In the Crosshairs

How poetry became a crime in Assam

01 August 2019
Grieving women and their children in Assam’s Rangaloo village, where many residents were massacred and had their homes put to the torch, in 1983. Assam saw large-scale violence against the Bengali community from 1979 to 1985, during the Assam Agitation.
GETTY IMAGES
Grieving women and their children in Assam’s Rangaloo village, where many residents were massacred and had their homes put to the torch, in 1983. Assam saw large-scale violence against the Bengali community from 1979 to 1985, during the Assam Agitation.
GETTY IMAGES

Write
Write down I am a Miya
My serial number in NRC is 20,543
I have two children
Another is coming next summer
Will you hate him as you hate me?

These lines by Hafiz Ahmed, a Muslim poet of Bengali heritage from Assam, could potentially land him in jail. Ahmed is part of a literary movement called “Miya poetry”—Muslims of Bengali origin are referred to as “Miyas” in Assam—that, among other things, highlights the discrimination the community faces in the state. On 11 July, a first-information report was filed against Ahmed, along with nine other Miya poets, who were charged with criminal conspiracy and spreading social disharmony under various sections of the Indian Penal Code.

According to the local Assamese journalist who filed the report, the poems tried to defame the Assamese people as xenophobic, at a time when the National Register of Citizens was being updated in the state.

Samrat is a journalist and author. He is a co-editor of Insider/Outsider—Belonging and Unbelonging in North-East India.

Keywords: NRC Citizenship (Amendment) Bill National Register of Citizens Northeast India Assam
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