“…knowledge is no longer organized into a meaningful totality…this world perceives itself as the gray world of interests, oppositions, particularities, and instrumentalities. It therefore perceives itself as a world of separation and of pain, a world whose history is of one atrocity after another, and whose consciousness is the consciousness of a constitutive unhappiness…”

~Jean-Luc Nancy in The Restlessness of the Negative.

Assamese nationalists are not new to intimidating critical writers or spreading lies. Many philistine activities were seen during the NRC process where Assamese nationalists were interested in finding ‘real names’ of anonymous authors. When it came to people dying in detention, becoming stateless and dying by suicide, they either were voiceless or denied any such bias of the NRC process. They wanted a “free and fair” NRC process. One can only wonder what can be free and fair about statelessness, suicides and deaths. What ethical standards have they established so far when it comes to critical engagements?[1]

As I write this, I feel the total weight of how rhizomatic a written word can be, and the various potentialities and possibilities truth-telling involves. The politics of truth and the rhizomatic potential of the negative is encapsulated very beautifully in the two favourite maxims of Karl Marx, something that Eric Formm tells us poignantly. The two favourite maxims are (a) of all one must doubt, and (b) I believe nothing human to be alien to me.[2] These two maxims together carry a ‘critical mood’. 

By invoking my commitment to the critical mood, I refuse to read the charges of plagiarism against me as an individual act on the part of Bikash Kumar Bhattacharya. His charges are above all ideological, albeit being untrue. From my knowledge and experiences of his position about the NRC process, one can safely assume that he is only a foot soldier of Assamese Nationalism. He is an extension of what Assamese nationalists do and desire and treat the minorities in Assam. His charges against me can be performed by anybody who believes in their ideological commitment to Assamese Nationalism. In a very Marxist sense of the term ideology, his charge is designed to create an inverted image, a camera obscura of not just me but the ethics and substance of my writing as well. In discrediting those who speak with a critical mood, such moves camouflage the real issue at hand or silence the sensitive truths that implicate Assamese Nationalism and show us its dark side.

My article on Atul Chandra Hazarika was not just about Charuar Ukti. It was written to clarify and share some questions about his authorship and carried with its translations of two poems. Furthermore, I added my critique of Ambikagiri Raichoudhury and the assimilative politics that the Assamese hardline nationalist opined in the early decades of the 20th century. Hazarika qualified Ambikagiri to be an ultranationalist. Moreover, nowhere in the article, I claimed that I am the first (nor do I want to) to admit the authorship in contention. I have cited both the debate in which Hafiz Ahamed mentioned this controversy and Chitaranjan Pathak’s article (wrote or shared a version in English) published in Atul Chandra Hazarika Hostel Golden Jubilee Celebration Souvenir in 2011.[3] As for stating the author as different from Hazarika in my Wire piece on Miya poetry, I was not aware of this contradiction when I wrote the article. Bhattacharya himself has indicated that my article was published on 3 July 2019. The first admission of Hazarika being the author of Charuar Ukti appeared in the Pratidin Times article on 13 July 2019. Clearly, there was no such public knowledge about the authorship when I wrote that article in 2019. Again, I did not translate the poem Charuar Ukti nor did I claim that it was indeed written by Bande Ali.

His claims are also grossly misplaced. The set of proofs he shows us themselves reveal the futile nature of his claims. Let us see more closely the instance 2 he presents us. He notes that I have merely paraphrased the idea from his article while characterising Hazarika as a poet. If you read my text, this is what you will see:

“Hazarika, the poet, maintained a very peculiar flow. His poems were based on “events and occasions”, notes Chittaranjan Pathak, Hazarika’s grandson.”

It is clear that I have borrowed the qualification from Pathak’s article written in 2011 and not his, the former whom I have duly cited at the end of the article! In his claim to ethical rigour of citing, infact, it is he who appears to have flaunted the chronology. But that is beyond the point. Yes, our sources are the same, but I did not read them because of his article, nor do my conclusions resemble his (more about this in the last part). Can someone claim monopoly of sources? Aren’t literary sources and the archive sovereign and free? It was at the insistence of Pathak that I began thinking, readings and collaborating with his thoughts and emotions.[4] Yes, I did share some of his sentiments about the ambiguity, and he even told me just a day ago that we all have our commitments and he respects my freedom to write the way I want to. Such respect for one’s agency and minimum ethical ground is lost on Bhattacharaya.

The instance 3 he cites is also his mere speculation. When I write the following:

“He writes very vividly in his another memoir Smriti Lekha about his stay in Barpeta (from 1939-1945) as a schoolteacher and his interactions with Pamua Musalmans (settler Muslims). He elaborates how most Bengalis have become Assamese and was touched by the efforts and enthusiasm shown by settler Muslim students in learning Assamese. One could say that perhaps that proximity through his students gave a peep into their worlds.”

Unlike how he speculated, I draw Hazarika’s views on Pamua Musalmas from the sub-section titled chatra aru satirtha (p 154-55). I borrow the dates of his stay from page 164. Although we use the same source, the elements chosen from the main sources are different. Moreover, Bhattacahrya’s views on assimilation carry a majoritarian tone of the Assamese nationalist. Claiming that Ambikagiri and Bora were progressive elements of Assamese nationalism is indeed whitewashing the political thought they inhabited. They wanted the migrants to give up their life-worlds, speak Assamese and return Assamese as their mother tongue in the Census (which it isn’t). Is this “progressive”? If so, how?

Why was Ambikagiri invested in denuding the migrants of their cultural formation and self-making. Why did anti-colonial nationalism drew its strength through symbolic violence on migrants? Assimilation and becoming Assamese have a violent history and are not the soft liberal characterisation that Assamese nationalists would attribute to discourse of assimilation (it is a case of creation of mono-realism). His is not an aberration from how the dominant imagines assimilation process in the region. 

I began my response by setting a critical mood and unfurling the subterfuge against critical voices. I end it with a reminder of the force of such cultural and social capital and its consequences. Bhattacharaya enjoys the protection and support of a cultural and social capital (an Assamese social media troll army of which he is a part) of the hardline caste Assamese middle class.[5] This class draws the measurements of what Assamese culture ought to be and its boundaries and manner of speech and voice about being Assamese or Assameseness. His ideas are not rooted in reality or the minority but have grown hard roots.[6] Roots that have grown deeper. They are roots that refuse to accommodate others, and in the past has turned violent. From the Tweets and Facebook posts on me to Nellie Massacre, these roots bear their mark and rhizomes with different intensities. Such rootedness is sheltered by the caste Assamese to which he saves his utmost fidelity.[7] Such sheltering of root creates mono-realism, philistine publics, and unfreedom. Acts of Assamese nationalist in such matters is no different from the language of “intolerance” as a social fact of New India. This is the material basis of their charge against me. Moreover, this is not the first time they have attacked me, but types of charges are new. This ability to re-invent and constantly shut voices is the hallmark of Assamese Nationalism. Their fidelity to such caste Assamese politics has remained unchanged from media rooms, print media, artists and civil society bodies. At times we become “obsessive defenders of minorities”, and at other times we are told to be sheltering “settler colonialists”, deemed to be “vultures” and anti-Assamese

Lastly, I refuse to admit anyone who harasses critical voices as references in our scholarships. I refuse to acknowledge such scholarships, as and when I feel it necessary, which are mono-realistic and singular. Instead, I am committed to present multiple realities and relations. I, as an author, who is marganilised and a victim of such trolls and abuses from the majority refuse to acknowledge scholarships that are not only dishonest, orthodox and stained with blood, but in doing so exercise my minimum literary sovereignty.[8] I will make this claim on the sole basis that Chittaranjan Pathak is my sole interlocutor for my article on Atul Chandra Hazarika. 

He reached out to me first on 28 April 2020. Before his note to me on that day, I had no idea who he was or how he might be related to Atul Chandra Hazarika. We spoke at length, and our conversations grew over time. By May 2020, he shared a lot of details about the poem and Hazarika. He shared recordings of his poems and texts of many more. He showed me the article that he has written and sections of Hazarika’s memoirs. We spoke over the phone many times, including before I finally wrote the article in our blog this month. 

When he reached out to me last year, he expressed his sadness about the ambiguity of the authorship and how his grandfather’s name is wiped off this poem. He felt that there is a need to tell the truth and reclaim the authorship. I promised him that I would write about this and try to clarify sometime soon. That “sometime soon” rolled on for over a year, and I finally managed to write the article. After I mentioned it again in a discussion on Miya poetry at a film festival organized by York University, my interest in writing about it grew. Poet Abdul Kalam Azad and historian Yasmin Saikia were also present on that occasion when I mentioned the ambiguity of the authorship and shared my speculation about the need for anonymity. In the discussion, I insisted that perhaps the need for anonymity can suggest the presence of intolerance even in the early decades of the 20th century in Assam.

Anthropologist Audra Simpson reminds us that sovereignty involves an ethnographic calculus of “what you need to know and what I refuse to write”.[9] I am not obliged to say and write about everything. Agreeing with Simpson, I echo her political sentiment that writing and analysis require a careful and complex navigation of a plethora of fields of power. They are entwined in deep contexts of dispossession, containment, and skewed authoritative axis. There is no equal footing; it is indeed as Simpson says false (to think that it is identical). I pledge fidelity to my interlocutor and literary sovereignty as a writer who must self-preserve in claiming their sovereignty. Additionally, his charges denies the sentiments and agency of my interlocutor, whom I must defend through my refusal. We must also defend the sovereignty of sources, or else the politics of writing, reading and thinking becomes hegemonized in fixed locals.

Bhattacharaya’s is an act of vernacular violence.[10] Violence caused by ideal type Assamese nationalists often go unacknowledged. They become shadowed by other things. Their “shadow work” within the vernacular economy is productive and desired by the Assamese nationalist. Such shadow work also creates endogamous scholarship, reading and understanding the complexities in the region. It undermines such powerful agencies exercised by the vernacular (which claims radicality and often slips into popular, xenophobic and rigid grounds) to harass critical thought and scholarship. In those shadows of such economy nestles the restless vernacular. 

[1] Critical is different from radical. Radical has often faced slippages into nativism, parochialism, and populism. An important distinction between critical and radical is found in Ghassan Hage’s Alter Politics.

[2] Translation of the two maxims are by E. Formm. For more, see Eric Formm Beyond the Chains of Illusion: My Encounter with Marx and Freud 1962.

[3] Pathak da shared this article with me via email on 1 May 2020. That article mentioned Atul Chandra Hazarika as the author of Charuar Ukti. This was even before the poem was translated by Shalim M Hussain. This reference is missing from his article as well. 

[4] If I may add here that his memoirs are freely available in online archives like Internet Archive.

[5] Even when mentioning me blocking him in social media, he gives us the impression that I blocked him because of what he is charging me with now. That will be a gross understatement. I blocked him and many of his other members (in Twitter and Facebook) of the Assamese troll army because of their vile nature, propensity to give threats, repeated harassment and immoral attitude, temper, and behaviour. They rile up together against anyone critical of Assamese nationalism and Northeast. Such vigilante actors have no place in my scholarship because of how they behave and conduct themselves. They are very much in the absolute majority here.

[6] See Ghassan Hage in Alter-politics.

[7] On sheltering of ideas, see John Russon Sites of Exposure.

[8] See Audra Simpson in Mohawk Interrupts: Political Lives Across the borders of Settler States.

[9] Ibid.

[10] I use vernacular in the specific sense (not as language) in which Ivan Illich (in Shadow Work) uses it to designate the household’s economy and how gendered labour remains unpaid, goes unnoticed and unacknowledged. So, vernacular violence is a type of homegrown violence (in the House of Assamese nationalism) in the regional and vernacular that hides being a romanticized claim to vernacular, indigenous and the native. They refuse to open these  categories to critical scrutiny. This is precisely how you miss the bus on understanding NRC or CAA in the context of the Northeast.

The author Suraj Gogoi is a PhD candidate at National University of Singapore. He can be reached at @char_chapori