I grew up in the 1990’s one of the most difficult era of our times. My cousins today don’t realize what a time it was during the 90’s.I grew up hearing stories of how people we knew had been killed by the army. I hear counter stories of how “our boys” combated the Indian army. Sometimes I felt proud and at other times I didn’t know how to respond. I never witnessed an Independence Day a Republic Day function in my life .Those were the days of Doordarshan and it had its staple diet of nationalism, one in which I ended up bathing. And it was in this euphoria that once during the Independence Day I drew an Indian flag on paper and put it atop our house. Immediately I was slapped and brought to senses. Not because my parents were anti-nationals but because they didn’t want to incur the wrath of “the boys” who had eyes and ears everywhere.
As I grew up I was pulled between my national sentiments and my strong sub regional aspirations that began to find expression in my thoughts and my actions. It was perhaps during my 15th or 16th year that I realized that the grandiose dream of India that I had seen in Doordarshan all my life was not true entirely. My history also spoke of the brave Lachit Phukan who trounced the Mughal 16 times. Barring the Palas in Bengal once we were never conquered by the powers in Delhi not even once. I came to know about the brave Ahoms who ruled for 600 years defying historian’s perceptions of “rise and fall of empires.”And yet when I wanted to read more I couldn’t find anything. For all its glossy paper covers the Macmillan history books which spoke so eloquently about Delhi, South failed to mention Assam ,the NE albeit as a distant region of wild animals and wilder people! Those days internet was not in vogue and this predicament of mine tormented me haunted me. I became a staunch subnationalist and I stopped my attachment towards Independence and Republic Day.
And then as I started leaving my teenage years behind and took the first steps towards adulthood I realized that I had to rethink my own subnationalist aspirations once more. I began to understand that how much I wished to live in the past it was not possible for me anymore. In this global era when boundaries are fast disappearing to talk about territorial sovereignty is almost an oxymoron. Between the choices of staying with India, being independent and staying with China (as many in “mainland India” perceive NE to be!!)I preferred staying with India. Not because I had special attachment to Delhi but because the concept of freedom in my mind had changed its definition.
How could I call myself free when there were the poor languishing in my state? What good would freedom do if we were to be hit by floods ever year .What good would freedom do if we saw our young men and women leave their home at the first chance they get lamenting “lack of opportunities” in their home only to never return? I realized all of this meant nothing. It didn’t matter what national colors I wore what mattered was that poor man in the street was he truly free. My guess is no. Freedom as a concept is perhaps a tool of the middle class and the upper class to fuel their own ambitions firing the gun from the shoulders of the masses.In truth perhaps freedom in today’s world is a lie to fuel one’s own gains. Yes some struggles may be legitimate some may have historical connotations but this is not the 1930-40’s anymore where there is a global surge against imperialism.
And thus I was happy to witness the progress Assam had seen in the past 10 years. The Assamese inside me was content. Finally we were reaching out leaving the idiom of freedom a vague struggle behind and concentrating on development one which is a true lofty goal to be achieved. I felt proud when my friends who arrived from every corner of the country and were pleasantly surprised to find KFC in Guwahati. I felt happy when my friends called up to tell me that Assam had scored off the charts in health, education and other parameters. I finally believed our time had come. We had made peace the Bodos, the Karbis, the Misings; the Dimasas had finally come together albeit in some crude form to some understanding. I believed it was time we would work for a common good.
And once again I was proved wrong. Today as Assam burns I ask myself are we going back to the 80’s once more.18000 people lost their lives in that era a whole generation of people were ruined and today we stand at those crossroads again. It’s time we look at the history once more all of us with a pinch of salt. Immigration -illegal or not- is a universal phenomenon and it’s here to stay .We have to find ways to control it we have to find ways of harmonizing but we cannot let ourselves fall headlong into the tumultuous 80’s-90’s once more. It will take back our state 20 years back.
Some would argue that the way forward should be political freedom for us .Delhi doesn’t understand our feelings Delhi is tyrant. But then the question is who has stopped us from making inroads in Delhi. Delhi didn’t debar politicians from joining North Block, from joining national media, from joining administrative services, army services. When was the last time we heard a strong voice from Assam in the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha? Our MP’s mostly sit in the last benches and in my view talk as less as possible so as to attract minimum attention It’s us we who have decided not be the stakeholders for our own future. And now when hell broke loose we all went back to what we know best -Anarchy. It’s time we leave this quality for striving for anarchy behind. It’s time we bring peace, its time we the people of Assam reassess what we want and how we want it. A friend of mine called me and asked “Are you safe. Oh man Assam has gone back to those dark days once more!”
And I stood there shocked, humiliated and most of all hurt.