On 10 July 2019, an FIR was filed against ten Miyah poets and other activists from Assam under five different sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Telecommunications Act for a poem titled Write it Down, I am a Miyah written by senior Miyah poet, Hafiz Ahmed. The FIR accused the poets and activists, amongst other things, of depicting the Assamese people as “xenophobic in the eyes of the whole world” and posing a “serious threat to the Assamese people as well as towards the national security and harmonious social atmosphere.”

A week later, at least three more FIRs were filed over the same poem. Meanwhile, several of these poets/activists are being subjected to a barrage of online trolling and intimidation by certain individuals on social media and WhatsApp. These include death threats, rape threats and other explicit forms of harassment. There is also a wider attempt to malign the young Miyah poets and in fact, the entire Miyah community, through derogatory, lurid and baseless stereotypes. This malicious campaign only adds fuel to the existing sentiment of hostility against Bengali-origin Muslims of Assam who remain highly vulnerable to ethno-nationalist majoritarianism and anti-immigrant rhetoric in the state.

We unequivocally condemn such attempts to malign and criminalise the Miyah poets. Poetry can be a spontaneous and legitimate medium of expression of collective trauma, grievances and emotions. In the absence of other avenues, it often becomes the sole medium of speaking truth to power. Every single individual and community has, and should have, the natural right to do so without the fear of perverse consequences, including punitive action (such as FIRs). The criminalisation of any poetry marks the death of a healthy, democratic and humane society that we want Assam to be. In this context, we see Miyah Poetry as a legitimate form of literary protest against the victimisation of Bengal-origin Muslims of Assam.

In this regard, we remind the principal stakeholders – the judicial system, on which we rest many of our hopes, and the media – of the fundamental rights guaranteed through the highest laws of the country i.e. those enshrined in the Constitution: Article 14 ensuring equality before the law, Article 15 defining equality of opportunity, and Article 19 upholding freedom of speech and expression, subject to “reasonable restrictions”. We, thus, expect and urge the government and other mandate holders to uphold the constitutional rights of all citizens, which also include the right of writers to speak and write freely without fear of fear, harm or intimidation. We believe that anyone attempting to impinge on these fundamental rights with arbitrariness and frivolous interpretations must face the full force of the law.

Further, we strongly condemn the manner in which certain lines from some old poems have been selectively quoted, distorted and taken out of context to project them as “anti-Assamese” or “anti-social”, as also highlighted in the recent statement released by the Miyah poets/activists. These are labels that only sharpen Assam’s brittle faultlines and create conditions for ethnic and communal violence. We urge all parties to refrain from using such simplistic and baseless titles against the poets.

Finally, we unequivocally condemn the cyber bullying, harassment and threats that the Miyah poets, activists and their friends are being subjected to. Such conduct is not just downright unacceptable in a civil society, but also fall under the ambit of criminal offences. We urge all members of Assam’s civil society, including prominent intellectuals, to publicly condemn the trolling of Miyah poets/activists and urge the police to take necessary action against the perpetrators.

The final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is about to be published on 31 July. In this context, the timing of the controversy and the vilification of the poets point to dangerous times ahead. We appeal to all people to assert their voices against hate, suspicion, chauvinism and censorship of literary expressions.

Signatories

  1. Suraj Gogoi, Doctoral Candidate, National University of Singapore (NUS)
  2. Parag Jyoti Saikia, Doctoral Student, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  3. Angshuman Choudhury, policy analyst
  4. Jyotirmoy Talukdar, Writing Tutor, Centre for Writing and Communication, Ashoka University
  5. Aarthi Achuthappa, Graduate Student, National University of Singapore
  6. Aashita Dawer, faculty, Jindal Global University.
  7. Abhilash Rajkhowa, President, Students’ Federation of India (SFI), Panjab University
  8. Abhinav P. Borbora, political commentator
  9. Abhishek Chakraborty, queer activist
  10. Adeel Ahmed, Advocate-on-Record, Supreme court of India
  11. Aditi Dey Sarkar, Doctoral Candidate, IIT Bombay
  12. Aditya Prakash, documentary filmmaker
  13. Aditya Ranjan Pathak, Postgraduate student, Ambedkar University
  14. Ahmed Sohaib, academic
  15. Ajitha GS, publisher
  16. Akruti Ramachandra, law student, JGLS
  17. Amit R Baishya, Assistant Professor, Department of English, University of Oklahoma
  18. Amrita Das Gupta, Doctoral Student, National University of Singapore
  19. Anamika Deb, Student
  20. Andrew Lee, Graduate Student, NUS
  21. Anirban Chatterjee, PhD Scholar, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  22. AnirbanDatta, filmmaker
  23. Anjali Monteiro, filmmaker and academic
  24. Anjuman Ara Begum, Human Rights Activist, Guwahati
  25. Ankit Rathore, Production Editor, The Economist
  26. Ann Norinne Suk, Doctoral Student, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  27. AnnuJalais, Assistant Professor, National University of Singapore
  28. Antora Borah, Research Associate, Council for Social Development, New Delhi
  29. Anwesha Dutta, Postdoctoral Researcher, Chr. Michelsen Institute, Bergen, Norway
  30. Apoorvanand, Professor, Department of Hindi, University of Delhi
  31. Arijit Sen, journalist
  32. Arjun Rajendran, poet
  33. ArunabhDebendranathKonwar, student
  34. Arundhati Ghosh, Cultural Professional, Bengaluru
  35. Asad Zaidi, poet and publisher
  36. AsemChanuManimala, Independent Researcher
  37. Ashish Xaxa, PhD Scholar, TISS Mumbai
  38. Avijit Mukul Kishore, filmmaker
  39. Avishek Parui, Assistant Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Madras
  40. Ayesha Kidwai, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  41. Baidurya Chakrabarti, academic
  42. Balawansuk Lynrah, Doctoral Student, National University of Singapore
  43. Bhargabi Das, Research Scholar, Maynooth University, Ireland
  44. Bijoy Sankar Barman, poet
  45. Biman Nath, Professor, Raman Research Center
  46. Bobo Khuraijam, filmmaker
  47. Boishakhi Dutta, Senior Sub-editor, The Telegraph
  48. Bondita Acharya, Activist
  49. Chander Uday Singh, Senior Advocate, New Delhi
  50. Chandita Mukherjee, filmmaker
  51. D.N. Kalia, Delhi University
  52. Daisy Barman, PhD Scholar, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  53. Debarshi Das, academic
  54. Debayudh Chatterjee, poet and translator
  55. Debika, Assamese Queer Woman
  56. Debopriya Shome, Student, Jadavpur University
  57. Dhiman Barman, poet
  58. DhrijyotiKalita, PhD Candidate, University of Minnesota
  59. Disha Yadav, MA Public Policy, OP Jindal Global University
  60. Dr Costanza Rampini, Assistant Professor, Environmental Studies Department, San José State University
  61. Dr Kamal Kumar Tanti, writer, poet, researcher
  62. Dr. Laifungbam Debabrata Roy, President, CORE Manipur
  63. Dr. Dibyadyuti Roy, Assistant Professor, Communications, IIM Indore
  64. Fathima Nizaruddin, filmmaker
  65. Gaurav Mittal, Doctoral Candidate, National University of Singapore
  66. Gautam Sonti, filmmaker
  67. Ghazala Jamil, academic
  68. Gorky Chakraborty, Associate Professor, Institute of Development Studies, Kolkata
  69. Hany Babu, Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Delhi
  70. Har Kumar Goswami, Social Activist
  71. Haripriya Soibam, poet and academic
  72. Heba Ahmed, PhD student, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU)
  73. Henry Robert Goldsmith, Researcher
  74. Himalaya Bora, Doctoral Student, IIT Guwahati
  75. Hoda Bandeh-Ahmadi, Director of Social Research, Center for Surgical Training and Research, University of Michigan
  76. Illito Achumi, Faculty, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
  77. Indrani Chatterjee, Professor of History, University of Texas.
  78. Jabeen Merchant, film editor
  79. James Daimary
  80. Jennifer Shaheen Hussain, Media Researcher
  81. Jhilmil Breckenridge, poet
  82. Joel Rodrigues, Researcher
  83. Jonmani Das, MPhil student, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  84. K. P. Jayasankar, filmmaker and academic
  85. Kamal Mitra Chenoy, Professor, Centre for Comparative Politics & Political Theory, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  86. Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Feminist and Human Rights Activist
  87. Kankana Talukdar, Doctoral Candidate, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  88. Karama Sherap Bhutia, Research Scholar
  89. Karthik Teegalapalli, Wildlife Biologist
  90. Kartikeya Jain, Editor, Speaking Tiger
  91. Kaushik Barua, author
  92. Kiran Keshavamurthy, Assistant Professor, IIT Guwahati
  93. Kishalay Bhattacharjee, Vice Dean, OP Jindal Global University
  94. Koyamparambath Satchidanandan, poet
  95. Likhita Banerji, human rights researcher
  96. Litul Baruah, Program & Analytics Specialist (Global), C&A Foundation
  97. Madhubanti Chanda, Dancer and Research Scholar, CSSS Calcutta
  98. Madhulika Reddy, Student, JGLS
  99. Madhurima Nundy, Institute of Chinese Studies
  100. Mainak Moitra, Senior Copyeditor, Cogencis Information Services Ltd
  101. Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee, writer
  102. Manisha Sethi, academic
  103. Manjiri Indurkar, Writer
  104. Manjita Devi, Doctoral Candidate, IIT Bombay
  105. Mansi Sharma, activist
  106. Maroona Murmu, Associate Professor, Jadavpur University
  107. Mayur Suresh, Lecturer, SOAS, University of London
  108. Meenakshi Nair, Doctoral Candidate, Graduate School Geneva
  109. Meghadeepa Chakraborty, Banasthali Vidyapeeth University
  110. Mekhala Saran, poet, writer
  111. Mihir Vatsa, poet
  112. Minakshi Rajdev, PhD Candidate, Center for Historical Studies, JNU
  113. Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman, Visiting Research Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies,
    New Delhi
  114. Mitra Phukan, novelist and translator.
  115. Mitul Baruah, Assistant Professor, Ashoka University
  116. Monami Basu, Assistant Professor, University of Delhi
  117. Mohinder Singh, Assistant Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  118. Mukul Haloi, filmmaker
  119. Mukul Priyadarshini, Delhi University
  120. Nabanipa Bhattacharjee, academic
  121. Nabina Das, poet
  122. Nalini Taneja, historian
  123. Namrata Pathak, Assistant Professor, North East Hill University (NEHU)
  124. Nasreen Habib, journalist
  125. Neshat Quaiser, academic
  126. Niranjan Nath, National School of Drama
  127. Nishita Goswami, actor
  128. Nitasha Kaul, Author/Poet/Associate Professor, University of Westminster
  129. Nitin Pegu, cinematographer
  130. Nitoo Das, Poet
  131. Nivedita Menon, Professor, Centre for Comparative Politics & Political Theory,
    Jawaharlal Nehru University
  132. Nupur Basu, journalist
  133. Oliullah Laskar, Advocate, Guwahati High Court
  134. Palaash Bhargava, PhD Candidate, Columbia University in New York
  135. Parasher Baruah, filmmaker
  136. Partha Pratim Saikia, PhD Student, IIT Kharagpur
  137. Parvin Sultana, Assistant Professor, PB College, Gauripur
  138. Patricia Mukhim, senior journalist
  139. Pooja Nirala, freelance writer
  140. Poonam Batra, Professor of Education, Central Institute of Education,
    University of Delhi
  141. Prabhakar Singh, Associate Professor and Assistant Dean (Research), JGLS
  142. Pradip Kumar Datta, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  143. Pragati Kalita, queer rights activist
  144. Pramod Mandade, Doctoral Candidate, IIT Bombay
  145. Pranab Doley, rights activist
  146. Prannv Dhawan, Joint Convenor, Law and Society Committee, National Law
    School of India University (NLSIU), Bengaluru
  147. Prasad Khanolkar, Faculty, IIT Guwahati
  148. Prasenjit Biswas, Human Rights Activist
  149. Prativa Thomas, affiliated with Amnesty International, Sheffield, UK
  150. Praveen Donthi, journalist
  151. Preeti Gill, literary agent and publishing consultant
  152. Prerana Anjali Choudhury, Independent Researcher and Writer
  153. Prithiraj Borah, Doctoral Candidate, IIT Bombay
  154. Priya Sen, filmmaker
  155. Priya Sharma, PhD Candidate IIT Bombay
  156. Priyanka K, journalist
  157. Radhika Rani, Assistant Professor, St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai
  158. Rafiul Alom Rahman, Activist
  159. Rana Saikia, MPhil Scholar, University of Delhi
  160. Ravi Singh, publisher and co-founder,Speaking Tiger Books
  161. Ravi Sundaram, academic
  162. Rima Kalita, MPhil Scholar, Department of History, NEHU
  163. Rinchen Thakur, Project Staff, Endangered Archives Project ARCE-AIIS
  164. Rintu Borah, Doctoral Candidate, IIT Bombay
  165. Rohan D’ Souza, Associate Professor, Kyoto University
  166. Rohini Mohan, independent journalist, Bangalore
  167. Rohini Sen, Faculty, OP Jindal University
  168. Rohit De, Assistant Professor, Yale University
  169. Rohan Deb Roy, Lecturer
  170. Ronit Hazarika, MA Public Policy, OP Jindal Global University
  171. Ruhee Neog, security and foreign policy analyst
  172. Rukmini Chakraborty, Doctoral Student, Cornell University
  173. Rukmini Sircar, National School of Drama
  174. Saib Bilaval, PhD Student, Center for Historical Studies, JNU, and independent
    journalist
  175. Saikat Datta, senior journalist
  176. Saikat Majumdar, novelist
  177. Saket Gokhale, political activist
  178. Samina Mishra, filmmaker, Writer and Teacher
  179. Samreen Farooqui, filmmaker
  180. Samrat Choudhury, journalist and author
  181. Samyak Ghosh, Doctoral Student, Columbia University
  182. Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty, Deputy Editor, The Wire
  183. Sanjay Kak, filmmaker
  184. Sanjib Baruah, Professor of Political Studies, Bard College, New York
  185. Sanjoy Hazarika, writer
  186. Santana Khanikar, Assistant Professor, JNU
  187. Sarah Hillaly, Professor, Rajiv Gandhi University
  188. Satarupa Lahiri, PhD Researcher, Center for Historical Studies, JNU
  189. Satya Prateek, Assistant Professor, Jindal Global Law School (JGLS)
  190. Sayani Basak, PhD Scholar, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS)
  191. Scindhia Siddharthan, Teacher, Rajghat Besant School, Varanasi
  192. Shamya Dasgupta, journalist
  193. Shanta Gokhale, Writer
  194. Sharifa Choudhury, Advocate, Supreme Court
  195. Sharmadip Basu, Azim Premji University
  196. Shaunna Rodrigues, Ph.D. Candidate and Teaching Fellow, Columbia University
    in New York.
  197. Shuddhabrata Sengupta, Artist, Raqs Media Collective
  198. Shyamal Chakma, Doctoral Candidate, SOAS, University of London
  199. Smitana Saikia, Assistant Professor, FLAME University
  200. Sohini Dutta, Doctoral Candidate, IIT Bombay
  201. Siddharth Singh, development professional
  202. Somjyoti Mridha, academic
  203. Soumyadeep Guha, independent researcher
  204. Sourv Patgiri, student.
  205. Sreejith Murali, PhD Candidate IIT Bombay
  206. Srijani Bhaswa Mahanta, Councillor, School of International Studies, JNU
  207. Srivastan Manivannan, Research Fellow, Center for Human Rights, JGLS
  208. Subasri Krishnan, filmmaker
  209. Subir Bhaumik, senior journalist
  210. Suchitra Vijayan, founder, The Polis Project
  211. Sudhanva Deshpande, publisher
  212. Suvir Kaul, A. M. Rosenthal Professor, University of Pennsylvania
  213. Swagato Sarkar, Faculty, Jindal School of Government and Public Policy
  214. Tanushree Bhowmik, senior development professional
  215. Tanweer Fazal, academic
  216. Tomujit Singha, activist and entrepreneur
  217. Tridib Mukherjee, student
  218. Tridib Nilim Dutta, journalist
  219. Trishna Saikia, MA Development Studies, Ambedkar University, Delhi
  220. Uma Chakravarti, Feminist Historian
  221. Umar Khalid, United Against Hate
  222. Unalita Phukan, MPhil Candidate, University of Hyderabad
  223. Vasundhara Jairath, Assistant Professor, IIT Guwahati
  224. Veronica Gregorio, Doctoral Candidate, National University of Singapore
  225. Yasmin Saikia, Professor, Arizona State University
  226. Yengkhom Jilangamba, Faculty, TISS, Guwahati