Assam is an ethnically diverse state and its social dynamics can be understood through the study of its tribal culture. The tribes of Assam like Bodo, Karbi, Kosh-Rajbanshi, Miri, Rabha have a variety of traditions, cultures, and their unique way of life. Most of them have their own dialect, though Assamese is the principal language of the state. The Karbis constitute a significant ethnic group in the hill areas of Assam most of who live in the Karbi Anglong district, and in the North Cachar Hills, Kamrup, Morigaon, Nagaon and Sonitpur districts.

The incident

On the evening of June 8, two young men in their late 20s –Nilotpal Das and Abhijit Nath – were lynched in the Karbi Anglong district where they had gone on a vacation. The two work in Mumbai and Goa. The lynching followed social media posts about child abductors (khupadhora) being on the prowl. Social media rumours triggered communal violence in Meghalaya’s Shillong less than two weeks ago.

The Assam incident is a clear warning for the government and its people that until and unless the state is able to raise awareness on rumours through social media and curb this instantly, things can go beyond control.

Nilotpal Das, born and brought up in Silphukuri, Guwahati, was a commerce graduate from Delhi University, and afterwards, did a sound engineering course from S. A. College, Mumbai. He was a musician and could play different musical instruments. He was a fun loving boy who used to record numerous sounds while visiting the hills and mountains of Assam. Abhijit Nath, an engineer, had recently started his business.

Nilotpal and Abhijit traveled from Guwahati to Panjuri Kacharigaon village near Kangthailangso under Dokmoka police station in Karbi Anglong district in their black Scorpio car. After spending some time in the midst of nature at Kangthailangso and recording various sounds, they were on their way back though the tribal village. It was nearly six in the evening. Recently, in Assam, there were rumours in the social media that a group of abductors are out there to catch children. Nilotpal and Abhijit became victims of the superstitious villagers.

It was getting dark when they reached Panjuri Kacharigaon. Apparently, the villagers noticed Nilotpal’s long locked hair when he stopped his car to buy some chocolates.  It increased the suspicion in the minds of the tribal villagers and led them into believing that they were the child abductors.

Instantly, hundreds of villagers blocked their path and dragged them out of their car. They tied them with a rope to a tree and beat them mercilessly. Nilotpal who was confident that being an Assamese they could roam around in every corner of Assam, pleaded before succumbing to death – “I am an Assamese, my father is Gopal Das, my mother is Radhika Das. I am a musician. I am not child-lifter”. But no one listened to them and two young men were beaten to death by a group of miscreants simply on the basis of suspicion. The heart wrenching cry of Nilotpal can be seen in videos that have already gone viral.

Imagine, those who believed such rumours were actually busy recording videos on their phones as others mercilessly beat up the two young men! Such was the sadistic pleasure. Not a single person called the police although Dokmoka police station was just 20 minutes away from the incident spot.

The Deputy Commissioner of Karbi Anglong, Mridul Kumar Mahanta, has said that they learnt about the incident only at 8:42 in the evening. His irresponsible comment after the incident that the victims should have taken permission from the local police or informed them before visiting such hilly areas, has led to outrage among the people in Assam.  In reaction to such comment, Bichitra Narayan Saikia, who teaches at Renaissance Junior College, said, “Do we need to take permission to travel or visit to our own home land? What does this mean? Are we not safe in our own state?”

Abhijit’s father who lost his only son said “I have left everything to the legal system of Assam. I have no reason to live.” Mrinal Das, a childhood friend said Nilotpal loved visiting hills and mountains. “He loved tribal culture and music. It is so unfortunate he lost his life under such circumstances,” Mrinal said.

Fifteen persons have been arrested in this connection so far.

Why are we wasting money on promoting Assam through tourism programmes endorsed by Priyanka Chopra?

The literacy rate of Assam is 73.18 per cent but the state is still under the grip of superstitious beliefs and practices. Some recent incidents across the state make it amply clear that enlightening people to overcome superstitious beliefs especially in remote areas of Assam, particularly in the tribal and tea estate zones, is far more important than spending huge amount of money in the name of promoting the tourism of Assam. Actor Priyanka Chopra has been chosen as brand ambassador of Assam Tourism – in the Awesome Assam promotionals – but that is not what is required in the present scenario. We need to educate people. Witch hunting and other superstitious beliefs are still prevalent in several places.

Who are the Assamese people?

The incident may bring us to discuss how we should define the “Assamese” people. Some people feel that Axomiya or Assamese people must be defined on the linguistic, cultural or ethnic basis. People of Assam are a mixture of different racial groups like Mongolian, Indo-Burmese, Indo-Iranian and Aryan origin, and these indigenous people are referred to as “Axomiya” or “Assamese”. Are people going outside Assam, earning a livelihood elsewhere, not Assamese? Should the Assamese people be judged by the way they “look” and “appear”? Why is there little acceptance for those who appear “different”? Assam has progressed in different fields, but unfortunately, some remote tribal areas such as the Karbi Anglong and other tribal areas are yet to get proper facilities and education.

Unless the government intervenes and prioritises education, takes stern measures to check rumour-mongering through social media, it won’t take long for superstitions and illiteracy to lead a toll on our lives, leading to clashes and unrest. There are already enough indications.

 

[The views expressed belong solely to the author, and may not reflect the opinions of the editorial team]

Cover photograph representational

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