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Sun, 16 Feb 2020

Northeast Today

THE CITY ABLAZE: POWER OF PEOPLE VS. PEOPLE IN POWER

THE CITY ABLAZE: POWER OF PEOPLE VS. PEOPLE IN POWER
December 16
13:05 2019

|Rifa Deka|

It wasn’t like any other regular winter afternoon; in fact it wasn’t like a winter afternoon at all, it wasn’t cold, it was smoldering! I sat in a classroom preparing for my end semester exams, just like any other sincere college student. I could hear students shouting “AAH OI AAH ULAI AAH”. Cries of “JOI AAI AXOM!” echoed outside my university campus.

I picked up my phone to view Instagram stories of my peers and juniors protesting outside. “BOHI THAAKILE NOHOBO!” said one of their stories. In that moment I wanted to go join them more than anything else, but I had a badge and a label to defend. Never before had I felt so insensitive and incapable at the same time. I even must’ve joked once or twice with my friend, “Let’s go! I feel like such a traitor! They’re fighting for us!”

I was afraid I’d get hurt and won’t be able to give my exams, I was afraid because my best friend, sitting right next to me, needed my help to clear her exam. I was afraid for my single mother who put everything at stake financially, just so that I could pursue my higher education. As much and as desperately I felt the need to go out in support of what was right, I held my emotions back and silently walked up to the Library with my laptop in one hand and books another, knowing full well that both my mind and heart were completely absent in that moment.

We’re rewarded for excelling at Academics, at the cost of what? The staff of our university kept requesting the management to call it a day and send everybody home but we were asked to remain inside the campus for our own safety. Who would cause us harm? OUR OWN PEOPLE? OUR OWN PEOPLE, FIGHTING FOR US AT THE RISK OF THEIR LIVES?

We followed rules, we took ‘the suggestion’, and we stayed back in campus. We left the campus in the evening. All staff members along with a couple of students, left the university campus in about half a dozen buses and most fortunately, mine was the one stopped near Six-mile. Fortunately I say, because this was a much needed lesson for me. We walked home all the way from Khanapara to R.G.Baruah road, seven staff members and me, through gullies I hadn’t even explored before. Among us we had senior members and an elderly person who was finding it difficult to catch up, but he too, amidst all that fire, smoke and ash, kept up the fight.

Was my university, the place I called my temple of knowledge, a part of that system which was doing us wrong? Would it have been that big of a deal, had we been sent home early? Or was this just a mark in support of the establishment?

The approximately 8km long walk home opened my eyes to an Axom I had never witnessed before. Being raised in Hyderabad, I was never close to my Assamese roots. Last night, I took pride in calling myself ‘Axomiya’. I even must’ve heard a few people on the streets say “Tonight, we won’t return home. We will stand right here, right here! This fire will not die, no matter how hard they try”. It was people against everything, against the system, against politics and against forceful unjust laws.

My phone rang continuously as my friends and family kept calling me to find out if I was okay. Amidst all these calls, I received a phone call from my mother. She was not paranoid like any other mother would have been. She was concerned for sure, but she was just calling to make sure that I was safe. She was not worried that the protestors would cause me harm, No! She was more worried because 5,000 troops deployed in the city, were ready to gun down people at any time.

The Army is conducting flag marches around the city asking people to stay at home as I type this. Never before has the state felt threatened like this by its own protectors. Is this what it has come to?

Betwixt all this, every few minutes, I hear slogans of “AAMI CAB NAMANU!” and “EI JUI JOLISE JLOIBOE!” I run to my window and peep through the curtains watching people from all classes of the society and of all age groups shout as loud as they can, defying curfew and denying everything imposed on them that was wrong.

We Assamese have always been anti-establishment they say… but why? Here is an answer. We have been hosts to parasites; we lost decade’s worth of battles in one night. Protesting for a cause, for an identity, how can we let it go in vain? It is the establishment we fear, it is foreign invaders we fear, not militant outfits, not violent protestors!

Never has Assam received anything without having to agitate for it. So much for being bhodro! We do not want anybody to protect our tribes, our heritage, our culture, our language. We can do that all by ourselves and we’ll show it to the world. Those of us that cannot go out on the streets, we will use the pen in support of those of you taking a hit for us on the streets in this catastrophic situation.

They’ve diverted thousands of troops here, they’ll do everything to stop us, to suppress our voices and strangle us, but we will only scream louder in unison, in one voice. Tear gas, gunshots, lathis can’t simmer this flame no more. We defeated the Mughals 17 times; we have it in us, that blood of Lachit. Assam is out there, fighting invaders yet again!

The city is ablaze and we rage against the dying of the light!

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