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Rupai is a small town in Assam’s tea country—green, languid, peaceful. Winter here is beautiful. In the gentle sunlight, slivers of smoke billow from the chimneys of the massive tea factory. Ours is a quaint place—it comes to a halt by 8 pm, everyone knows everyone by name and nothing much stirs us. That’s our life.
But this tranquil town is no longer tranquil. I hear cries of protests. There is pain, there is rage, the voices keep getting louder. I was silent so far, but no more. I know we have lost, but I will document everything.
1. Rajya Sabha passed CAB sometime back. You have no idea how much anger I have seen. Today everyone is awake late into the night. It’s freezing, but people are out on the streets. Some are burning tyres. Many did not eat—as if there were a death in the family. People are mourning...it seems like we have lost everything. Women are at the forefront—they are leading along with men. This is what makes Assam special. We have seen the worst of insurgencies—my town was one of its epicentres. But today is different. In the history of Assam, this might be the coldest night. People weep uncontrollably. Some wail. I have never seen anything like this.
2. We are a multi-religious society composed of many communities. I met everyone—Hindus, Muslims, Bengalis, Assamese...The only thread that binds us is Assam, the state we hold so dear. It’s the love for this land that brings us together. We call ourselves Assamese first. It’s strange how people outside are painting us anti-Muslim, anti-Bengali.
3. I meet Bengalis shouting slogans. Why are you here, I ask a 72-year-old man. “I came for my people, for the land I have adopted as my home. We can’t let it go,” he replies. I meet workers from the tea garden—they are migrants too, but now part of this land. Why are they here? “Assam is not a dumping ground. Our martyrs’ lives should not go in vain. So we protest.”
4. It’s past 12 on a December night. You must live in upper Assam to know how cold winters here can get. The chill cuts through our clothes, gnaws at our bones and rattles our sinews. But people refuse to leave the protest venue. Full-throated slogans rent the air. The internet has been cut off. I am sending text messages to my editor—I don’t know any other way to reach out. At least, phones are still working. But what if they decide to clamp down on these too? Let them. We shall still protest.
5. The television is back after a day. The cable operator says something went wrong with the connection. Everyone is glued to the news of widespread protests. The paramilitary has been called. We wonder if they will come to our town too. A bandh was called for yesterday. And today too. Our lives are wrapped in uncertainty and anger.
6. Yesterday, the market was open for two hours. It was insane how people rushed to stock up. But what will we do when the shops run out? Amid this uncertainty, I feel helpless and seethe with rage. I wonder how daily wage labourers are managing. My cousin tutors kids—they come every day. They say they don’t know when schools will reopen.
7. Our neighbour comes calling. He is a 59-year-old man. Is he going to the protests today, Maa asks. He looks down and mutters, “I was there in the Assam andolan. After living through all that, I realised you can’t fight the government. We will lose. People will die.” Saying this, he leaves.
8. Maybe this is a losing battle. But as one prominent TV anchor says, “Not all battles are fought for victory. Some are fought to tell the world that there was someone in the battlefield.” May our forefathers know that we were in the battlefield. And may our great-grandchildren know we did not go down without a fight. I hope history will be kinder to us.
(The writer is a poet and founder of Letter From A Stranger, India)