Image source: The Times of India
Being Indian never meant easy answers. Not for the ancient people who lived in their little kingdoms and certainly not for us; the twenty-first century web-savvy young Indian who thinks the world could not have been better. A few weeks ago as the violence broke out in my home district and its adjoining areas I received calls from my panicking friends and even seniors. Then we started talking about it. It seemed to me there and then that no one had ever come up with the definition of an Indian for a very good reason: there isn’t one.
The identity of the Indian here is not to be confused with any historical truths or claims. The idea here is to explore the fragile bond that we share in this nation where the diversity often translates into pure ignorance and indifference that borders upon insensitivity. I remember a minister in Punjab coming up with the ingenious idea of solving the problem of too many stray dogs by sending them to the Northeast while in the Northeast, the people of ‘mainland’ India often feel ‘different’. My friend’s father who often travels there tells me that people there call her dad ‘Indian’. How strange the ideas must be on both sides of the spectrum. To add to this is the insecurity regarding some illegal immigrants from faraway Bangladesh coming to take away economic opportunities. Is it any wonder that violence is still considered one of the best examples of defence mechanism? Certainly not.
Even though many have characterized the violence in Assam as communal, it couldn’t have been farther from the truth. The fact is, this violence broke out as a turf war to be precise. The Bodo community felt that Bangladeshi migrants were taking their lands and this is where the insecurity built up to an unfortunate climax of inhuman violence. To be very honest here, those who were showing this to be the ‘second Godhra’ or something similar in the national media, forgot that a considerable number of the Bodos are actually Christian. So, where does the question of communal violence come from? And the amusing scenario that unfolded was more or less tragic. The people, notably public figures in Lower Assam, promptly ‘supported’ the violence as a ‘defence mechanism’. Perhaps this is where the question of humanity comes up in this case. Does the fact that they are allegedly ‘illegal’ take away their basic human right to stay alive? The haunting pictures of displaced figures from both sides in the aftermath loom like long shadows on the famed pillars of the fragile Indian democracy.
There are no direct answers to what the government should do or should not do. As an Indian, the evidence that rumors of communal violence can result in a mass exodus makes me question the basis on which the identity of ‘being’ an Indian start. It does not matter from where the rumor started and banning SMSs can hardly answer that major question for us. For north easterns who live away from home, this becomes a conflict of relating to the larger issue, I think. On one hand we are always classed as the ‘other’ type of Indians. On the other hand when violence like this breaks out, we become figures who either receive pity or looked upon as the persecuted. The issues that came out with this violent outbreak in lower Assam can be categorized as:
- A question of basic identities. Who is what ‘type’ of Indian? Isn’t it surprising that when violence breaks out in Assam, the entire Northeastern community goes through a phase of uncertainty?
- A question of existence. If a simple rumor mill has resulted in an exodus of people from one part of the country to another, how much faith should one have regarding the nation’s integrity?
We have long roads to cover before we answer these questions. For now, as the violence stops we too stop questioning. But till what time shall that happen?