Book: No ghosts in this city by Uddipana Goswami
Part 3 – Assam
The book is the story of small towns in Assam. Many stories within a single town, a lot of these towns were built around the creation of tea estates.
There were the Axamiya, the Bodo, and then other tribes living in Assam before the tea estates were set up by the British.
But the towns of Assam that continue to exist after that, are a microcosm of the immigrant. There were Bengali Hindus along with the Axamiya to begin with, who worked as smaller officials in the plantations. Bodos (and possibly other tribes) were brought in as labour. But the British soon felt that locals were hard to suppress easily, as they had the fallback of their own lands and forests. And so tribals from central India were brought in, people who could not go back so easily. More affluent Axamiya brought Bangladeshi Muslim poor as well, to work on their expanding agricultural fields.
When we read patterns of immigration and labour, we see affluent groups bringing in poorer sections from elsewhere. But even when populations live in proximity, work for a single economy, there are rules and hierarchies established to differentiate the haves and the have nots.
Then comes agitation and revolutions, where the marginalised sections try to reclaim land or gain some rights. The traditional thinking lambasts this with a question of, who will be there left to be ruled over, if all were to become kings! The powerful State terms it insurgency, and deploys armed force to contain it.
I also read that people in Assam today have to prove their lineage, so as to provide evidence that they are not foreigners.
Somewhere lost in this narration, is that humans travel in search of sustenance. Have always done so. And there are bound to be differences as long as we remain a thinking species. Where there is a border today, yesterday was a seamless land. We push out the newer people, unthinking that we were once new in this land.
Beyond literary idealism, how do we, as rational beings justify excluding those who are unlike us?