৷

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মেট্ৰিক পৰীক্ষা দি উঠিয়ে দাদাৰ লগত গুৱাহাটীলৈ আহিছিলো হাজিৰা কাম কৰিবলৈ৷ দাদাই ৰাজ মিস্ত্ৰী কাম কৰে৷ আমাৰ গাৱঁৰ ল’ৰাবোৰে গুৱাহাটীলৈ আহি হাজিৰা কৰা একো ডাঙৰ কথা নহয়৷ কাম কৰি বেয়াও লগা নাছিল৷ দিনটোৰ উপাৰ্জন ৬০ৰ পৰা ৭০ টকা৷ শাৰীৰিক পৰিশ্ৰম কৰাটো অন্ততঃ মোৰ বাবে সিমান কঠিন কাম নাছিল, কিয়নো পঞ্চম শ্ৰেণীত পঢ়ি থকা সময়তে বাৰিষা কালত প্ৰতিদিনে মই প্ৰায় ৩ কিলোমিটাৰ ভূৰ চলাই স্কুললৈ গৈছিলোঁ ৷

কিন্তু গুৱাহাটীলৈ আহি প্ৰথম উপলব্ধি কৰিছিলো যে মোৰ বা আমাৰ গাৱঁৰ মানুহখিনিৰ আৰু এটা পৰিচয় আছে৷ সেয়া হ’ল আমি মিঞা বা কেতিয়াবা পোনচাতেই বাংলাদেশী৷

এদিন আবেলি মই আৰু মোৰ খুৰা, লালগনেশৰ ৰোলিংমিলৰ ওচৰত ৰাস্তা পাৰ হ’বলৈ ৰৈ আছো৷ খুৰাৰ ভৰিৰ বিষ, দুদিন ৰিক্সা চলাব পৰা নাই৷ ফাৰ্মাছিলৈ যাম৷ এনেতে মানুহ এজনে আমাক মাতিলে৷ তেওঁৰ গাড়ীখন ষ্টাৰ্ট হোৱা নাই৷ ঠেলি দিব লাগে৷ খুৰাই মাত্ৰ কৈছিলহে “মোৰ ভৰিৰ বিষ”৷ মই একো ধৰিবই নোৱাৰিলো৷ মানুহজনে অতৰ্কিতে খুৰাৰ পেটত ভুকুৱাবলৈ ধৰিলে৷’কেলা বাংলাদেশী মিঞা, ভৰিৰ বিষ দেখাব আহিছ’৷ মই পিছদিনাই ঘৰলৈ উভটি গুচি গ’লো৷

মেট্ৰিক পাছ কৰিলো৷ গৰেমাৰীৰ জনপ্ৰিয় কলেজত নাম লগালো৷ ঘৰৰ পৰা প্ৰায় বিছ কিলোমিটাৰ৷ বাৰিষা কালত চাইকেল লৈ অহা-যোৱা কৰা মুস্কিল৷ নুৰুল আমিনৰ ঘৰত জাগিৰ হিচাপে থাকিলো৷ আমাৰ সমাজত এতিয়াও জাগিৰ ৰখাৰ নিয়ম আছে৷ খুৰা-খুৰীয়ে মোক পুত্ৰ জ্ঞান কৰি মোৰ কিতাপ-পত্ৰৰ পৰা আৰম্ভ কৰি সকলো খৰচ বহন কৰিছিল৷ তেওঁলোকে আশা কৰা ধৰণেই মই প্ৰথম বিভাগত হায়াৰ ছেকেন্ডাৰী পাছ কৰিলো৷ কিন্তু তেওঁৰ ঘৰত থাকি ডিগ্ৰী পঢ়াৰ সুবিধা নহ’ল৷

গতিকে, আকৌ পইচাৰ প্ৰয়োজন, সেয়েহে আকৌ গুৱাহাটী৷ এইবাৰ হাজিৰা কাম নকৰো বুলি ঠিক কৰিলো৷ দাদাই পুলিচ বিষয়াৰ গাড়ী ধোৱা কামৰ কথা ক’লে৷ মোৰ পছন্দ নহ’ল৷
বৰঞ্চ চেলচ্ মেন হবলৈ ঠিৰাং কাৰিলো৷ Door to door ফিনাইল বিক্ৰী কৰা কাম আৰম্ভ কৰিলো৷ প্ৰথম এক সপ্তাহ, এবটলো ফিনাইলো বিক্ৰী কৰিব নোৱাৰিলো৷ অৱশ্যে মই লাহে লাহে ভাল চেলচ মেন হৈ গৈছিলোঁ৷ দিনটোত দুশৰ পৰা তিনিশ টকা উপাৰ্জন কৰিব পৰা হৈ গৈছিলোঁ৷ কিন্তু তেতিয়ালৈ কলেজত নাম ভৰ্তিৰ সময় পাৰ হৈ গ’ল৷ গতিকে এটা বছৰ উপাৰ্জন কৰাৰ বাহিৰে বেলেগ কোনো ৰাস্তা নাছিল৷

গুৱাহাটীৰ প্ৰায় প্ৰত্যেকটো এলেকাত মই ফিনাইল বিক্ৰী কৰি ঘূৰি ফুৰোঁ৷ তেতিয়া নিৰ্বাচনৰ বতৰ৷ভূপেন দাৱো প্ৰাৰ্থী৷ তেওঁৰ গান গোটেই গুৱাহাটীতে বাজি আছে৷ নিৰ্বাচনৰ আগদিনাৰ কথা৷ পূৱ শৰণীয়া৷ ৰাতিপুৱা ৯:৩০ মান বজাত মই প্ৰথম ঘৰত কলিং বেল বজালো৷ প্ৰথম ঘৰতেই অঘটন৷ দুৱাৰ খুলিয়ে মানুহজনে সুধিলে “কি লাগে?” মোৰ চেলচ মেনৰ আদব-কায়দাৰে আৰম্ভ কৰিব যাওঁতেই খং তেওঁৰ চুলিৰ আগ পালেগৈ৷ খঙাল বদ-মেজাজী মানুহ মই আগতেও পাইছো, কিন্তু এওঁ বেলেগ৷ আগতে মোৰ নাম ঠিকনা সুধিলে তাৰ পিছত আৰম্ভ কৰিলে- কেলা মিঞা, বাংলাদেশী৷ ভোট নিদি ইনকাম কৰিব আহিছ’, ভাগ৷ মই এটা কথাও ক’ব নোৱাৰিলো৷ ভয় আৰু অপৰাধবোধে মোক আগুৰি ধৰিলে৷ লাহেকৈ গেটটো বন্ধ কৰি, চাইকেলত উঠিলো৷ চিধা লালগনেশৰ ভাৰাঘৰলৈ গলোঁ৷ লাজ আৰু অপৰাধবোধত মই ভাৰাঘৰতে বহু সময় কান্দিলো৷ নিজকে প্ৰশ্ন কৰিলো, সঁচাই আমি বাংলাদেশীনে? মায়ে কৈছিল, দেউতা হেনো ১৯৫৬ চনত স্থাপিত মন্দিয়া হাইস্কুলৰ প্ৰথম Batchৰ ছাত্ৰ আছিল আৰু ভোট দিবলৈ মই কিয় নগলো? যিখন দেশৰ গণতন্ত্ৰই মোক কলেজত নাম লগাব নিদিলে, সেইখন দেশৰ গণতান্ত্ৰিক কৰ্তব্য পালন নকৰি মই জানো অপৰাধ কৰিছোঁ? আবেলি লুটুমাৰ পৰা এখন সাপ্তাহিক কাকত কিনি আনিলোঁ৷ তাতে পৰাগ দাস ডাঙৰীয়াই চৰ-চাপৰিৰ মুছলমানৰ সম্পৰ্কে লিখা পুনৰ প্ৰকাশিত লিখনিটো পঢ়ি মোৰ ভয় লাহে লাহে আঁতৰি গ’ল৷

মই চেলচ মেনৰ কাম এৰি নিদিলো৷ বৰঞ্চ ভালেখিনি টকা ৰাহি কৰিলো৷ Assam Tribuneত খবৰ পালো যে Assam Universityত BA LLB আৰম্ভ কৰিছে৷ কলেজত থাকোতে মই তৰ্ক সম্পাদক আছিলো৷ প্ৰফেছৰসকলে কৈছিল মই ভাল উকিল হ’ব পাৰিম৷ নাম ভৰ্তি কৰিবলৈ ঠিৰাং কৰিলো৷ ইংৰাজীৰ বাবে Personal Interview ভাল নহ’লেও নাম ভৰ্তিৰ সুবিধা পালো৷ কিন্তু বাংলাদেশীৰ অভিশাপ মোৰ ওপৰত থাকিলেই৷ হোষ্টেলৰ ছিনিয়ৰ অসমীয়া এজন লগ পাই পৰিচয় হ’বলৈ গলোঁ৷ মোৰ নাম ঠিকনা সুধিলে৷ যেতিয়া গম পলে ঘৰ বৰপেটাৰ মন্দিয়াত৷ তেতিয়া ক’লে তাৰ মানে “মিঞা”৷ একো ক’ব নোৱাৰিলো৷ তেওঁ ছিৰিৰে তললৈ নামি ডাইনিং হলৰ ফালে গ’ল৷ মই তেওঁৰ পৰা লুকাই ফুৰিবলৈ আৰম্ভ কৰিলো৷

উচ্চ শিক্ষা লোৱাৰ সুবিধা মোৰ বেছি দিন নহ’ল৷ মোৰ জমা টকাও শেষ হৈ আহিবলৈ ধৰিলে৷ এনেতে হঠাৎ খবৰ পালো, ভন্টিক শহুৰৰ পৰিয়ালৰ মানুহে মাৰি পেলালে৷ মই শিলচৰৰ পৰা ঘৰলৈ যাওঁতে, এদিন ৰাতি, তাইক সিহতৰ ঘৰৰ পৰা খেদি পঠিয়াইছিল৷ তাই বাহিৰত বহি কান্দি আছিল৷ সিদিনা তাইক মাত্ৰ বিছ হেজাৰ টকা দিব পাৰিলে হয়তো তাই বাচি থাকিলেহেঁতেন৷

মই থানাত গোচৰ দিবলৈ গলোঁ৷ পুলিচে মোৰ গোচৰ নল’লে৷ সিহঁতে ডাক্টৰক টকা খুৱাই পোষ্ট মৰ্টেম ৰিপোৰ্ট মেনিপোলেট কৰিলে৷ মই এবছৰ সময় মহিলা আয়োগ, মানৱাধিকাৰ আয়োগ, চি আই ডি, ফৰেন্সিক লেব’ৰেটৰী আদিত ঘূৰি ফুৰিলো৷ শেহত গোচৰ ৰেজিষ্টাৰ হ’ল৷ পুলিচে আচামী ধৰিলে৷ গোচৰ এতিয়া বিচৰাধীন৷ মোৰ ওপৰত নানান ভাবুকি৷ এইবোৰ টেনচনত মাৱো এদিন হাৰ্ট এটাক হৈ মৰি থাকিল৷ শেষ সময়ত মাৰ কাষতো থাকিব নোৱাৰিলো৷

মোৰ আইন পঢ়া নহ’ল৷ ঠিকনা আকৌ গুৱাহাটী৷ বন্ধু ৰশ্বিদুলৰ টকাৰে দুয়ো ইগনোত এডমিশ্বন ল’লো৷ BSW পঢ়িবলৈ ঠিক কৰিছিলো৷ কিন্তু চাৰিশ টকাৰ অভাৱত Tourismতে নাম লগালো৷ গুৱাহাটীত থকা-খোৱা মেনেজ কৰিবলৈ তাৰকা হোটেলত ওৱেটাৰৰ কামত সোমালো৷তাতো সহকৰ্মীৰ ঠাট্টা৷ মিঞা হোৱাটো যেন মোৰ বাবে আটাইতকৈ ডাঙৰ অপৰাধ৷ এনেতে ভাৰা ঘৰত লগ পালো ৰাজেশ ছেত্ৰীক৷ তেওঁ তেতিয়া টপছেম ছিমেন্টত ভাল চাকৰি কৰে৷ ৰাতি মোক ইংৰাজী শিকায় আৰু ঠাট্টা-মস্কৰাৰ পৰা ৰেহাই পোৱাৰ টিপছ দিয়ে৷

এদিন উজান বজাৰৰ ভাৰা ঘৰৰ পৰা ওলাইয়ে ৰাস্তালৈ চাওঁ, মানুহৰ জুম৷ তেতিয়া উজনি অসমত বাংলাদেশী ধৰাৰ উজান উঠিছে৷ গতিকে গুৱাহাটীতো৷ আগবাঢ়ি গ’লো৷ পুলিচ ভান এখনত ১৪-১৫ জনমান বনুৱাক ঠেলি হেঁচি উঠাই আছে৷ মানুহে হয়তো জন্তু-জানোৱাৰকো তেনেকুৱা ব্যাৱহাৰ নকৰে৷ মই ভানৰ পিছে পিছে লতাশিল থানালৈ গ’লো৷ পুলিচে সকলোকে লক আপত ভৰাই থৈ, এটা এটাকৈ মাতি নাম ঠিকনা লিখিবলৈ ধৰিলে৷ এজনী মহিলা শ্ৰমিকক স্বামীৰ নাম সোধাত থত-মত খাই একো ক’ব নোৱাৰিলে৷ আমাৰ গাঁৱলীয়া মহিলাই আজিৰ দিনতো স্বামীৰ নাম উচ্চাৰণ নকৰে৷ কিন্তু মানুহখিনিক ধৰি দিয়া সকলৰ মাজৰ পৰা এজনে উত্তৰ দিলে “কেনেকৈ ক’ব, কেইজনৰ লগত বা শুৱে?” মই লুকাই চুৰকৈ, সাধ্যানুসাৰে, কাৰোবাক কাৰেবাক ফোন কৰিলোঁ৷ আবেলি মানুহখিনিক এৰি দিলে৷ পিছত খবৰৰ কাগজত চৰকাৰে প্ৰকাশ কৰিলে যে তেওঁলোক বাংলাদেশী নহয়৷

ৰাজেশদাই এদিন আই এম আৰ বি ইন্টাৰনেশ্বনেল নামৰ কোম্পানীত মানুহ লাগে বুলি জনালে৷ কামটো পালো৷ গোটেই অসম ঘূৰি ফুৰু৷ তাতে নিজৰ দাদাৰ দৰে প্ৰনৱ পাটোৱাৰীক টীম লিডাৰ হিচাপে পালো৷ বন্ধু হিচাপে পালো ভবেন শৰ্মাক৷ কিন্তু ইয়াতো মোক বাংলাদেশী বুলি জোকাবলৈ মানুহৰ অভাৱ নহ’ল৷ দাস উপাধিধাৰী টীম লিডাৰ এজনে ওৰাং যাওঁতে গোটেই দিনটো মোক অসহ্যকৰ যন্ত্ৰণা দিছিল৷

কিন্তু মই থমকি ৰোৱা নাই৷ মোৰ ডিগ্ৰী কমপ্লেট নহওঁতে UAE Exchange নামৰ বিদেশী মূদ্ৰা বিনিময়কাৰী ডাঙৰ কোম্পানীত অফিচাৰ হিচাপে চাকৰি পালো৷ তাতে ধ্ৰুৱদাই বাংলাদেশী বুলি জোকালেও, বহুত মৰম কৰিছিল৷ মোৰ গাইড হিচাপে সদায় সহায় কৰিছিল৷ এবছৰৰ চাকৰি কালত তিনিবাৰ শ্ৰেষ্ঠ কৰ্মচাৰী হিচাপে স্বীকৃতি পালো৷ চ’ছিয়েল ছেক্টৰত কাম কৰাৰ বাবে আগ্ৰহ দিনে দিনে বাঢ়ি গৈ থাকিল৷ ২০১০ চনত উজ্জীৱন নামৰ মাইক্ৰ’ফাইনেঞ্ছ কোম্পানীত ব্ৰাঞ্চ মেনেজাৰ হিচাপে যোগ দিলো৷ কৰ্মক্ষেত্ৰ হিচাপে মই লালগনেশ, কল’নী বজাৰ, কালাপাহাৰ আদি এলেকা বাছি ললো৷ যিজন মানুহে মোৰ খুৰাৰ পেটত ভুকুয়াইছিল, তেওঁৰ পৰিয়ালৰ সদস্যকো মই লোন দিয়াৰ সুবিধা পালো৷

অন্ধ্ৰ প্ৰদেশৰ ঘটনাই মোক মাইক্ৰ’ফাইনেঞ্ছৰ ওপৰত লিখা-মেলা কৰাৰ বাবে উদগনি দিলে৷ মোৰ কেইবাটাও লিখা Assam Tribute, Eastern Chronicle সমন্বিতে আন লাইন নিউজ পৰ্টেলত প্ৰকাশ পালে৷ এনেতে এদিন মোক জামছেদপুৰৰ XLRI ৰ Economics আৰু Finance ৰ Professor H K Pradhan য়ে International Workshop এটালৈ আমন্ত্ৰণ কৰিলে৷ XLRIত তিনিদিন থাকি মই উপলব্ধি কৰিলো যে, যদি সঁচা অৰ্থত সমাজৰ বাবে কিবা কৰিবলৈ যাওঁ, তেতিয়াহ’লে মই নিজকে প্ৰস্তুত কৰিব লাগিব আৰু তাৰ বাবে মই উচ্চ শিক্ষা গ্ৰহণ কৰিবই লাগিব৷ যোৱা বছৰ আই আই টি আৰু টাটা ইনস্টিটিউট অফ ছ’ছিয়েল ছায়েন্সত বাছনি পৰিক্ষাত বহিছিলো, কিন্তু কৃতকাৰ্য্য হ’ব নোৱাৰিলো৷ এবছৰ কষ্ট কৰাৰ পিছত এইবাৰ টাটা ইনস্টিটিউট অফ ছ’ছিয়েল ছায়েন্সত পালো৷ অহা দুই বছৰ মই কমিউনিটি অৰ্গেনাইজেশ্বন আৰু ডেবেলপমেন্ট প্ৰেকটিচৰ শিক্ষা গ্ৰহণ কৰিম৷ পঢ়াৰ লগতে মই বিনা বেতনত বালিচন্দা নামৰ এখন অসমীয়া সাহিত্যৰ মাহেকীয়া আলোচনী আৰু The Alternative Voice নামৰ এখন ইংৰাজী মাহেকীয়া আলোচনীতো কাম কৰিম৷

আৰু এটা কথা, যোৱা প্ৰায় তিনিটা বছৰে কোনেও মোক মিঞা বা বাংলাদেশী বুলি কষ্ট দিয়া নাই, জোকোৱাও নাই৷ কিন্তু যিসকল মোৰ লগত গুৱাহাটীলৈ আহিছিল? তেওঁলোক আজিও মিঞা, আজিও বাংলাদেশী৷ আজিও ট্ৰাকে ট্ৰাকে বাংলাদেশী ধৰাৰ খবৰ পাওঁ৷ মোৰ আগৰ দিনবোৰ ছবিৰ দৰে ভাহি আহে৷ হয়তো গৰেমাৰীৰ নুৰুল খুৰা, ৰাজেশদা বা পাটোৱাৰীদাৰ দৰে মানুহ নাপালে মই আজিও বাংলাদেশী হৈয়ে থাকিলো হয়৷