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

23 September 2018
Nikhil Roshan
Nikhil Roshan

It has been more than a year since my three-year-old son started attending preschool. Like many other parents, I was nervous on his first day—I was worried that he might not be able to get along with his classmates—but as he spent more time without us, I slowly felt pride, and then happiness. That first day, when he came out through the preschool’s narrow gate, his eyes were teary and he looked frightened. I hugged him. His tears disappeared soon, and he began telling me about his day.

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 a 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.

Abdul Kalam Azad is an independent researcher, formerly with Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati.

Keywords: communalism religion Assam Muslim BJP Hindutva National Register of Citizens NRC Axomiya Bengali Hindus Bengali Muslims Miya Muslims Foreign Tribunal