Sunday, 23 December 2007

Ethnophobia in Guwahati: Reflections on Twentyfourth November

Ethnophobia in Guwahati: Reflections on Twentyfourth November

A new metro dotted with a swanky skyline shows a potent underbelly for the crimes of passion on the street! An Adivasi women, Mandini, being outraged on its street in the presence of a cheering crew of camera wielding mob gives a mix of virile pleasure with an aesthetic of crime. On this obstreperous note, one sees the extent of criminal retaliation on emaciated menfolk of the Adivasis by the urban bred mob of post graduates, restaurant waiters and even young men from respectable middle class homes.

Adivasis came for justice and recognition on this ominous day of twentyfourth of November to this new metro. Being bruised, tortured and killed, they all were kept holding their ears by the police as a symbolic admission of their guilt. They are the marginalized and bone-turned-white arkati labourers who currently are the pluckers of leaf in the gardens of flamboyantly proud estate owners of Assam. It is a pride built on the shame of the dehumanized Adivasis, now re-enacted in the assaults on their men and women. Official statements indeed say it as 'retaliation after the Adivasis went berserk'! The wounded and the dead tell it all- who bore the reckless beating by these retaliators. The emaciated, malnourished and bucolic menfolk of the Adivasi protestors were surrounded, stoned, kicked and thrown into gutters by these retaliators. The Adivasi women rallyists were subjects of lewd comments from this set of tormentors. Still they are held guilty of their shame and harassment. The culpable homicide of Samson Naguri and the pronominal 'she' called Mandini instantiate a systematic collusion between the State and the retaliators. After the shrill mayhem, the State now atones by a series of commissioned inquiries, transfers and 'sack' of some bureaucrats and police officers.

In the domain of the civil society a there is an orchestrated attempt to portray the lack of shame on twentyfourth November as a legitimate expression of 'animosity' against the transgressors on the street, the Adivasis. One is appalled to hear a neo-Nietzschean vein of ressentiment from among the silent majority of Assam's intellectuals, elites and politicians about a historic sense of being the target of Adivasi anger. The projection of Adivasis being a mob of angry drunken lot is a schematic inversion of ethnic rage on any claim of recognition by anyone whom they consider 'other' within the layered and nuanced contours of Assam's language and culture.

The rage went in disciplining the Adivasi protestors as they could not take the abuses hurled at their womenfolk on their march to the State headquarters. What the great existentialist thinker Sartre called 'crime of passion', that is, a crime of lust, consternation and contempt that arises from a deeper sense of alienation found its expression. Politically speaking, constant harping on the theme of identity crisis among the ethnic elites of Assam from their non-ethnic others such as tribals, minorities-religious and linguistic, Adivasis and immigrants has already become a paranoia. The influence of ethno-nationalism cuts deep into the democratic sensibilities of self-righteous sections of Assam's civil society, who are yet to raise its voice against street hoodlums conducting mayhem on Adivasi rallyists. The result is that a vicious cycle of violence now touches Adivasi hamlets and they now too become revengeful on their counterpart. The human right groups, the conscience keeping intellectuals and the culture personalities suddenly fell silent when the instigators and the organizers of such dastardly outrage and killing are trying to speak in the name of Adivasi rage on the Assamese elites. Those who inquisitioned the Indian State for Kakopatahar, secret killings and monopoly of violence are now numbed by a passionate ethnophobia, the phobia of the other, even if the other is weak. Acts of retaliation, to say the least, is now condoned by these self-respecting individuals and groups. In effect, this pragmatically silent crew of opinion makers of Assam is now recovering from the shock of being caught in a narrow ethnic chauvinism as littérateurs are slowly penning down the 'swirls in the heart' generated by Mandini's rape. In this catharsis of victors, the Adivasis as transgressors within the civic space of Guwahati ( they were not given permission to hold the rally ) are continued to be paid back in a punishing coin. Home minister Shivraj Patil declared in the Lok Sabha that the Adivasis of Assam have lost their tribal characteristics and in effect, they are neither included in the list of tribes nor they become a part of the Assam's ethnic mosaic. They are just there in Assam as an exterior of both the State and the civil society. Guwahati, if described as the cosmopolis of the proud tea producers of Assam, cleans up the wound that it inflicted on the Adivasis by boasting its eligibility to host the first India international tea convention.

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