Amidst controversy surrounding the genre of ‘miya' poetry in Assam, Sanjib Pol Deka, editor of Assamese magazine Aalaap, has come out in support of the poems whose creators are now being charged by the police. Miya poetry is a genre of poems written by Bengali-speaking Muslims in Assam, in their native dialect, and aim to reclaim the ‘miya’ tag used for them as a derogatory slur, filled with obvious tones of discrimination. Deka, winner of the Sahitya Akademi Youth Award 2019, was one of the first to publish these poems in her magazine.
The genre recently became a movement when prominent miya poet, Hafiz Ahmed’s poem "Write Down I am a Miya" went viral and subsequently, a poem titled "I am Miya" written by Kazi Sharowar Hussain and translated by Shalim M Hussain gained international media attention the same year.
However, the poems and the movement they have spurred have become targets of mass fury and incited sharp reactions from activists who claim that Bangladeshi dialects that the poems are written in paint the Assamese as xenophobic. The police report (FIR) filed against Miya poetry is on the grounds that the genre has the potential to create “communal disturbances in the state”.
The controversy surrounding miya poetry comes at a time when millions of Bengali muslims are being deported as “illegal immigrants” by the ongoing NRC exercise by the government. By the end of next month, Assam will publish the final version of a register of citizens and to be included in this register, applicants have to prove that they or their ancestors entered India before midnight on March 24, 1971, the eve of the Bangladesh War, or risk detention. With detention centres being full and Bangladesh unwilling to accept people identified as “foreigners”, Bengali muslims will be the biggest losers from this marginalising exercise especially since the government has been welcoming Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist migrants and refugees.
In these trying times, miya poetry is a form of expression of the collective suffering faced by the Bengali speaking muslim community in Assam, a small act of resistance against the inevitable but unfair deportation. Deka, denounced the filing of the FIR and said that "the BJP is anti-Miya. They are the only ones who will gain from this controversy. This will only help the BJP who has often played divisive politics”. Support by influential figures like Deka gives recognition to the movement and might create ripples that lead to some form of justice for the displaced people.