Guwahati, July 8, 2019
Criticisms and controversies are not new for the former vice-chancellor of Assam University in Silchar and Bengali intellectual, Tapodhir Bhattacharjee.
He has often grabbed the headlines for his hard-hitting articles and statements. Even his tenure as the vice-chancellor was marred by reports of gross irregularities in the office of the varsity.
Bhattacharjee is once again in the news for an article written by him. The title of the article was Asome Bangalir Sarashajya and it was published in a Bengali daily newspaper Aajkaal on July 3, 2018.
The leaders of the various students’, ethnic organizations and state politicians have strongly condemned the “baseless and anti-community” statements of Bhattacharjee. In the article, Bhattacharjee stated that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a “conspiracy against the Bengalis” and it a “conspiracy to establish the supremacy of the Assamese across Assam”.
His article came at a time when the state is politically-charged and is witnessing high-voltage protests and debates on the NRC updation, which is expected to weed out foreigners illegally staying in the country and the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which proposes to make illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for Indian citizenship.
Speaking exclusively to TIME8, Bhattacharjee, who is now in the eye of a storm said, “Nobody can take away the pen from me. As an Indian citizen, I have the right to freedom of speech and expression. My Constitution has granted me this right. I am an individual and I have my own way of thinking, observing the happenings in the society. I am a teacher and I cannot lie with a pen in my hand. I might not agree with someone else’s perspective on a particular subject, likewise, it is not mandatory for everyone to agree with me.”
He added, “In democracy, we agree to differ. India is a democratic country. I am myself a critic, I appreciate criticism but the way, a certain section is being instigated against me is extremely painful. The abusive words, personal attacks and the life-threats have hurt me a lot. I am in deep pain. I have only put forward the facts…most of which were reported in the newspapers or media in the past. Such hatred and violent attitude is a warning signal for the people of Assam. We all belong to the land of Mahatma Gandhi. History will prove who was right and who is wrong…I will wait for that day. Apart from that, I am a common man and will continue to share my views.”
Born in Silchar, Bhattacharjee is a poet, literary critic and an exponent of contemporary theory and comparative aesthetics. He is an alumnus of the Gauhati University and Jadavpur University. He has thirty-one anthologies to his credit apart from authoring a number of books in Bengali and English.
Commenting about his “controversial” article, he said, “I believe that most of the people who protested against my article and abused me, might not have read the article. I would request them all to read the article and show me where I have crossed the lakshman rekha. I am reiterating again, Assam is not only for Assamese, it is as much as for the Bengalis and others like Karbis, Dimasas and so on. I believe that the Assamese society is not complete without the Bengalis and vice versa.”
Coming back to the NRC updation process, Bhattacharjee said that the period, post the publication of the draft is crucial for the people of Assam.
“The NRC update is a government’s initiative…it will come and go. The period post the draft publication is going to be crucial for the people of Assam. But we must not forget, when fire breaks out in a house, it spares none. It spreads as much as it can, as fast as it can and it takes a long period of time to douse the flames. We cannot live alone…love and humanity can only take the society forward,” he said.
When asked if he thinks that the NRC update will help in detecting illegal migrants in the state, he paused and replied, “It is supposed to do so. Nothing can be said prior to the release of the draft. Only after it is made public, we can come to a conclusion.”
In his article, Bhattacharjee compared the detention camps with that of the concentration camps of Nazi leader and German politician, Adolf Hitler.
“Yes, I did compare the detention camps with Hitler’s concentration camps…based on what I have heard or read. When pent-up emotions accumulate against a particular community, many unwanted things take place in a society”
He added, “Why the old women and men are dragged to the camps…because they are helpless people? Why the government can’t wait for the publication of the final draft? Is there nothing called humanity? A 102-year-old man is kept in a detention camp, a Rajbongshi woman is taken to the camp…even though they are pleading, they are being inhumanly dragged to the camps. This cannot be allowed to happen in a civilized nation.”
Bhattacharjee also said that “a situation has arisen in the society where a person coming from a religious or linguistic minority background is suspected to be a potential criminal”.
“Why the people, who have been taken to the camps, are mostly from the religious or linguistic minority backgrounds? From what I have heard from others and read in the newspapers, only the religious or linguistic minority people are being targeted. This thought process should change,” he said.
Before summing up the interview, Bhattacharjee shared that he wishes for a “country, society that will teach the people to become humane”.
“In democracy, there will be difference of opinions but we must all work towards minimising them,” he concluded.