Assam Against CAA: ‘Pushing Others Towards a Fire We Are Avoiding’

‘Tragically, we, the Assamese, are having to push others towards the same “fire” we are saving ourselves from.”

3 min read
Photo used for representational purposes.

Guwahati, known as the ‘lahelahe’ city (‘lahelahe’ means ‘slow’ in Assamese) owing to its laidback pace, seems to have been held by the shoulders and shaken out of its sleep.

With the Citizenship Amendment Bill being passed and thereafter becoming the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), many indigenous tribes of the northeast find themselves in a soup, with their culture, language, heritage and very identity being threatened. Especially when these people had already been fighting battles to find representation in mainstream media and culture. When was the last time you saw a mainstream film featuring a character from the northeast as the protagonist? Congratulations, if you could think of at least one. Chances are, you will fail.

So the seemingly ‘harmless’ CAA pushed the entire region out onto the streets in the cold winters, with young and old alike singing slogans and songs of the motherland, risking their lives.

Saving Our Language

Such motherly instincts to protect one’s own culture is not uncommon however. Conflicts within the boundaries of our country have been increasing. Take a look at the Bodo movement. The Bodo youth had dedicated the best part of their lives fighting for separate statehood, as they believe this will give their tribe the much-deserved secure sense of identity and self-rule. In the same vein, the Gorkhas are fighting for Gorkhaland.

Take a probably less intense example — the aversion to inter-cultural marriage of the Parsi community, that stems not from racial or cultural supremacy, but ‘self-preservation’.

Today I woke up to find an SMS from my mother requesting me and my sisters to write to her at least one text message in the Assamese language before going to bed.

This is her way of making sure that we don’t forget our language, and thus, help sustain it.


Why the Instinct to Protect Our Ethnicity & Culture?

The recent happenings have led me to question what is it about one’s own language, culture and ethnicity, that people go to extreme lengths to preserve them? Ethnic conflicts lead to major threats to peace and security, blatant violation of human rights, inexplicable suffering, and in the worst case, even genocide. Yet we see people ready to take bullets to protect their own ethnicity and identity.

In the deepest seats of our consciousness lie our desperate need to protect our Self. And when the Self is threatened in any way, we get scared and therefore defensive. Our deeply-rooted shared history and world views breed a sense of familiarity and comfort in an otherwise strange land.

The instinct to preserve our ethnicity is organic and sub-conscious.

We join the sentiments and wear our ethnicity on our sleeves. But if asked why this preservation is important to us, most responses are abstract and even poetic. What simmers beneath however could be shared memories of discrimination in the hands of the hegemonic groups, and the shared history of sacrifice made by our forefathers.


Not Being Able to Let Go of The ‘Self’

Another plausible cause I reckon is access to resources. Our ethnicity is also a free privilege we get on our motherland. We expect our ethnicity to give us de facto leeway to its resources – political, economic, social – and when there are too many contenders to these resources, we find ourselves in a space of losing freedom. Because with socio, economic and political power comes the freedom to live our life on our terms.

All of this, I think, ultimately boils down to our Self, and we find it hard to let go of anything that secures our sense of Self. Thus, the CAA was the tipping point for the Northeast. The tragic irony however is that we are protecting ourselves from the very fire we are having to push others (read: immigrants / minorities) towards.

(Bhavna Dev Choudhury is a content strategist at an advertising agency in Ahmedabad. She hails from Assam. This is a personal blog, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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