College students raise slogans in protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill during a strike in Guwahati | PTI
File photo of college students protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Bill during a strike in Guwahati | PTI
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During the fourth phase of India’s Covid-19-induced lockdown, the Eco Club of Gauhati University started a hashtag, #SaveDehingPatkai, on social media. The campaign was aimed at spreading awareness about the future of the Assam elephant sanctuary after a recommendation was made by the National Board for Wild Life on 7 April to allow coal mining in it.

This isn’t the first incident of Assam’s students stepping out, literally and metaphorically, and amplifying the state’s issues so that it reaches the rest of India. And it won’t be the last. From ‘Joi Aai Axom’ to protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act to Dehing Patkai, student activism has a long legacy in Assam.

‘CAA Aami Namanu’

The letters of the slogan, which means ‘we don’t accept CAA’, stood out in red against the vibrant traditional gamusa, as Assamese people across the world took to the streets against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, then a bill, in December 2019.

The northeast state that barely ever receives the mainland’s attention, even during the most destructive of annual floods, managed to turn the national satellites with its spontaneous protests organised by Assamese students against the introduction of the bill in the Rajya Sabha.

When the countrywide anti-CAA protests gained momentum, it was clear that the Assamese were fighting a different battle altogether. As the rest of India fought against the communal nature of the law, the Assamese were reminded yet again that they were in it alone, to preserve their ethno-linguistic identity. 

India joined the protests en-masse on 12 December 2019, when the CAA was enacted by the Narendra Modi government, but the Assamese student community had begun protesting against it way back in 2016, when it was first presented in the Lok Sabha.


Also read: Adil Hussain, Papon join campaign to save ‘Amazon of East’ as Assam trends #SaveDehingPatkai


‘Tumi Jodi Axomiya, Ulaai Aaha, Ulaai Aaha’ 

‘If you are an Assamese, come out’ has been the clarion call whenever people of the state have decided apun haath jogonnathporot aakh, bonot baakh, simply meaning that they have to help themselves.

The identity politics in Assam has a complicated history. But if you are an Assamese, you come out, and protest, no-holds-barred.

It was this that had also prompted people, predominantly students, to step out and reclaim the state’s ethnic identity, against illegal immigration from Bangladesh and the constant, sustained apathy of consecutive central governments.


Also read: Assam’s NRC wound was re-opened and then conveniently forgotten by India


‘Joi Aai Axom’

‘Joi Aai Axom’, or Hail Mother Assam, is not the same as ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’, simply because Aai is a term used across Assam to address mothers, irrespective of personal beliefs, religious affiliations or ethnic identity. It does not brook exclusion, because being Assamese is about recognising multiculturalism. The All Assam Students’ Union or AASU, uses this slogan in its logo.

More than any political party or government, it is AASU that has consistently taken up issues pertaining to Assam and has made sure the state is answered to. Even in the Dehing Patkai issue and in calling out the illegal mining in the reserve, AASU has been at the forefront.

The Assam Agitation (1979-85) to protect the identity of Assamese people in the wake of influx of people from Bangladesh following the 1971 War of Liberation, was spearheaded by AASU.

The Assam Agitation ended in 1985 with the signing of the Assam Accord and student leader Prafulla Mahanta, who then headed the Asom Gana Parishad, became the youngest chief minister of the state at 35.


Also read: It’s not about religion, it’s about Assam & Assamese pride: AASU advisor on anti-CAA protests


Pre-Independence

While the history of Assam’s student movements often stops at the Assam Agitation, its legacy is much older. It began under the British rule, when in 1873, students put pressure on the colonial regime to provide opportunities for the growth of the Assamese language, so that the region’s youth could have better livelihoods.

Political activism and education have never been in opposition in Assam—what classrooms and textbooks teach, spill on to the streets. Literature and protest go hand-in-hand as is evident in the birth of institutions like of Asomiya Chatror Sahitya Sabha, a literary organisation that also took up issues central to the state.

The BJP might have formed a government in the state, riding on the back of Bir Lachit Phukan’s legacy, but it should remember that legacy teaches Assamese students, ‘Dekhotke mumai dangor nohoi (My maternal uncle is not bigger than my land)’ as they continue to work towards demanding and getting what is due to them.

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8 Comments Share Your Views

8 COMMENTS

  1. Assam is always a land with parochial outlook. Again we hear Bhupen Hazarika’s song ‘ Ganga Aamar Maa, Padma Aamar Maa’ sounds like lifeless slogan only. In NRC they have conspired to delist most people living since British period. Still they have been delisted inspite of all the credentials, land deed have been produced. There are many Assamese working in WB. Should they be treated as Assamese treat others in their land?

    • Aap log kis desh se paisa lekar India ke kisi bhi development work ko stall karnaa chaahte ho
      Kabhi china se koi company nahi aa rahi, Kabhi kuchh Kabhi kuchh
      Kaunsi culture failaana chaahte ho ki India me sirf protest ke alaawa kuchh bhi naa ho aur ultimately bas laal salaam ho
      Sattaa ke bhookho, tum desh ke naa hue to kiske honge
      ”what they study, spills over on to streets” Very sad
      Isse jyaada nangaapan kya hoga

  2. DESH KI LOOTERO ..MUGAL CONGRESS .
    GARIBI ..BEROJGARI AAJ TAAK NAHI HATA PAYI…GHOTALA KARKE DESH KO BARBAD KIYA.. AAB SATTA SE UKHAD FEKA JANTA NE AUR ISILIYE AAB JHOOTH FAILAKAR SATTA KI SAPNA ? GADDAR PAKUSTANPREMI GANG KO AAB SAHAN NAHI KIYA JAYEGA.
    DHARM KE ADHAR PE DESH KO TUKDA KIYA GADDARO NE AUR 5 LAKH KASHM8RI HINDUKO HATYA KIYA… LAKHO CRORO BANGLAMUSLIM LAAKAR ASSAM MEI HINDU KO MINORITY BANAYA …APRAADH KI DUNIYA BANAYA AUR PRATARIT HINDUEO KA BIRODH KARKE ..PFI..ISIS.PAKISTAN AUR GADDAR CONGRESS MILKAR ISLAMIC STATE BANANE KI SAAJISH ?
    INDIA WANT CAA …WE NEED CAA

  3. “‘Joi Aai Axom’, or Hail Mother Assam, is not the same as ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’, simply because Aai is a term used across Assam to address mothers,”

    What a poor reasoning is being used here. Totally bypasses a simple application of honest mind.

    I wonder how come editorial board pass/ignore such errors.

  4. What Ms. Das celebrates as student activism is actually anti-Bengali xenophobia. She lauds and lavishes praises on the AASU for leading such student activism while cleverly omitting the stellar role played by the AASU in inciting anti-Bengali riots across Assam. No lention is made of the gruesome Nellie massacre where AASU “activists” and Lalung tribesmen murdered over 10,000 Bengalis in a single day of rioting. Till date, it remains the worst case of ethnic riots in independent India. What exactly is the cherry on the cake is that not even one person has been convicted in this riot. The Tiwari Commission report remains classified till date and those who orchestrated such mass murder are roaming the corridors of power today.
    The xenophobia fanned by AASU has taken a very heavy toll.

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