FIR against Assam poets: India crossed new line in its 'descent into darkness', says Harsh Mander

New Delhi: The FIR against 10 poets, who were booked after video of a 'Miya' poem about alleged discrimination towards Bengali-speaking Muslims in Assam went viral, has not gone down well with activists here as they condemned the state's attempt to "criminalise" protest poetry on Thursday.

Miya, though meaning "gentleman" in Urdu, is used as a slur against Bengali-speaking Muslims in Assam basically translating into "Bangladeshi" or "illegal immigrant". The poetry documents the discrimination faced by the community in the state.

"The republic has crossed a new line in its descent into darkness, it has crossed a new line by criminalising poets who are expressing largely lament and dissent through poetry.

"Where would India in the world be without protest poetry, our whole tradition of the Bhakti poetry, the Sufi poetry these are all protest poetry only. And in more recent times where would we in the world be without dalit protest poetry, black protest poetry or LGBTQ protest poetry, we would be equally impoverished without what has risen as the Miya poetry," said Harsh Mander while expressing his solidarity with the poets.

The actual controversy regarding Miya poetry erupted in June after the 'Karwan-e- Mohabbat' released a video online titled," I Am Miya -- Reclaiming Identity Through Protest Poetry" written by Hafiz Ahmed.

The video triggered backlash in Assam raising questions on the validity of the feelings expressed in Miya poetry. Eventually a series of police complaints have been filed against the poets and activists across Assam accusing them of various crimes.

According to Mander, to his utter "amazement and anguish" the booked poets have been charged with criminal charges including IPC section 153(A) for inciting hatred between communities.

Poets against whom an FIR was filed are Hafiz Ahmed, Rehana Sultana, Abdur Rahim, Ashraful Hussain, Abdul Kalam Azad, Kazi Sharowar Hussain alias Kazi Neel, Shalim M Hussain, Karishma Hazarika, Banamallika Choudhury and Forhad Bhuyan.

Mander said one needs to understand the backdrop against which all of this is happening, the updation process of the National Register of Citizens, whose final list is slated to be released on July 31.

Here he also reminded people of Union Home Minister Amit Shah's Wednesday's statement on the same, where he said that the "government will identify illegal immigrants living on every inch of the country's soil and will deport them as per the international law".

The 64-year-old activist claimed that all of it is targeted against one community only.

"Even in the fury of one of the worst floods that we have seen people in Assam are still refusing to leave their home...because they say this is the last evidence we have  that we are citizens of this country," he added.

Eminent poet Ashok Vajpeyi too supported the freedom of dissent of the poets and said "if people are not allowed to express their disagreement through poems where else could they be".

"There is a lot of othering going on in a massive way. Now these are the new others.

"Literature teaches you one simple lesson: 'they are us and we are them, and that there is really no difference'. The language of earth is the same everywhere. We should stand by them not only as lovers of poetry but as human beings, as Indians," he said.

Also, speaking for the poets in the conference were writer Githa Hariharan, Natasha Badhwar and professor Apoorvanand.