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Peasants, Students, Insurgents and Popular Movements in Contemporary Assam


Academic year: 2023

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Since the turn of the 20th century, political mobilization for change and renegotiation of power in Assam has centered on the peasantry. For much of the 20th century, the farmer was the locus of popular and democratic politics in Assam. I must speak here to explain my own involvement in radical social movements in the 1990s in Assam.

Historians and commentators of modern Assam have told us of the many ways in which the colonial state disrupted old agrarian structures of the Ahom kingdom in the Brahmaputra valley. From their vivid stories of cunning peasants and militant actions by their leaders, we are able to reflect on the kind of social and political contradictions that existed in the middle of the 20th century. This involved an interesting battle over the types of crops grown in the valley.

Like them, there were other groups of Assamese people who began to see their future in the expanding industries and institutions of the colonial state. However, the end of the Planter Raj made a fundamental difference to the developing educated classes in the region. He was a student activist in the 1990s, at a time when Nalbari was called Assam's Jaffna as it was one of the many places where youth had joined the armed rebellion in large numbers.

He took us to the nearby Jatiya Vidyalaya (National School), another result of the complex interplay of Assamese nationalism and the Assam government's efforts to expand community-based, people-funded primary education4.

Satro Xongtha, Tez dim tel nidiu, or how the student unions were riled by oil

However, I have failed to shake off the idea that there is a coherent story that weaves agriculture, migration and rebellion from one end of the Brahmaputra Valley to the other. The cultural works of the Indian Peoples Theater Association and other left-wing organisations, from their pre-1947 activities to the 1970s, had bridged the gap with some success, although they could not sustain it in the long run (Tamuli-Phukan 2018). . For researchers looking at patterns and responses, it can be hugely rewarding to look beyond the formal responses to class and identity politics in the state.

While it is true that agriculture is an important element in understanding local politics, there is a sense that it is the unheralded parts of the element - water sharing, dyke building, and so on - that become crucial to the responses and not just the quantity . land owned by individuals. However, at a very young age I was made aware of the importance of science and technology for young educated men of upper Assam. It was almost as if Assamese-speaking students of the 1970s could see the establishment of old solidarities called for by the radical communists and socialists, and with it the consensus that held that peasants and workers would inherit the benefits of popular social movements. .

Schools, colleges and the two comprehensive universities of Assam had created a pool of young women and men who asked questions and discussed ideas, like their counterparts in other parts of the world. I am wary of a lazy suggestion that the students of the 1950s and 1960s were responsible for provincializing rural communities and turning their focus away from communal struggles against larger but less tangible adversaries. As word spread, marginal farmers from different parts of the valley came to the area to start cooperative farming under the leadership of ideologically motivated, ill-equipped, young, radical activists (Tamuli-. Phukan 2011). Such attempts to reach into the past to reshape the present are not uncommon.

Cambodia's tragic experiments with a left-wing agrarian revolution in the 1970s had intellectual support from political scientists such as Ieng Sary. Das's work included journalism, critical political commentary and human rights, as he wrote on wide-ranging topics such as the lives of the coal dwellers in Assam, the profligate nature of Assam's elite, as well as politics. Similarly, this period saw the emergence of poetry, fiction and non-fiction creative writing in Assamese with an emphasis on the tragic outcome of the conflict.

The tone and tenor of the dissertations that emerged from this period and continue into the present are colored by a nostalgic view of the rural world. Rural farmers emerge in a timeless way, fighting for that caloric quota outlined by Eric Wolf in 1966 at a time when peasant struggles occupied the minds of social scientists of that generation (Wolf 1966: 4–6). From the 1990s to the present, one can observe the tensions arising from the provincialization of academic ideas and the frequency with which certain types of identity politics have found their way into the functioning of the university system.

Manab Adhikar, swadhin oxom aru atmo nirrontor odhikar, or how the human rights movement negotiated the right to self-determination in Assam

However, we still had to fight ideas and ideologies that were in conflict with the universalization of the right to self-determination. Our fellow travelers on the fact bus were not convinced, because they thought they were representatives of the old farmers mobilizing on the left. Human rights organizations face a peculiar conundrum in most parts of the world, more so in places that have had a fairly long history of political violence.

Middle-class leaders of MASS persistently articulated the language of human rights with an emphasis on the right to self-determination, as part of its campaigns to take the principles of the UDHR to the villages. One of the petitioners was an organization, Assam Public Works (APW), which came into being in the year 2000. Therefore, it is a history that needs to be discussed in the context of the NRC, even more so since there seems to be a convergence of positions for or against the process.

This exclusion of the role of groups such as APW has resulted in the lack of public scrutiny of the organizations and civic bodies that have been associated with the debates. We—at least those who fall on the left end of the political spectrum in defense of universal human rights—defend our passion privately and even angrily. In the 1950s and 1960s, radicals in Assam found common cause with their comrades in other parts of India during the heyday of the Indian Peoples Theater Association (IPTA), but it was also a time of ferment for a form of armed struggle, as proposed by the Revolutionary Communist Party of India (RCPI)13.

It was difficult to find evidence of public support that could support the idea of ​​self-determination, or even a casual acceptance of the universality of human rights. As defenders of universal human rights, we had to remind the state of its obligation to protect the country's liberal (even socialist) constitution. Haripriya Rangan and Craig Jeffrey of the Australia India Institute, Melbourne, where much of the text was reworked.

2Most of the debates during the Assam agitation currently available were conducted in Assamese, Bengali and English. However, the nature of the plantation system was detrimental to the expansion of political solidarity between workers and peasants. For the most part, the contemporary political history of Assam after 1947 has not seen widespread mobilization of lines of solidarity between descendants of the indentured laborers and peasants in the adjoining areas.

15 The human rights movement in the region began with the formation of the Naga People's Movement for Human Rights (in the Naga territories) and the Committee for the Protection of Human Rights (CPHR) in the 1970s. Checkpoint: Anthropology, identity and the state' in Veena Das and Deborah Poole (Eds), Anthropology at the Limits of the State. Santa Fe/London: School of American Research Press/James Currey.


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