Assam’s artistes take to streets for their land

Assam’s artistes take to streets for their land

Art has become a political affair in the state. While musicians and painters create art during protests, film personalities are returning awards and pulling out of competitions

Politics nokoriba, bandhu (Don’t do politics, friends),” warned the Assamese star singer Zubeen Garg, best known for the Bollywood song ‘Ya Ali’, as he and other artists protested the damage that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act could bring to Assam.

“Joi aai Asom” (Glory to Mother Assam), the slogan used during the anti-foreigners movement of the 1980s, rent the air at the Assam engineering institute playground in Guwahati on December 15, days after Parliament tabled the bill.

Indigenous Assamese from across the state, but mostly from the Brahmaputra Valley, came together fearing that the bill would reduce them to minorities in their state and thereby endanger their language, culture and ethnic identity. Artists stood at the forefront of this protest.

Singers, musicians, painters, actors, cartoonists, comedians, poets and filmmakers expressed fear and anger of their people through their creations.
“Ongho xaxon, bhondo xaxok (Blind rules, corrupt rulers),” sang Zubeen.

Zubeen had composed and sung this song before the 2016 Assembly elections in Assam, and was used by BJP workers to campaign against the 15-year rule of the Congress in the state.

“They (BJP) used it against the Congress to come to power. What will they do now as I sing it here today?” asked Zubeen, as the crowd shouted another slogan of the agitation in chorus: “Ah oi ah, khed oi khed, bideshi khed (Come one, come out all, chase the foreigners)”

Zubeen was wearing a turban of gamosa, the traditional towel that is a symbol of Assamese pride, while many in the crowd wore it around their neck.

Dikshu, another young singer, joined in with a popular number: “Ah oi ah, kheti korbak logi, hatot nangal loi (Come on everyone, to do farming, with ploughs in hand)”. The song appeals to Assamese youths to venture more into agriculture and be self-reliant in order to counter the alleged economic onslaught by illegal migrants.

Singers Manas Robin, Bipin Chaodang, Krishnamoni Chutiya and actors Prastuti, Parashar, Barasha Rani Bishoya, Nishitha Goswami also spoke out against the bill.
Painters took up their brush and joined the protesters by highlighting the fear and anxiety that gripped the state.

One of them painted a demon in black, smiling and wearing a gamosa with the state song ‘O mor apunar dex’ written on it. “The CAB will eat the Assamese identity like this. We all must join hands to protect the community and our identity,” he said.

“It’s not a fight against Hindus or Muslims. We are against giving citizenship to all post-1971 migrants, irrespective of religion. The Assamese identity is a unique one. Be it Hindu or Muslim, all have lived together as Assamese. But this Amendment seeks to pour communal poison by giving citizenship on religious lines. We will never allow this to happen,” Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharjya, the adviser of influential All Assam’s Student Union that has been leading the anti-foreigners movement for decades, said to artistes. “It’s a unique protest by our artists. They have united the Assam society with their creations to oppose the Bill,” he said.

Barasha Rani Bishoya, the star actress of Assamese cinema, enacted a one-act play highlighting the destructive impact of the amendment on the Assamese identity.

“When we were born, we did not come to this world as artists. We came as Assamese. So, when our motherland, our mother tongue is in crisis, we all must stand up together and fight together. And we will all do so at any cost,” Bishoya, who has several superhits to her credits, said.

Filmmaker Jahnu Barua decided to withdraw his new Assamese movie ‘Bhoga Khirikee’ from the state film awards nomination list protesting the Amendment.

Choreographer Uday Shankar cried in front of a large crowd on December 15 and announced that he would return two state film awards.

A troupe that performs Bihu, the traditional folk dance of Assam, sang, “How long we will sing Bihu and Borgeet?”

Borgeet are devotional Assamese songs by the 15th century Vaishanvite saint Srimanta Sankar Deb.

As the artistes’ protests intensfied across Assam, the BJP-led government in Assam on Tuesday announced financial assistance of Rs 50,000 to 2,000 artists, writers and theatre personalities.

“The lure of money cannot stop our artistes from protesting against the destructive law,” Bhattacharjya said in response to this.

Bhattacharjya concluded his speech with ‘Ho ho ho, mo ho ho’, the war cry that indigenous communities across the Northeast used to alert their community and chase away the enemy.

Zubeen again took the microphone and declared, “If required, we will form a political party and fight.”

Finally, when Veteran Assamese singer J P Das sang ‘Ami hom homei xofol’, a version of Paul Robeson’s ‘We shall overcome’, the crowd sang along.

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