The debate over intolerance has attained a new dimension after two Assamese Muslim organisations lashed out at writers and academicians for supporting Miyah poets accused of spreading hatred among communities. The two Assamese indigenous Muslim organisations Ujoni Axom Muslim Kalyan Parishad and Goriya Moriya Desi Jatiya Parishad expressed surprise at the release of a statement by more than 200 writers and academicians condemning filing of FIRs against Miyah poets.
On 10 July, an FIR was lodged by a journalist named Pranabjit Doloi against 10 Miyah poets and other activists for publishing and promoting a poem titled Write down I am a Miyah written by Hafiz Ahmed. The FIR alleged that the poem depicted Assamese people as xenophobic to the world. It also said that the poem poses a serious threat to the Assamese people as well as towards the national security and harmonious social atmosphere.
On Sunday more than 200 writers and intellectuals released a statement on social media condemning filing of the FIRs against Miyah poets as attempts to incriminate them.
The statement released by academicians and writers supporting Miyah poets said, "We unequivocally condemn such attempts to malign and criminalise the Miyah poets. Poetry can be a spontaneous and legitimate medium of expression of collective trauma, grievances and emotions. In the absence of other avenues, it often becomes the sole medium of speaking truth to power. Every single individual and community has, and should have, the natural right to do so without the fear of perverse consequences, including punitive action (such as FIRs). The criminalisation of any poetry marks the death of a healthy, democratic and humane society that we want Assam to be. In this context, we see Miyah Poetry as a legitimate form of literary protest against the victimisation of Bengal-origin Muslims of Assam."
Contesting this statement aggressively Manirul Islam Bora, the president of Ujoni Axom Muslim Kalyan Parishad said to Firstpost that it is a blatant lie that the said cases have been filed because of writing poetry.
"Anyone who knows the laws of India is aware that every individual has the right to choose his or her way of expression. No person can be incriminated for his choice of expression as per Indian law. In Assam, thousands of poetry books in different languages are published. None has filed any case against them," he said.
He further added that the cases have been filed against the Miyah poets only because of the inflammatory content of their poetry.
"We have not filed cases against all the Miyah poets and all Miyah poetries. Rather we have filed cases against a section of Miyah poets for publishing and promoting one specific poem in which there is a gross misrepresentation of the Assamese society and which bears a tremendous possibility to cause hatred and enmity among communities living in the state in complete harmony through ages," he said.
Pointing out that the poem in question titled Write Down I am a Miyah wrongly presented that Miyah women have been gang-raped by men from other communities in Assam just because they belong to the Miyah community.
"When did these hair raising, heinous incidents happen? In which place of Assam? Who committed this crime? Where are the cases corresponding to this crime? The writers and promoters of this poem could come up with no trace of any such incident which the poem claims to have happened in Assam. Then why this allegation was circulated at all. Just to create enmity among communities? Just to defame Assamese society?" he questioned.
The statement released by the writers and academicians also alleged that the Miyah poets have been subjected to abuse, online trolling and threats after the poem was published.
"We unequivocally condemn the cyberbullying, harassment and threats that the Miyah poets, activists and their friends are being subjected to. Such conduct is not just downright unacceptable in civil society, but also fall under the ambit of criminal offences," the statement said.
On this account, Hafizul Ahmed, the president of the Goriya Moriya Desi Jatiya Parishad said that the Miyah poets should approach the law enforcement agencies.
"Assamese society is not a society of bigots as some intellectuals would like to present us as. If the allegation of abuse is true, then they should file cases in the police station. For harassment or abuse of any form is a criminal offence and such cases should be duly investigated and tried in the court of law and cannot be tried in the media," he said.
Warning them further not to further disturb the secular fabric of Assam, Hafizul said, "It is true that Miyah poets have the right to write their own form of poetry. We respect that right. But Assamese Hindus and Muslims also have the right to live in a secular society which they inherited from their forefathers. None can take that right away from them. We would appeal everyone not to conspire to damage the secular nature of our society or else we would remain bound to appeal to the Government of India to drag the people who are conspiring to destabilise our society to the court of law."
Significantly, Miyah is a term which refers to the Muslims of Bangladeshi origin. The immigrant Muslim population share a testing relationship with the indigenous population which comprise of people from all faiths.
In Assam, there has all along been a demand to identify and deport illegal migrants from Bangladesh, as per which the process of NRC updation is going on in the state.
Hafiz Ahmed, who is also the president of Char Chapori Sahitya Sabha in a statement released to the press statement identified himself as an Assamese and expressed regret over the developments.
"I can never think of disrespecting the Assamese society. As an Assamese, I have dedicated myself to the development of Assamese language and culture. Still, I regret any hurt caused to the hearts of my brothers," the statement said.