DATELINE Guwahati /Wasbir Hussain
Years of efforts at reaching an acceptable definition of an ‘Assamese’ may not have yielded results so far, but the new president of the still–influential Asom Sahitya Sabha (ASS), Dr Dhrubajyoti Bora, has sought to solve the puzzle by making a forceful argument that the Assamese identity or tiolity would be determined by those who speak or use the Assamese language, irrespective of whether it is their mother tongueor not. Soon after his installation as the 67th president of the Sabha, Dr Bora, a medical doctor by training, said, in the coming days language would be the foundation of the Assamese tiolity, and all those who have been speaking or using Assamese as the first, second or third language will together ‘define the composite Assamese identity.’
This, in fact, is a rather bold statement in view of Assam’s socio–political faultlines where migrants from erstwhile East Bengal, who have been liberally using the Assamese language, are still sought to be bracketed as ‘Bangladeshis’ with many not ready to go by the definition or the cut–off date provided for in the Assam Accord. The new Sabha president has not shied away from dwelling on this aspect and said these migrants of erstwhile East Bengal origin have accepted Assamese as their language in every sphere of activity and that the language has got a major boost from it. Such instances, he said, are not common across the world.
Dr Bora has been quoted as saying thus: “Branding these people as Bangladeshis will only hamper the growth of Assamese language and literature. It will also affect others who have embraced the Assamese language as their own.” Before one goes to take a closer look at this new yardstick set by the new Sabha chief, one must also see what else Dr Bora has said. He has been quoted as saying, “The Assamese identity will be determined neither by religion nor by ethnicity, nor even by the language of a particular group of people or by a group from a particular place. It will be language–centric but a broader entity in the sense that its constituents will include equally those whose mother tongue is not Assamese but who have been using Assamese as second and third language.”
Assamese tiol organizations like the Sahitya Sabha have been losing its earlier influence or credibility for not taking clear stands or positions on key issues confronting the State and its people. That precisely is the reason why we have not been able to work out an acceptable definition of an ‘Assamese’ all these years and have received help from Government agencies or officials, although without unimity or success. Clarity is the need of the hour but while approaching or dwelling on the subject of migrants, we must bear in mind that there are illegal Bangladeshi migrants in Assam as well who have entered illegally after the Assam Accord cut–off date of March 25, 1971. It is the Government’s responsibility to detect and expel this category of people. But branding every migrant settler as ‘Bangladeshi’ is not an answer to the problem of illegal migration in the State because we all know that there had been interl migration to Assam and elsewhere in the region from erstwhile East Bengal before partition.
The Asom Sahitya Sabha is the apex body of Assamese social and cultural life, and, if one is to assume that the Assamese society comprise of every Assamese speaking person (going by Dr Bora’s take), it would mean that the Sabha has a binding responsibility towards all groups in Assam, including the ethnic groups who have similar socio–literary bodies of their own, like the Bodo Sahitya Sabha, for example. A leadership role is necessary to bind the different socio–literary bodies representing various groups and communities with the Asom Sahitya Sabha even while letting their independent identity exist or flourish undisturbed.
These are sensitive issues and issues that can be politicized for political gains with an eye on elections. Therefore, it is for the Assamese tiol organizations to rise to the occasion and steer the course by keeping things insulated from politics for the overall good of the Assamese society.