From Kashmir to North-East, speaking truth is sedition: a letter to JNU from Assam

Jyotirmoy Talukdar

As I type this, I get to see news, of course not from Times Now or Zee News – let’s not even talk about the latter – of a march of more than 3,000 people from JNU demanding release of the president of the university’s student union and a stop to the witch hunting by Delhi Police as ordered — confirmed by his interview to the media — by none other than the honorable home minister of the country. That 3,000 people instantaneously and spontaneously pour on to the streets against this travesty of democracy, polyphony and heteroglossia is a sign that all hopes of sanity and a better tomorrow are not yet lost.

Since this letter is written PDQ, I will not go into how the Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code is so outrageous that even Nehru in 1951 would call it obnoxious and objectionable and want to ‘get rid of it’. Nor into the fact that this law is so old that when it was born, Old Monk must have been New Monk and the Old Testament was still the New Testament, as they joke. People have mentioned this in the small, marginalized space they are getting, as are you, brave comrades, in the TV ‘debates’ (whatever happened to dictionary meaning of words?) by jingoists and self-proclaimed representatives of tax-payers masquerading as journalists.

This, then, does bring me to the small thing I want to go into here. As someone writing to you from a perennially circumferential, marginalized, contentious state and indeed, region, I must, on this concerned, distressed and disquieted night, write to you of concord, concurrence and camaraderie because we understand what you mean. Because we have suffered. Because Indian Army for us crores of people in the North Eastern Region is not what it is to Arnab Goswami and Sudhir Chaudhary.

If we remember soldiers braving snow, we also remember them in not so brave acts in my state and my region for decades, as we do in Kunan Poshpora, as we do in the eyes of our mothers and sisters who cross the river to safety in other villages if they hear of these lawkeepers visiting their own any hungry night. Events like the one you organized on February 9 are platforms that must remain in order to talk of dissent and shaping and unshaping, if peoples, regions and communities in the country should not continue to feel insignificant and peripheral. If asking for self-determination, freedom of speech, analyzing and even questioning the judiciary or executive or legislature is anti-national, then is forced monoethnicization, homogenization, hegemonization, division and communalism national? If protests done by you against the UGC discontinuing fellowships – which are anyway peanuts – braving the cold month after month in front of the Commission, if protests by all of you in front of Assam Bhawan against the rape of Karbi women by jawans or the dissatisfaction by you against the widely-discussed and debated trials of Yakub Memon or Afzal Guru or GN Saibaba amount to such reactions from the state, either the state is fascist or it is damn scared. But wait, they are the same thing, aren’t they?

If a few Kashmiri students in the programme raised slogans that the Indian state is not comfortable with, the state must first listen to them instead of hounding them. By hounding and hunting them, they also kill the issue – the issue of arguing about the judicial excesses, about capital punishment, about 377, about socioreligious bias and so many other issues that the state does not want any kind of minority to argue about. The argumentative Indian must be an oxymoron, seems the state to resolve. You must fight that, Kanhaiyas and Umars. So must all of us.

The history my state of Assam has with the Indian state is no different. All discontents existing for decades have been termed as ‘law and order’ problems, all dissenters as being on payroll of foreign countries, or simply as misguided youths. Lack of jobs and underdevelopment may not be the only reasons for unhappiness, they can also be ethnicity, language, identity, resources and nature of vision and attention from the Centre. As you must be aware from your training in revolutionary history and thoughts, this state has always stood up against chauvinism, or rather, chauvinisms. At different points of history, it has resisted different attempts at despotism. It has fought the Bengali hegemony in the nineteenth century over the Assam identity, as the state in the twentieth century fought fierce battles to throw away the consolidated Assamese (-speaking) hegemony. If the peasants have stood up against the ecological hazards called the big dams in sustained, successful movements, the Bengali speaking muslims have stood up for themselves, against de rigueur assimilation. If it has produced lumpens like Arnab Goswami, it has also produced revolutionaries like Bishnu Prasad Rabha.

Dissent does not look for a denouement. It is a perpetual reality, against newer tyranny, newer totalitarianism and dictatorship, with newer vigour and plenty of welly. Dissent is a birth right. Recently, you have relentlessly done that for students’ fellowships as you have done to show how Dalit scholars are officially treated in this country’s central universities. Salute to you from a colonial hinterland.

Jyotirmoy Talukdar is a struggling freelance journalist and unknown poet, Jyotirmoy Talukdar divides his time between Assam and Delhi. He takes everything with a pinch of salt, and hence prefers Tibetan tea. He can be contacted at


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