We, the undersigned issue this statement to protest against the arrest of mass leader Akhil Gogoi and registering of cases under the draconian National Security Act on him. Gogoi is reported to have said at a public rally in Moran town on September 12 that perhaps the time has come for the people to take up AK47s against the government. It is perhaps a sign of the political times we live in that he should be charged with instigating the people against the state while RSS cadres are allowed to openly organize basic arms training and parades in school premises across Assam.

The farcical character of Akhil Gogoi’s arrest and charging under sections of the NSA is matched only by the ominous portent it bears for the political climate in the state. The National Security Act has had a long history of misuse by State governments across India to silence political opposition. In Assam, the use of such draconian laws has not been subject to the whims of the party in power—rather, it has historically been a crucial part of state policy itself. In fact, the use of NSA in this instance cannot be seen apart from the Assam government’s recent request to the Centre for renewal of AFSPA in Assam.

Over the last three decades or so, Assam has witnessed periodic escalations of ethnic violence and virtually no ethnic community has remained wholly untouched by it. In the shadow of a militarized state, political antagonisms among various communities have often been shaped by the force of arms. However, this period has also seen the assertion of new political voices. The hegemonic claims of Assamese nationalism have been challenged, and its most patriarchal and Brahminical articulations have been successfully resisted. This change, no doubt, is halting, and the struggle is far from over. Even as we acknowledge that deep fissures remain, we also recognize there is nevertheless an ongoing political process. Fraught, often backtracking; but a democratic process, nonetheless.

That being said, one cannot fail to recognize that Gogoi’s arrest marks a broader shift in the political terrain in the state. Over the last year or so, it has become clear that the RSS’s cynical strategy in Assam looks to weaken all democratic assertions of smaller nationalities and oppressed communities by, on the one hand intensifying ethnic conflict, while on the other enabling the resurgence of the most chauvinist elements within political discourse. Recent government policies have sparked conflict between the Assamese- and Bengali-Hindus, between the Assamese and Muslim miya communities, and between Bodos and Karbis in Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council. As news reports in the Assamese-language press make abundantly clear, RSS activists have been relentless in trying to spark conflagrations—be it their involvement in the attack on the AASU office in Silapathar, instances of throwing meat inside temple premises, lynching of cattle traders, and many other such cases that have occurred across the state with increasing regularity. Alongside this, they have also engaged and encouraged the most anti-democratic voices amongst the various communities in the region. In the case of Assamese nationalism, this has led to a resurgence of Brahminical assertions of Assamese as caste-Hindu identity, coupled with a call to re-establish their social and political dominance vis-à-vis all other communities in Assam. As this two-headed strategy plays out, it has become clear that the RSS agenda in Assam is directly aimed at overcoming the fragile spaces of democratic struggle and negotiation that have emerged out of the specific political realties encountered by the various communities in the region.

The RSS must smother any such democratic experiment because it is deeply incompatible with their fantasy of an indivisible Hindu state and a patriarchal, casteist society. Akhil Gogoi has been one of many voices in Assam resisting the onslaught of Hindutva’s cultural and political project. The timing and manner of his arrest make it clear that the problem was not his criticism of the BJP government in power but his opposition to the RSS’ politics in Assam as such.

Through this statement, we express our concern at the government’s attempt to use the legal and police apparatus to intimidate and silence its political opponents. We protest the continued use of draconian laws such as NSA in Assam as well as in other states across the country. We reiterate our rejection of the RSS fantasy of a Hindu India. We stand steadfast against their attempt to intensify ethnic conflict along already fragile lines. And finally, we resist all forces of ethnic, linguistic and Brahminical chauvinism collaborating in this assault on the legitimate democratic rights of all communities in Assam.

We demand:

  • The unconditional release of Akhil Gogoi and withdrawal of the cases registered under NSA.
  • The immediate arrest of RSS organizers involved in providing basic arms training to cadres in various towns across the state.
  • An immediate end to the BJP’s policies against the economic, political and cultural rights of all communities in Assam.

Signatories:
Sanjay Barbora
Arupjyoti Saikia
Yengkhom Jilangamba
Suryasikha Pathak
RK Debbarma
Debarshi Das
Gaurav Rajkhowa
Ankur Tamuli Phukan
Bidyut Sagar Boruah
Anshuman Gogoi