It’s quite unfortunate that in these precarious times, our parliamentarians, of all people, should be lying and spreading misinformation. Yet, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Vinay Sahasrabuddhe did just that while participating in the Rajya Sabha debate on the Citizenship Amendment Bill on December 11.
The legislation has sparked violent protests across Assam and Tripura, and Sahasrabuddhe’s lies can only serve to make the situation more dangerous.
In his over 13-minute speech, devoted entirely to Assam, Sahasrabuddhe touched upon a range of topics, from the Assam Movement to encroachment in Kaziranga and Majuli river island. He fused together lies, propaganda, and selectively picked histories to present a distorted and sectarian picture of Assam, a stratagem the BJP seems to have mastered.
Referring to my hometown, Sahasrabuddhe, speaking in Hindi, said: “Honorable Speaker, we know there’s a large riverine island in Assam called Majuli. But who’re the inhabitants of this entire island? Only infiltrators. No one who lives there is an original Assamese. The whole island has been occupied by Bangladeshi refugees.”
Nothing can be farther from the truth.
Here are some facts: As per the 2011 census, Majuli has a population of 1.67 lakh. Nearly 46.4% of the population belongs to the Scheduled Tribes and 14.3% to the Scheduled Castes. In terms of religion, 99.04% of Majuli’s population is Hindu, the rest belongs to six-seven different religions.
The tribals – the indigenous people, that is – not only comprise 46.4% of Majuli’s population, they add to its diversity, as the island is home to a number of different tribes, including the Misings, Deuris, Sonowal Kacharis, and Sutias. The rest of the population consists of a wide variety of communities, including the Ahoms, Mataks, Kaibartas, Suts, Kochs, Kalitas, Brahmins, Naths, Kumhars, Haris, Nepalis, Bengalis, and small Bihari and Marwari populations. Anyone with a basic understanding of Assam’s demography would need no explanation that most of these communities are “original” Assamese people. Sahasrabuddhe, I’m afraid, requires a crash course on the subject.
Given its tribal majority, the Assembly constituency of Majuli is reserved for the Scheduled Tribes. That is, a tribal person alone can contest to be the MLA from Majuli. The incumbent is Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, himself a tribal. Would you, Mr Sonowal, kindly hold Sahasrabuddhe accountable for this utter misrepresentation of your own constituency in the Parliament?
Majuli, the world’s largest river island, is popularly referred to as the “Vatican of Assam” owing to the strong presence of the Sattras. The Sattras are Vaishnavite Hindu monasteries that emerged out of an Assamese renaissance in the fifteenth century guided by the saint Srimanta Sankardeva. Majuli has been the nerve center of the Sattras and the Satriya culture from the start, and over the years has developed into a pilgrimage spot for the Vaishnavite Assamese population. Such is the uniqueness and richness of Majuli’s cultural heritage that the Government of India has nominated it for a Unesco World Heritage Site, although the official recognition is yet to come.
Sahasrabuddhe’s speech erases all of these rich facets of Majuli, and instead depicts it falsely as a den of undocumented Bangladeshi immigrants (which needs cleansing, he would argue). His claims are not simply incorrect and ahistorical, they are insidious. In the current climate where people are made to suffer horribly to prove their citizenship and the consequent mistrust among communities in Assam, such misinformation by parliamentarians are recipes for further mistrust, communal disharmony, and violence. As a native of Majuli, I humbly ask Sahasrabuddhe to acknowledge his factual errors, and extend an apology to the people of Majuli for such wild misrepresentation of them.