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Cover Histrory Issue-2012 August

The Jamiat Working Committee on 5th August 1942, adopted a resolution calling upon the British to ‘Quit India’. It was after the Jamiat Ulama-e Hind that the Bombay Session of the Indian National Congress on August 9, 1942 passed the famous ‘Quit India’ resolution that led to the arrest and incarceration of the Congress and the Jamiat leaders and later freedom of our country.

August 2012, the 65th anniversary of India’s freedom, we undivided Indians will celebrate it with flowers and pride. That’s alright! But remember, what our history is telling about our freedom struggle is very selective � there are pages deliberately forgotten, dusted with prejudiced and narrowness or completely removed from Indian history books. Your magazine Eastern Crescent has been carrying such untold, unsung stories for last 7 years. This piece of article is one of them. It begins with extensive struggle for freedom of India by Maulana Mamoodul Hasan, known as Shaikhul Hind (1852 � 1920). For, this Ramadhanul Mubarak marks the 100th anniversary of Silk Letter Movement against British occupation in India, headed by Shaikhul Hind.

The Silk Letter Movement was a well crafted plan for complete freedom of India which was leaked before execution and resulted in the arrest of hundreds of Muslim scholars and freedom fighters including the leader himself. Thousands were killed, brutally tortured and even sent to Malta as prisoners for several years.

I am text block. Click edit button to change this text. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.See the injustice and conspiracy: Sreenivasan Jain, the NDTV journalist, catches refugees living in camps openly saying that Pradeep Brahma, the Bodo People’s Front (BPF) MLA, fired at Muslims and Santhal Adivasis with his own gun. After the Assam visit of Ms. Sonia Gandhi, the Congress president, Pradeep Brahma is arrested. Now BPF is part of the Tarun Gogoi led Congress government in Assam-why would a senior party arrest a member of its own coalition unless there is solid proof? But, as far as the Sangh Parivar and BJP are concerned, this argument falls on deaf ears. Bajrang Dal announces an Assam Bandh protesting the arrest of Pradeep Brahma-and to demand-hold your breath-the arrest of Badruddin Ajmal-the leader of United Democratic Front (UDF)-one of the leading opposition parties of Assam with 18 MLAs-several of them Hindus!

Has anyone-even a prominent Bodo leader like Hagramy Mohilary-demanded Badruddin Ajmals arrest? On what grounds, what evidence are Bajrang Dal cadres making this insistence? Is there any evidence of ALUDF cadres indulging in anti-Bodo violence? Is there any complaint of a AIUDF MLA-like Basheer Ahmed-the MLA from Bilashpada-near Bodo areas-even lifting a finger at any Bodo?

Are we going to have two laws in India-one for Muslims and another one for non-Muslims? By demanding Ajmal’s arrest, the Sangh Parivar has just entered the league of anti-national forces like ULFA who seek the dismemberment of India. Ordinary Bodos have condemned any sort of violence. But some Bodo outfits like the Christian dominated National Peoples Front of Bodos (NDFB)-which still fights for a separate Bodoland-do not like even the BPF. Along with the Sangh Parivar and ULFA, they too demand action against AIUDF MLAs none of whom has ever been found inciting violence.

The conflicts within Bodos, external funding for the NFDB, the problem of armed militant militias living in designated camps in Assam and the Northeast, who transgress their limits openly and start killing Muslims in any such situation, the troubles of modern Assam since Independence, will be dealt with in the second part of this article.

Right now, it is necessary to rise above sectarian mindsets to say that apart from people in flesh and blood, the very idea of India as a diverse, multi-cultural, multi-national country is under attack in Assam.

ASSAM'S COMPOSITE CULTURE

Assam’s history is truly plural. Apart from the proliferation of indigenous tribes since times immemorial, non-tribal groups (Brahmin priests, Kayasthas, peasants, labourers, clerks, government officials, traders, entrepreneurs) from outside the area (undivided Bengal, Bihar, present-day Uttar Pradesh and other Hindi-Urdu speaking areas) have constantly arrived, assimilated-and reshaped-Assamese society.

For instance, Assams name derives from a long rule (1228-1826) of upper/eastern, and parts of central Assam, by the Ahom dynasty of Chinese origin. However, even at the height of Ahom power (late 17th-early 18th century), the Koch Rajbongshi dynasty reigned in parts of western or lower Assam. Enjoying Kshatriya status, Koch Rajbongshis split in late 16th century into two main branches: western and eastern. In the 19th century, the British created the Cooch-Behar state from the western Koch Rajbongshi kingdom.

By then, a third political entity-the Bodo-Kacharis-had dispersed all over Assam after losing their Barak valley kingdom to the British in 1832.

Ahom rule was truly ecumenical. Early on, medieval era tribes like Barahis and Marans-of Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman descent became part of the Ahom ethnic group. Then Khasis from present-day Meghalaya were admitted in the Ahom army on terms that they would retain their ethnicity. Finally, Bodos, Jaintiyas, Daflas, Karbis, Rabhas, Lalungs, Singhpos, Garos, Khamtis, Bhors, Lyngngams-even a small number of Lushais and Kukis were settled on Ahom lands after similar guarantees.

Under Chilarai, the Koch-Rajbongshis rulers of lower-western Assam defeated the Ahoms in a 16th century battle. For a brief period, Chilarai, successfully created another political federation based on the loyalty of mainly Barak and Surma Valley tribes. In the post-Chilarai era, the Bodo-Dimasa rulers of the Barak valley and parts of Surma valley also integrated several Naga tribes in a federal structure.

Ahoms introduced-in contrast to the traditional jhum cultivation-the technologically superior, wet rice farming in Assam. Sankardev, a 16th century Bhakti saint, pioneered the Vaishnavite creed that extended till Manipur. In Assam, his disciples included Chandsai, a Muslim, Govinda, a Garo, Paramanda, a Miri, Jayananda, a Bhutia, Narahari, an Ahom, Madhav, a Jaintia and Damodar, a Bania. Under Ahoms, Vaishnavism co-existed with Shaktism. The Kamakhya temple-one of the most important seats of Shakti worship in India-was part of Ahom lands.

MUSLIMS IN ASSAM AND NORTHEAST INDIA

Today, one hears of Bodo vs Muslim clashes-it is instructive that Ali Mech-perhaps the first person to embrace Islam in Assam (14th century)-belonged to an indigenous tribe with Bodo links. Soldiers left behind by Bakhtiyar Khiljis invading army in the 13th century, and other prisoner of wars, settled in Assam. Quite a few intermarried with women of local tribes.

Also, in the 14th century, a Muslim saint named Giasuddin Aulia came to Kamrupa. He established a dargah at Pua Mecca in Hajo about 30 km west of Guwahati. Other religious leaders like Ajan Fakir, Khandakar Peer, Manik Fakir, Nawaz Peer also came to Assam and adopted the local language and culture.

As early as the 15th century, a distinct brand of Assamese Muslims began emerging with different surnames and titles. During the reign of Ahom ruler Swargadeo Rudra Singha in the early part of the eighteenth century, some Muslim families proficient in different crafts and arts were invited from Delhi to reside in Assam and offer their services. These families were Pharsiparia, Aakharkatia (experts in making cannon balls, locally known as hiloi), Silakatia and Khanikar.

During the Ahom-Mughal war, Assamese Muslims fought hand-in-hand with their Hindu brethrens. In the decisive battle of Saraighat (1671)-that led to Ahom victory under Lachit Barphukan-Bagh Hazarika alias Ismail Siddiqui-led an Assamese force of one thousand Muslim soldiers against the Mughals.

Shah Hussain Khan and Ramzan Khan-two Assamese Muslim nobles-fought against the late 18th century-early 19th century Burmese invaders. In the Hadirachaki war, local Muslims fought against the Burmese forces, under the command of Mir-ud-Daula.

Incredible as it might sound today-under the successful rule of Dimasa-Bodos-Sylhet-in present-day Bangladesh-close to Silchar in Assams Barak valley-emerged as a major centre of Sufism and Muslim learning. Sylheti became a foremost language at par with Assamese-both these languages formed the eastern dialects of the great Bengali language family. While Sylhets chieftains became Muslims under the influence of Shah Jalal Yemeni, a great Sufi saint, several other political principalities of the Barak and Surma valley and East Bengal amalgamated Hindu-Muslim, even Buddhist features. For a long time, Chakmas of Chittagong (East Bengal) were Buddhists with Muslim chieftains.

Chiefs of Jaintia-located in present-day Meghalaya-believed in a matrilineal line of succession. In the 17th century, a Jaintia chief gave his sister in marriage to the Mughal Governor. Her son-a Muslim-became the next ruler. But his sister married a non-Muslim Jaintia. So when the British annexed the state in the 1830s, it was a mixed Hindu-Muslim-tribal-Jaintia kingdom!

The composite culture of Assam saw Radharam-as the chief of South Karimganj district-resisting the British in the 18th century. Most fighters in Radharams army were Muslims. The chief actually was called Nawab Radharam! More importantly, he was known as a Kayastha with mixed tribal blood!

Such features-the co-existence of Hindu, Muslim and local tribes-leading to the creation of a new breed-born out of intermixing and intermarriages or non-conventional liaisons-are to be found in such abundance that it is difficult to classify/separate Northeastern and East Bengal identities.

THE GREAT MANIPURI CHAPTER

Beyond Assam, Hindu rulers of Manipur merged Vaishnavism with Sanamahism, the traditional religion of the Meitei people, whose rulers controlled the area till 1947, and still constitute the majority (60% of the total population). Meitei-Sanamahi-Hindu-Manipuri princes carried multiple identities. They were also, often raised in Naga households. Pamheiba was one such 18th century warrior-prince. His exploits were not limited to victory in warfare and crushing Burmese excursions. Despite being a staunch Vaishnavite Hindu, following the traditions of that era, Pamheiba declared himself protector of the poor, openly announcing the adoption the Persian-Muslim Garib Nawaz title on his coins and royal standards!

Has anyone ever heard of such a thing-a mixture of tribal and Muslim elements-constituting a composite culture? Why is it that this unique history of Assam and the northeast was not taught to north, west and south Indians? What kind of politics waves its murky hands behind this exclusion?

Indeed, Muslims of Manipur-mostly outsiders who settled in the area in waves beginning from the 14th century-and intermarried locals-carry their own Meitei-Pangal identity. The Muslim population of Manipur touches the 9% mark; however, it is impossible to find Muslim Pangals residing outside Manipur in any noteworthy numbers. Under the rule of Meidingu Khagemba (1597- 1652 AD), a Muslim personal law board, under a Qazi, was established by orders of the King. Manipuri Muslims played a major role in the preservation of the Meiteilon-Manipuri language and script, to an extent that even today universities and colleges in Manipur offer courses in Meiteilon.

It seems that all over Assam and northeast India tribes, Hindu sects, Muslim Sufis and warriors, Brahmins, peasant castes and Kayasthas interacted with lan. Bodos, Ahoms, Kochs, Sutiyas, Karbis, Mishims, Bengali Hindus, Muslims, North Indian Brahmins, Vaishnavites, Buddhists, worshippers of Sakti, and Kayasthas, followers of tribal deities of Chinese, Burmese, and Tibetan derivation-just to cite a few examples-formed part of this truly remarkable amalgamation of different races, modes of land tenure, forms of worship, imported peasant cultures of the plains and the hill culture of the tribes, clerks and paiks.

BRITISH RULE

The British annexed Assam after the first Anglo-Burmese war. The war resulted in the treaty of Yandabo (1826). Due to Burmese atrocities, people and leaders of Assam welcomed the British initially; but then the British raised land revenue and began harassing the peasantry. Several new taxes were introduced and peasants were made to labour on lands colonized by the British East India Company (BEIC). It can be safely assumed that the British introduced features of European-style feudalism in Assam and the northeast.

As a political-military force, the British entered Assam during the first Anglo-Burmese war-prior to that the Maomoria rebellion (see `Last Days of Ahom Monarchy’, written by SL Baruah, 1993, New Delhi, `A History of Assam, written by Edward A Gait, 1906, Calcutta and `Medieval and Early Colonial Assam, written by Amalendu Guha, 1991, Calcutta)-a fight between Ahom rulers and the Vaishnava sattrasin which the latter got the support of another Ahom court faction-severely weakened the Ahom polity. Taking advantage of the unsettled conditions, the Burmese invaded Assam committing numerous atrocities on the people.

Due to the mayhem caused by the Burmese, people and leaders of Assam, the Ahom Raja, and some North Eastern tribes, welcomed the British initially. But the real, imperial nature of the British became apparent soon after the treaty of Yandabo (1826) between the British and the Burmese. For several years, British officials kept avoiding a settlement with Ahom rulers. After much delay and dithering, the British signed a treaty with Purandar Singha, the Ahom King, in 1833.

Maniram Dewan

Belonging to an old elite family of Kayastha administrators of North Indian (Kannauj) origin, Maniram Dewan (originally Maniram Barua), was a vital link between the British and the Ahom Kings. Working as part of the British bureaucracy in the 1820s, Maniram was also given the additional charge of Borbhandar (Prime Minister), at Purandar Singhas court in 1833.

Maniram discovered the potential of tea plantation in Assam. He surprised Bessa Gam-a local Singpo chief-by turning up at his village one fine morning, in the 1820s-with Robert and Charles Alexander Bruce-of the legendary Bruce Brothers fame-credited with identifying tea in Assam-in tow. But BEIC Calcutta officials refused to acknowledge the genuineness of Manirams discovery. However, after 1833, when the BEIC lost its tea trade monopoly with China, BEIC officials were forced to eat their own words.

On 1st February, 1834, Governor General William Bentinck established the Tea Committee. Maniram met Dr. Wallich, the same man who had rejected his samples earlier, as a representative of Purandar Singha.

Besides monopolising tea plantations and trade, the British had other evil designs in mind. A 26th February, 2009 Assam Tribune article, written by Dr. HK Goswami, observes that soon after Manirams meeting with Dr. Wallich, Jenkins, the North-East Agent of the Governor General, visited Purandar Singhas territory on a fact-finding mission…one man who strongly defended the Raja was Maniram Dewan, Chief Counsellor of the Raja. Purandar Singha was deposed in 1838 on the plea of bad governance and default in payment of the tribute and the British annexed his territories (http://www.assamtribune.com/scripts/details.asp?id=feb2609/edit3).

All through the 1840s and 50s, the BEIC administration annexed several states in India on the trumped up charge of bad governance. But, despite Jenkins’ adverse comments, Maniram outflanked the Governor Generals agent, becoming in 1839, the Dewan of the Assam Tea Company at Nazira, drawing a salary of 200 rupees per month.

But Maniram felt suffocated working under the British. A surprisingly well researched Wikipedia entry on Maniram Dewan notes that “in the mid-1840s, Maniram quit his job due to differences of opinion with company officers…he established his own tea garden at Chenimora in Jorhat, thus becoming the first Indian to grow tea commercially in Assam…Maniram established another tea plant in Sibsagar. Apart from the tea industry, Maniram also ventured into iron smelting, gold procuring and salt production. He was also involved in the manufacturing of goods like matchlocks, hoes and cutlery. His other business activities included handloom, boat making, brick making, bell-metal, dyeing, ivory work, ceramic, coal supply, elephant trade, construction of buildings for military headquarters and agricultural products. Some of the markets established by him include the Garohat in Kamrup, Nagahat near Sibasagar, Borhat in Dibrugarh, Sissihat in Dhemaji and Darangia Haat in Darrang (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maniram_Dewan).

Here we have-in the person of Maniram-much before Tatas and Birlas appeared on India’s business stage-the first example of a modern, Indian entrepreneur. Imagine an Indian in the 1840s and 50s, establishing not only tea plantations but extending activities to a whole range of goods and products, staggering by even todays standards. In fact, Tatas began as British middlemen in the China opium trade in the 1850s and 60s. Birlas also started their businesses as middlemen in about the same period.

But rather than becoming a comprador (intermediary) bourgeoisie subservient to imperialism, Maniram chose independence and the path of a nationalist bourgeoisie. Like Americans today-the British-then the foremost Imperialist world power tolerated even encouraged, compradors. But they regarded independent, nationalist entrepreneurs as an anathema. The Wikipedia entry further notes that, Maniram faced numerous administrative obstacles in establishing private tea plantations, due to opposition from competing European tea planters. In 1851, an officer seized all the facilities provided to him due to a tea garden dispute. Maniram, whose family consisted of 185 people, had to face economic hardship.

Another Assam Tribune article notes that “As a matter of fact, Maniram wanted to build up a self-dependent economy. Incidentally, former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam in his Republic Day speech of 2005 stressed on making entrepreneurial course compulsory…it may be surmised that what Assam thought 143 years ago…the credit for this goes to the father of modern Assamese nationality-Maniram Dewan (http://www.assamtribune.com/scripts/details.asp?id=feb2608/edit2).

Soon, Maniram’s “property was auctioned at a very nominal price to George Williamson”.

MISERY OF ASSAM AND THE NORTH-EAST

Maniram’s disenchantment with the British occurred against the backdrop of widespread discontent in Assam and the North-East. After 1826, the BEIC had gone on to acquire territory after territory including Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Manipur. Despite treaties and agreements with various tribes, the essential British policies of harassing the tribes and peasantry produced revolts.

The Singhpos and the Nagas were the first to rebel, and the Anglo-Naga war extended from 1835 to 1852 AD.

Under British rule, peasants of Assam in particular had to pay three times the land revenue they delivered under the Ahoms. Minor delays in payments-overlooked in the Ahom-paik system of decentralized revenue-which favoured local factors and leniency-saw properties both of small peasants and distinguished upper/Eastern Assamese service-military gentry-being attached. Erstwhile lords and labourers alike were reduced to penury. Plus, the British began importing Santhals from Bengal to work as indentured labour in the tea gardens, being set up by the British in both upper (eastern) and lower (western) Assam. By the 1850s, economic hardship became so severe, that apart from Ahoms, several erstwhile Koch and Bodo men of influence were working as labourers in tea gardens.

BRITISH IMPACT ON LOCAL CULTURE

But the worst part of British rule was the interference in local culture. It was the British who began identity politics in Assam. Large sections of specific tribes-the Kukis and some Naga sub tribes to begin with-were converted to Christianity. British administrators also began insisting on `pure bloodlines; chieftains with mixed religious or tribal heritage were shunned.

Simultaneously, the impact of the Bengal renaissance and the Brahmo Samaj movement was felt in Assam. Even though Assam lacked a Bengal style, pro-British, colonial middle class, Anandram Dhekial Phukan( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anandaram_Dhekial_Phukan) began his pioneering work to revive Assamese literature (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Assamese_literature) and initiate social reforms.

However, Maniram refused to go over to the reformist-collaborationist, pro-British, Bengal-renaissance side, which distorted and confused reformist-modernist figures like Debendra Nath Tagore, the father of Rabnindra Nath Tagore. Instead, Maniram Dewan, the indigenous modernist, took the revolutionary path.

In a famous petition/manifesto (http://books.google.co.in/books?id=JCnLlpHhtUgC&pg=PA95&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false) presented before Moffat Mills, the British Judge, in 1853, Maniram clearly stated Assams main problem: the loss of political-social and economic power by indigenous forces of all classes under British rule. He denounced the setting up of unfamiliar, phirang courts with alien laws, the emergence of the dalaal, the high British revenue, the desecration of royal tombs and temples (like Kamakhya), the loss of occupation, the introduction of opium, and the system of collecting rents through mouzdars (rent collectors-mostly Bengalis and Marwaris from outside Assam). In an almost stunning bid to achieve a pan-Assam-North East unity, Maniram further wrote that the “objectionable treatment” of Hill Tribes (such as the Nagas) was resulting in constant warfare leading to mutual loss of life and money.

FREEDOM MOVEMENT IN ASSAM

In 1857, Maniram Dewan formed an underground network of revolutionaries. His main hope lay in the Jorhat-Sibsagar based 1st Assam Light Infantry (ALI) and the Gauwahati based 2nd ALI. The Assam regiments were a mixed cauldron with Poorabias from western Bihar (Arrah) rubbing shoulders with mainstream Assamese Muslim warriors, Nepalis, Manipuris, Jarrowas and Doaneas (the last two born out of mixed Assamese-Singhpo union).

Especially after the revolt of Bengal Army Regiments at Danapur (near Patna), Bihar on 25th July 1857, Poorabia elements of the Assam Infantry began talking about British overthrow and the installation of Bahadur Shah Zafar as Indiasemperor. (http://books.google.co.in/books?id=MzjyHi4LEQAC&pg=PA142&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false).

Dewan’s circle’s inimitability rested on its diverse nature: it included Mayaram and Krishna Chandra Mazumdar-two Golaghat based Assamese of Bengali origin-Madhu Malik-a Dibrugarh Bengali-Ganesh Chaudhary, Umakant and Khageshwar-of mixed Bengali-Assamese heritage-Piyali Barua, Ditiram Barua and Marangikhowa Gohain-three major Ahom figures-and Ramdas and Visnhudev Mahanta-two sattra Vaishnavite spiritual leaders.

Thus 1857 bridged also, the fault-lines and political lacunae left by the Ahom-sattra struggle that was instrumental both, in the Burmese invasion, and the military march of the British into Assam.

The pan-Assam unity achieved by Maniram included Urbidhar Barua, Mayaram Barbora, Chitrasen Barbora, Kamala Charingia Barua, Mahidhar Sarma Muktear, Luki Senchowa Barua, and Deoram Dihingia Barua.

Bahadur Gaonburha and Sheikh Formud Ali-two leading Muslim personalities of Assam-helped Maniram-who was in Calcutta in May, 1857-establish direct linkages to Shiekh Bhikun and Noor Muhammad-two Muslim subedars of Assamese origin-posted in the Nogore detachment-of the Sibsagar based 1st ALI unit.

Acting on Manirams advice-Kandarpeswar Singha-the grandson of Purandar Singha-the last Ahom King-met Sheikh Fomud Ali and Bahadur Gaonburha. Soon, Subedars Sheikh Bhikun and Noor Muhammad were corresponding with Kandarpeswar Singha (also called Charing Raja) secretly.

Promising to double the salaries of all ALI Sepoys, the Charing Raja gave his consent to lead the Assam revolution. In keeping with precedents set by Begum Hazrat Mahal-representing Nawabs of Awadh in the 1857 war-at Lucknow-and Peshwa Nana Sahib-at Kanpur-Kandarpeswar Singha agreed to rule Assam after expelling the British as a vassal of Bahadur Shah Zafar! Mughals were never able to capture upper Assam from Ahoms. But in a revolutionary, political moment of Indian history, Ahom and Mughal houses united in struggle against British rule!

THE ROLE OF BODOS AND KOCHS IN 1857

Maniram had also enrolled in the freedom movement personalities like Madhuram Koch-a Koch Rajbongshi figure who owned a tea plantation but was relegated by the British to the status of labourer; Rupahi and Lumbai Aideo-two Assamese women pensioners; and Usubar, Laochiklang and Maalu Sikhla-three Bodo warriors.

The inclusion of Bodo warriors in the anti-British, 1857 plot was a masterstroke. Imagine the Indian history in which Bodos fought for Indias freedom struggle under the leadership of Bahadur Shah Zafar, a Mughal King! Revealed in an obscure book written by a descendant of one of the Poorabia survivor of 1857 in Assam (San Sattavan ki Ankahee Kahani, written by Prem Dutt Pandey, 1957, Prayaga Sahitya Sammelan, Allahabad), this aspect presents a great challenge before Indian and Bodo historians. Even Bodos in general seem unaware of their heroes who fought against the British in 1857. This is just the beginning; and more work-especially with regard to Bodo sources-needs to be done in this field.

After losing completely, their Barak valley based kingdom to the British in 1832, Bodo-Kacharis had spread-by 1857-to nearly all parts of present-day Assam. Members of the Bodo-Kachari nobility migrated as far as Kashi (see Benaras ka Anootha Itihaas, written by Shiv Kumar Dwivedi, Hindi, 1962, Prayag Sahitya Sammelan, Allahabad).

However, a large section of Bodos, settled in the Darrang area on the Bhutan border, were never part of the Barak valley kingdom. Darrang-Kokrajhar Bodos either survived as roving, independent tribes-practicing jhum cultivation and not bowing to any authority-or as nominal subjects of the western Assam, Koch kingdom.

Usubar, Laochiklang and Maalu Sikhla were all Darrang-Kokrajhar Bodos. They followed the martial traditions, codes of fierce independence, and the religion-revolving around the worship of Bathou-of the roving tribes.

Folk songs-celebrating the struggle between Bodos and Bhutias of present-day Bhutan-survive to this day (http://www.aygrt.net/PublishArticles/529.aspx). Famous Bodo warriors-men and women-of yore include Bachiram, Daoharam, Cheobar, Gambari Sikhla, and Birgahri Sikhla. The song recalling the heroism of Bachiram is legendary:

Goraya dabradw Bachiram Jwhwlao

Gonggar chubaya phwilaygou

(Ride on horse Bachiram

Bhutiyas are coming in a body)

Interestingly, in the `The Oral Poetry of the Bodos: Ethnic Voices and Discourses�, written by Anil Kumar Boro, Department of Folklore Research, Guwahati University, Assam, the author mentions the depiction of Lord Bathou as Lord Siva (or Sibrai). Anil Boro article goes on to mention Gibi Bithai, a traditional Bodo scripture that provides an astounding Bodo world view (http://wiki.indianfolklore.org/images/4/4c/Ifl_27.pdf).

In this, Lord Siva is opposed to Lord Brahma, God of the white skinned people, and Lord Vishnu, God of the dark skinned people. It seems that Bodos carried their own interpretation of history that spoke of the coming of white skinned Aryans and dark skinned (Dravidians?) from the western parts of the Indian sub-continent to their lands. Of Tibeto-Burman stock, Bodos not only resembled the American Red Indians. Their religion, warrior folklore, and sense of peripatetic sovereignty, recalled the North American warrior tribes who put up a heroic fight against European settlers during the early history of the USA.

Considering these close linkages between the Bodos in the salad bowl that is Assam, it is surprising how narrow-minded political and local leaders prised open this close relationship between Muslims, Bodos and other tribes for commercial and political gains. And the results are before all to see.

Read more

Cover Histrory Issue-2012 September

Employment issues and unemployment problems are the main concerns of 49 percent of Saudi youth who took part in the survey. Housing and rent issues came second, concerning 32 percent of participants.

Swami Vivekanand called it the second most beautiful place on earth after Kashmir. Today, the wonder that was Assam is a mass of decomposing bodies, petty politicking, strewn hopes, unfathomable despair and a fear that says: only man is vile.

In Assam, it does not matter whether the conflict is ethnic or communal or over land or some other issue. Any of these reasons-or all combined-might have triggered the violence. But more than 90 people (numbers go up each day) do not get killed-more 400,000 are not rendered homeless-because some Johnny come lately-whether a Bodo or an Assamese Muslim or an `infiltrator-decides to fight the `other. For the violence to attain such a gruesome character and a pitch that refuses to abate-an organized hand-or multiple forces-have to be at work.

I am text block. Click edit button to change this text. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.See the injustice and conspiracy: Sreenivasan Jain, the NDTV journalist, catches refugees living in camps openly saying that Pradeep Brahma, the Bodo People’s Front (BPF) MLA, fired at Muslims and Santhal Adivasis with his own gun. After the Assam visit of Ms. Sonia Gandhi, the Congress president, Pradeep Brahma is arrested. Now BPF is part of the Tarun Gogoi led Congress government in Assam-why would a senior party arrest a member of its own coalition unless there is solid proof? But, as far as the Sangh Parivar and BJP are concerned, this argument falls on deaf ears. Bajrang Dal announces an Assam Bandh protesting the arrest of Pradeep Brahma-and to demand-hold your breath-the arrest of Badruddin Ajmal-the leader of United Democratic Front (UDF)-one of the leading opposition parties of Assam with 18 MLAs-several of them Hindus!

Has anyone-even a prominent Bodo leader like Hagramy Mohilary-demanded Badruddin Ajmals arrest? On what grounds, what evidence are Bajrang Dal cadres making this insistence? Is there any evidence of ALUDF cadres indulging in anti-Bodo violence? Is there any complaint of a AIUDF MLA-like Basheer Ahmed-the MLA from Bilashpada-near Bodo areas-even lifting a finger at any Bodo?

Are we going to have two laws in India-one for Muslims and another one for non-Muslims? By demanding Ajmal’s arrest, the Sangh Parivar has just entered the league of anti-national forces like ULFA who seek the dismemberment of India. Ordinary Bodos have condemned any sort of violence. But some Bodo outfits like the Christian dominated National Peoples Front of Bodos (NDFB)-which still fights for a separate Bodoland-do not like even the BPF. Along with the Sangh Parivar and ULFA, they too demand action against AIUDF MLAs none of whom has ever been found inciting violence.

The conflicts within Bodos, external funding for the NFDB, the problem of armed militant militias living in designated camps in Assam and the Northeast, who transgress their limits openly and start killing Muslims in any such situation, the troubles of modern Assam since Independence, will be dealt with in the second part of this article.

Right now, it is necessary to rise above sectarian mindsets to say that apart from people in flesh and blood, the very idea of India as a diverse, multi-cultural, multi-national country is under attack in Assam.

ASSAM'S COMPOSITE CULTURE

Assam’s history is truly plural. Apart from the proliferation of indigenous tribes since times immemorial, non-tribal groups (Brahmin priests, Kayasthas, peasants, labourers, clerks, government officials, traders, entrepreneurs) from outside the area (undivided Bengal, Bihar, present-day Uttar Pradesh and other Hindi-Urdu speaking areas) have constantly arrived, assimilated-and reshaped-Assamese society.

For instance, Assams name derives from a long rule (1228-1826) of upper/eastern, and parts of central Assam, by the Ahom dynasty of Chinese origin. However, even at the height of Ahom power (late 17th-early 18th century), the Koch Rajbongshi dynasty reigned in parts of western or lower Assam. Enjoying Kshatriya status, Koch Rajbongshis split in late 16th century into two main branches: western and eastern. In the 19th century, the British created the Cooch-Behar state from the western Koch Rajbongshi kingdom.

By then, a third political entity-the Bodo-Kacharis-had dispersed all over Assam after losing their Barak valley kingdom to the British in 1832.

Ahom rule was truly ecumenical. Early on, medieval era tribes like Barahis and Marans-of Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman descent became part of the Ahom ethnic group. Then Khasis from present-day Meghalaya were admitted in the Ahom army on terms that they would retain their ethnicity. Finally, Bodos, Jaintiyas, Daflas, Karbis, Rabhas, Lalungs, Singhpos, Garos, Khamtis, Bhors, Lyngngams-even a small number of Lushais and Kukis were settled on Ahom lands after similar guarantees.

Under Chilarai, the Koch-Rajbongshis rulers of lower-western Assam defeated the Ahoms in a 16th century battle. For a brief period, Chilarai, successfully created another political federation based on the loyalty of mainly Barak and Surma Valley tribes. In the post-Chilarai era, the Bodo-Dimasa rulers of the Barak valley and parts of Surma valley also integrated several Naga tribes in a federal structure.

Ahoms introduced-in contrast to the traditional jhum cultivation-the technologically superior, wet rice farming in Assam. Sankardev, a 16th century Bhakti saint, pioneered the Vaishnavite creed that extended till Manipur. In Assam, his disciples included Chandsai, a Muslim, Govinda, a Garo, Paramanda, a Miri, Jayananda, a Bhutia, Narahari, an Ahom, Madhav, a Jaintia and Damodar, a Bania. Under Ahoms, Vaishnavism co-existed with Shaktism. The Kamakhya temple-one of the most important seats of Shakti worship in India-was part of Ahom lands.

MUSLIMS IN ASSAM AND NORTHEAST INDIA

Today, one hears of Bodo vs Muslim clashes-it is instructive that Ali Mech-perhaps the first person to embrace Islam in Assam (14th century)-belonged to an indigenous tribe with Bodo links. Soldiers left behind by Bakhtiyar Khiljis invading army in the 13th century, and other prisoner of wars, settled in Assam. Quite a few intermarried with women of local tribes.

Also, in the 14th century, a Muslim saint named Giasuddin Aulia came to Kamrupa. He established a dargah at Pua Mecca in Hajo about 30 km west of Guwahati. Other religious leaders like Ajan Fakir, Khandakar Peer, Manik Fakir, Nawaz Peer also came to Assam and adopted the local language and culture.

As early as the 15th century, a distinct brand of Assamese Muslims began emerging with different surnames and titles. During the reign of Ahom ruler Swargadeo Rudra Singha in the early part of the eighteenth century, some Muslim families proficient in different crafts and arts were invited from Delhi to reside in Assam and offer their services. These families were Pharsiparia, Aakharkatia (experts in making cannon balls, locally known as hiloi), Silakatia and Khanikar.

During the Ahom-Mughal war, Assamese Muslims fought hand-in-hand with their Hindu brethrens. In the decisive battle of Saraighat (1671)-that led to Ahom victory under Lachit Barphukan-Bagh Hazarika alias Ismail Siddiqui-led an Assamese force of one thousand Muslim soldiers against the Mughals.

Shah Hussain Khan and Ramzan Khan-two Assamese Muslim nobles-fought against the late 18th century-early 19th century Burmese invaders. In the Hadirachaki war, local Muslims fought against the Burmese forces, under the command of Mir-ud-Daula.

Incredible as it might sound today-under the successful rule of Dimasa-Bodos-Sylhet-in present-day Bangladesh-close to Silchar in Assams Barak valley-emerged as a major centre of Sufism and Muslim learning. Sylheti became a foremost language at par with Assamese-both these languages formed the eastern dialects of the great Bengali language family. While Sylhets chieftains became Muslims under the influence of Shah Jalal Yemeni, a great Sufi saint, several other political principalities of the Barak and Surma valley and East Bengal amalgamated Hindu-Muslim, even Buddhist features. For a long time, Chakmas of Chittagong (East Bengal) were Buddhists with Muslim chieftains.

Chiefs of Jaintia-located in present-day Meghalaya-believed in a matrilineal line of succession. In the 17th century, a Jaintia chief gave his sister in marriage to the Mughal Governor. Her son-a Muslim-became the next ruler. But his sister married a non-Muslim Jaintia. So when the British annexed the state in the 1830s, it was a mixed Hindu-Muslim-tribal-Jaintia kingdom!

The composite culture of Assam saw Radharam-as the chief of South Karimganj district-resisting the British in the 18th century. Most fighters in Radharams army were Muslims. The chief actually was called Nawab Radharam! More importantly, he was known as a Kayastha with mixed tribal blood!

Such features-the co-existence of Hindu, Muslim and local tribes-leading to the creation of a new breed-born out of intermixing and intermarriages or non-conventional liaisons-are to be found in such abundance that it is difficult to classify/separate Northeastern and East Bengal identities.

THE GREAT MANIPURI CHAPTER

Beyond Assam, Hindu rulers of Manipur merged Vaishnavism with Sanamahism, the traditional religion of the Meitei people, whose rulers controlled the area till 1947, and still constitute the majority (60% of the total population). Meitei-Sanamahi-Hindu-Manipuri princes carried multiple identities. They were also, often raised in Naga households. Pamheiba was one such 18th century warrior-prince. His exploits were not limited to victory in warfare and crushing Burmese excursions. Despite being a staunch Vaishnavite Hindu, following the traditions of that era, Pamheiba declared himself protector of the poor, openly announcing the adoption the Persian-Muslim Garib Nawaz title on his coins and royal standards!

Has anyone ever heard of such a thing-a mixture of tribal and Muslim elements-constituting a composite culture? Why is it that this unique history of Assam and the northeast was not taught to north, west and south Indians? What kind of politics waves its murky hands behind this exclusion?

Indeed, Muslims of Manipur-mostly outsiders who settled in the area in waves beginning from the 14th century-and intermarried locals-carry their own Meitei-Pangal identity. The Muslim population of Manipur touches the 9% mark; however, it is impossible to find Muslim Pangals residing outside Manipur in any noteworthy numbers. Under the rule of Meidingu Khagemba (1597- 1652 AD), a Muslim personal law board, under a Qazi, was established by orders of the King. Manipuri Muslims played a major role in the preservation of the Meiteilon-Manipuri language and script, to an extent that even today universities and colleges in Manipur offer courses in Meiteilon.

It seems that all over Assam and northeast India tribes, Hindu sects, Muslim Sufis and warriors, Brahmins, peasant castes and Kayasthas interacted with lan. Bodos, Ahoms, Kochs, Sutiyas, Karbis, Mishims, Bengali Hindus, Muslims, North Indian Brahmins, Vaishnavites, Buddhists, worshippers of Sakti, and Kayasthas, followers of tribal deities of Chinese, Burmese, and Tibetan derivation-just to cite a few examples-formed part of this truly remarkable amalgamation of different races, modes of land tenure, forms of worship, imported peasant cultures of the plains and the hill culture of the tribes, clerks and paiks.

BRITISH RULE

The British annexed Assam after the first Anglo-Burmese war. The war resulted in the treaty of Yandabo (1826). Due to Burmese atrocities, people and leaders of Assam welcomed the British initially; but then the British raised land revenue and began harassing the peasantry. Several new taxes were introduced and peasants were made to labour on lands colonized by the British East India Company (BEIC). It can be safely assumed that the British introduced features of European-style feudalism in Assam and the northeast.

As a political-military force, the British entered Assam during the first Anglo-Burmese war-prior to that the Maomoria rebellion (see `Last Days of Ahom Monarchy’, written by SL Baruah, 1993, New Delhi, `A History of Assam, written by Edward A Gait, 1906, Calcutta and `Medieval and Early Colonial Assam, written by Amalendu Guha, 1991, Calcutta)-a fight between Ahom rulers and the Vaishnava sattrasin which the latter got the support of another Ahom court faction-severely weakened the Ahom polity. Taking advantage of the unsettled conditions, the Burmese invaded Assam committing numerous atrocities on the people.

Due to the mayhem caused by the Burmese, people and leaders of Assam, the Ahom Raja, and some North Eastern tribes, welcomed the British initially. But the real, imperial nature of the British became apparent soon after the treaty of Yandabo (1826) between the British and the Burmese. For several years, British officials kept avoiding a settlement with Ahom rulers. After much delay and dithering, the British signed a treaty with Purandar Singha, the Ahom King, in 1833.

Maniram Dewan

Belonging to an old elite family of Kayastha administrators of North Indian (Kannauj) origin, Maniram Dewan (originally Maniram Barua), was a vital link between the British and the Ahom Kings. Working as part of the British bureaucracy in the 1820s, Maniram was also given the additional charge of Borbhandar (Prime Minister), at Purandar Singhas court in 1833.

Maniram discovered the potential of tea plantation in Assam. He surprised Bessa Gam-a local Singpo chief-by turning up at his village one fine morning, in the 1820s-with Robert and Charles Alexander Bruce-of the legendary Bruce Brothers fame-credited with identifying tea in Assam-in tow. But BEIC Calcutta officials refused to acknowledge the genuineness of Manirams discovery. However, after 1833, when the BEIC lost its tea trade monopoly with China, BEIC officials were forced to eat their own words.

On 1st February, 1834, Governor General William Bentinck established the Tea Committee. Maniram met Dr. Wallich, the same man who had rejected his samples earlier, as a representative of Purandar Singha.

Besides monopolising tea plantations and trade, the British had other evil designs in mind. A 26th February, 2009 Assam Tribune article, written by Dr. HK Goswami, observes that soon after Manirams meeting with Dr. Wallich, Jenkins, the North-East Agent of the Governor General, visited Purandar Singhas territory on a fact-finding mission…one man who strongly defended the Raja was Maniram Dewan, Chief Counsellor of the Raja. Purandar Singha was deposed in 1838 on the plea of bad governance and default in payment of the tribute and the British annexed his territories (http://www.assamtribune.com/scripts/details.asp?id=feb2609/edit3).

All through the 1840s and 50s, the BEIC administration annexed several states in India on the trumped up charge of bad governance. But, despite Jenkins’ adverse comments, Maniram outflanked the Governor Generals agent, becoming in 1839, the Dewan of the Assam Tea Company at Nazira, drawing a salary of 200 rupees per month.

But Maniram felt suffocated working under the British. A surprisingly well researched Wikipedia entry on Maniram Dewan notes that “in the mid-1840s, Maniram quit his job due to differences of opinion with company officers…he established his own tea garden at Chenimora in Jorhat, thus becoming the first Indian to grow tea commercially in Assam…Maniram established another tea plant in Sibsagar. Apart from the tea industry, Maniram also ventured into iron smelting, gold procuring and salt production. He was also involved in the manufacturing of goods like matchlocks, hoes and cutlery. His other business activities included handloom, boat making, brick making, bell-metal, dyeing, ivory work, ceramic, coal supply, elephant trade, construction of buildings for military headquarters and agricultural products. Some of the markets established by him include the Garohat in Kamrup, Nagahat near Sibasagar, Borhat in Dibrugarh, Sissihat in Dhemaji and Darangia Haat in Darrang (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maniram_Dewan).

Here we have-in the person of Maniram-much before Tatas and Birlas appeared on India’s business stage-the first example of a modern, Indian entrepreneur. Imagine an Indian in the 1840s and 50s, establishing not only tea plantations but extending activities to a whole range of goods and products, staggering by even todays standards. In fact, Tatas began as British middlemen in the China opium trade in the 1850s and 60s. Birlas also started their businesses as middlemen in about the same period.

But rather than becoming a comprador (intermediary) bourgeoisie subservient to imperialism, Maniram chose independence and the path of a nationalist bourgeoisie. Like Americans today-the British-then the foremost Imperialist world power tolerated even encouraged, compradors. But they regarded independent, nationalist entrepreneurs as an anathema. The Wikipedia entry further notes that, Maniram faced numerous administrative obstacles in establishing private tea plantations, due to opposition from competing European tea planters. In 1851, an officer seized all the facilities provided to him due to a tea garden dispute. Maniram, whose family consisted of 185 people, had to face economic hardship.

Another Assam Tribune article notes that “As a matter of fact, Maniram wanted to build up a self-dependent economy. Incidentally, former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam in his Republic Day speech of 2005 stressed on making entrepreneurial course compulsory…it may be surmised that what Assam thought 143 years ago…the credit for this goes to the father of modern Assamese nationality-Maniram Dewan (http://www.assamtribune.com/scripts/details.asp?id=feb2608/edit2).

Soon, Maniram’s “property was auctioned at a very nominal price to George Williamson”.

MISERY OF ASSAM AND THE NORTH-EAST

Maniram’s disenchantment with the British occurred against the backdrop of widespread discontent in Assam and the North-East. After 1826, the BEIC had gone on to acquire territory after territory including Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Manipur. Despite treaties and agreements with various tribes, the essential British policies of harassing the tribes and peasantry produced revolts.

The Singhpos and the Nagas were the first to rebel, and the Anglo-Naga war extended from 1835 to 1852 AD.

Under British rule, peasants of Assam in particular had to pay three times the land revenue they delivered under the Ahoms. Minor delays in payments-overlooked in the Ahom-paik system of decentralized revenue-which favoured local factors and leniency-saw properties both of small peasants and distinguished upper/Eastern Assamese service-military gentry-being attached. Erstwhile lords and labourers alike were reduced to penury. Plus, the British began importing Santhals from Bengal to work as indentured labour in the tea gardens, being set up by the British in both upper (eastern) and lower (western) Assam. By the 1850s, economic hardship became so severe, that apart from Ahoms, several erstwhile Koch and Bodo men of influence were working as labourers in tea gardens.

BRITISH IMPACT ON LOCAL CULTURE

But the worst part of British rule was the interference in local culture. It was the British who began identity politics in Assam. Large sections of specific tribes-the Kukis and some Naga sub tribes to begin with-were converted to Christianity. British administrators also began insisting on `pure bloodlines; chieftains with mixed religious or tribal heritage were shunned.

Simultaneously, the impact of the Bengal renaissance and the Brahmo Samaj movement was felt in Assam. Even though Assam lacked a Bengal style, pro-British, colonial middle class, Anandram Dhekial Phukan( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anandaram_Dhekial_Phukan) began his pioneering work to revive Assamese literature (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Assamese_literature) and initiate social reforms.

However, Maniram refused to go over to the reformist-collaborationist, pro-British, Bengal-renaissance side, which distorted and confused reformist-modernist figures like Debendra Nath Tagore, the father of Rabnindra Nath Tagore. Instead, Maniram Dewan, the indigenous modernist, took the revolutionary path.

In a famous petition/manifesto (http://books.google.co.in/books?id=JCnLlpHhtUgC&pg=PA95&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false) presented before Moffat Mills, the British Judge, in 1853, Maniram clearly stated Assams main problem: the loss of political-social and economic power by indigenous forces of all classes under British rule. He denounced the setting up of unfamiliar, phirang courts with alien laws, the emergence of the dalaal, the high British revenue, the desecration of royal tombs and temples (like Kamakhya), the loss of occupation, the introduction of opium, and the system of collecting rents through mouzdars (rent collectors-mostly Bengalis and Marwaris from outside Assam). In an almost stunning bid to achieve a pan-Assam-North East unity, Maniram further wrote that the “objectionable treatment” of Hill Tribes (such as the Nagas) was resulting in constant warfare leading to mutual loss of life and money.

FREEDOM MOVEMENT IN ASSAM

In 1857, Maniram Dewan formed an underground network of revolutionaries. His main hope lay in the Jorhat-Sibsagar based 1st Assam Light Infantry (ALI) and the Gauwahati based 2nd ALI. The Assam regiments were a mixed cauldron with Poorabias from western Bihar (Arrah) rubbing shoulders with mainstream Assamese Muslim warriors, Nepalis, Manipuris, Jarrowas and Doaneas (the last two born out of mixed Assamese-Singhpo union).

Especially after the revolt of Bengal Army Regiments at Danapur (near Patna), Bihar on 25th July 1857, Poorabia elements of the Assam Infantry began talking about British overthrow and the installation of Bahadur Shah Zafar as Indiasemperor. (http://books.google.co.in/books?id=MzjyHi4LEQAC&pg=PA142&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false).

Dewan’s circle’s inimitability rested on its diverse nature: it included Mayaram and Krishna Chandra Mazumdar-two Golaghat based Assamese of Bengali origin-Madhu Malik-a Dibrugarh Bengali-Ganesh Chaudhary, Umakant and Khageshwar-of mixed Bengali-Assamese heritage-Piyali Barua, Ditiram Barua and Marangikhowa Gohain-three major Ahom figures-and Ramdas and Visnhudev Mahanta-two sattra Vaishnavite spiritual leaders.

Thus 1857 bridged also, the fault-lines and political lacunae left by the Ahom-sattra struggle that was instrumental both, in the Burmese invasion, and the military march of the British into Assam.

The pan-Assam unity achieved by Maniram included Urbidhar Barua, Mayaram Barbora, Chitrasen Barbora, Kamala Charingia Barua, Mahidhar Sarma Muktear, Luki Senchowa Barua, and Deoram Dihingia Barua.

Bahadur Gaonburha and Sheikh Formud Ali-two leading Muslim personalities of Assam-helped Maniram-who was in Calcutta in May, 1857-establish direct linkages to Shiekh Bhikun and Noor Muhammad-two Muslim subedars of Assamese origin-posted in the Nogore detachment-of the Sibsagar based 1st ALI unit.

Acting on Manirams advice-Kandarpeswar Singha-the grandson of Purandar Singha-the last Ahom King-met Sheikh Fomud Ali and Bahadur Gaonburha. Soon, Subedars Sheikh Bhikun and Noor Muhammad were corresponding with Kandarpeswar Singha (also called Charing Raja) secretly.

Promising to double the salaries of all ALI Sepoys, the Charing Raja gave his consent to lead the Assam revolution. In keeping with precedents set by Begum Hazrat Mahal-representing Nawabs of Awadh in the 1857 war-at Lucknow-and Peshwa Nana Sahib-at Kanpur-Kandarpeswar Singha agreed to rule Assam after expelling the British as a vassal of Bahadur Shah Zafar! Mughals were never able to capture upper Assam from Ahoms. But in a revolutionary, political moment of Indian history, Ahom and Mughal houses united in struggle against British rule!

THE ROLE OF BODOS AND KOCHS IN 1857

Maniram had also enrolled in the freedom movement personalities like Madhuram Koch-a Koch Rajbongshi figure who owned a tea plantation but was relegated by the British to the status of labourer; Rupahi and Lumbai Aideo-two Assamese women pensioners; and Usubar, Laochiklang and Maalu Sikhla-three Bodo warriors.

The inclusion of Bodo warriors in the anti-British, 1857 plot was a masterstroke. Imagine the Indian history in which Bodos fought for Indias freedom struggle under the leadership of Bahadur Shah Zafar, a Mughal King! Revealed in an obscure book written by a descendant of one of the Poorabia survivor of 1857 in Assam (San Sattavan ki Ankahee Kahani, written by Prem Dutt Pandey, 1957, Prayaga Sahitya Sammelan, Allahabad), this aspect presents a great challenge before Indian and Bodo historians. Even Bodos in general seem unaware of their heroes who fought against the British in 1857. This is just the beginning; and more work-especially with regard to Bodo sources-needs to be done in this field.

After losing completely, their Barak valley based kingdom to the British in 1832, Bodo-Kacharis had spread-by 1857-to nearly all parts of present-day Assam. Members of the Bodo-Kachari nobility migrated as far as Kashi (see Benaras ka Anootha Itihaas, written by Shiv Kumar Dwivedi, Hindi, 1962, Prayag Sahitya Sammelan, Allahabad).

However, a large section of Bodos, settled in the Darrang area on the Bhutan border, were never part of the Barak valley kingdom. Darrang-Kokrajhar Bodos either survived as roving, independent tribes-practicing jhum cultivation and not bowing to any authority-or as nominal subjects of the western Assam, Koch kingdom.

Usubar, Laochiklang and Maalu Sikhla were all Darrang-Kokrajhar Bodos. They followed the martial traditions, codes of fierce independence, and the religion-revolving around the worship of Bathou-of the roving tribes.

Folk songs-celebrating the struggle between Bodos and Bhutias of present-day Bhutan-survive to this day (http://www.aygrt.net/PublishArticles/529.aspx). Famous Bodo warriors-men and women-of yore include Bachiram, Daoharam, Cheobar, Gambari Sikhla, and Birgahri Sikhla. The song recalling the heroism of Bachiram is legendary:

Goraya dabradw Bachiram Jwhwlao

Gonggar chubaya phwilaygou

(Ride on horse Bachiram

Bhutiyas are coming in a body)

Interestingly, in the `The Oral Poetry of the Bodos: Ethnic Voices and Discourses�, written by Anil Kumar Boro, Department of Folklore Research, Guwahati University, Assam, the author mentions the depiction of Lord Bathou as Lord Siva (or Sibrai). Anil Boro article goes on to mention Gibi Bithai, a traditional Bodo scripture that provides an astounding Bodo world view (http://wiki.indianfolklore.org/images/4/4c/Ifl_27.pdf).

In this, Lord Siva is opposed to Lord Brahma, God of the white skinned people, and Lord Vishnu, God of the dark skinned people. It seems that Bodos carried their own interpretation of history that spoke of the coming of white skinned Aryans and dark skinned (Dravidians?) from the western parts of the Indian sub-continent to their lands. Of Tibeto-Burman stock, Bodos not only resembled the American Red Indians. Their religion, warrior folklore, and sense of peripatetic sovereignty, recalled the North American warrior tribes who put up a heroic fight against European settlers during the early history of the USA.

Considering these close linkages between the Bodos in the salad bowl that is Assam, it is surprising how narrow-minded political and local leaders prised open this close relationship between Muslims, Bodos and other tribes for commercial and political gains. And the results are before all to see.

Read more

Cover Histrory Issue-2012 October

Employment issues and unemployment problems are the main concerns of 49 percent of Saudi youth who took part in the survey. Housing and rent issues came second, concerning 32 percent of participants.

Swami Vivekanand called it the second most beautiful place on earth after Kashmir. Today, the wonder that was Assam is a mass of decomposing bodies, petty politicking, strewn hopes, unfathomable despair and a fear that says: only man is vile.

In Assam, it does not matter whether the conflict is ethnic or communal or over land or some other issue. Any of these reasons-or all combined-might have triggered the violence. But more than 90 people (numbers go up each day) do not get killed-more 400,000 are not rendered homeless-because some Johnny come lately-whether a Bodo or an Assamese Muslim or an `infiltrator-decides to fight the `other. For the violence to attain such a gruesome character and a pitch that refuses to abate-an organized hand-or multiple forces-have to be at work.

I am text block. Click edit button to change this text. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.See the injustice and conspiracy: Sreenivasan Jain, the NDTV journalist, catches refugees living in camps openly saying that Pradeep Brahma, the Bodo People’s Front (BPF) MLA, fired at Muslims and Santhal Adivasis with his own gun. After the Assam visit of Ms. Sonia Gandhi, the Congress president, Pradeep Brahma is arrested. Now BPF is part of the Tarun Gogoi led Congress government in Assam-why would a senior party arrest a member of its own coalition unless there is solid proof? But, as far as the Sangh Parivar and BJP are concerned, this argument falls on deaf ears. Bajrang Dal announces an Assam Bandh protesting the arrest of Pradeep Brahma-and to demand-hold your breath-the arrest of Badruddin Ajmal-the leader of United Democratic Front (UDF)-one of the leading opposition parties of Assam with 18 MLAs-several of them Hindus!

Has anyone-even a prominent Bodo leader like Hagramy Mohilary-demanded Badruddin Ajmals arrest? On what grounds, what evidence are Bajrang Dal cadres making this insistence? Is there any evidence of ALUDF cadres indulging in anti-Bodo violence? Is there any complaint of a AIUDF MLA-like Basheer Ahmed-the MLA from Bilashpada-near Bodo areas-even lifting a finger at any Bodo?

Are we going to have two laws in India-one for Muslims and another one for non-Muslims? By demanding Ajmal’s arrest, the Sangh Parivar has just entered the league of anti-national forces like ULFA who seek the dismemberment of India. Ordinary Bodos have condemned any sort of violence. But some Bodo outfits like the Christian dominated National Peoples Front of Bodos (NDFB)-which still fights for a separate Bodoland-do not like even the BPF. Along with the Sangh Parivar and ULFA, they too demand action against AIUDF MLAs none of whom has ever been found inciting violence.

The conflicts within Bodos, external funding for the NFDB, the problem of armed militant militias living in designated camps in Assam and the Northeast, who transgress their limits openly and start killing Muslims in any such situation, the troubles of modern Assam since Independence, will be dealt with in the second part of this article.

Right now, it is necessary to rise above sectarian mindsets to say that apart from people in flesh and blood, the very idea of India as a diverse, multi-cultural, multi-national country is under attack in Assam.

ASSAM'S COMPOSITE CULTURE

Assam’s history is truly plural. Apart from the proliferation of indigenous tribes since times immemorial, non-tribal groups (Brahmin priests, Kayasthas, peasants, labourers, clerks, government officials, traders, entrepreneurs) from outside the area (undivided Bengal, Bihar, present-day Uttar Pradesh and other Hindi-Urdu speaking areas) have constantly arrived, assimilated-and reshaped-Assamese society.

For instance, Assams name derives from a long rule (1228-1826) of upper/eastern, and parts of central Assam, by the Ahom dynasty of Chinese origin. However, even at the height of Ahom power (late 17th-early 18th century), the Koch Rajbongshi dynasty reigned in parts of western or lower Assam. Enjoying Kshatriya status, Koch Rajbongshis split in late 16th century into two main branches: western and eastern. In the 19th century, the British created the Cooch-Behar state from the western Koch Rajbongshi kingdom.

By then, a third political entity-the Bodo-Kacharis-had dispersed all over Assam after losing their Barak valley kingdom to the British in 1832.

Ahom rule was truly ecumenical. Early on, medieval era tribes like Barahis and Marans-of Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman descent became part of the Ahom ethnic group. Then Khasis from present-day Meghalaya were admitted in the Ahom army on terms that they would retain their ethnicity. Finally, Bodos, Jaintiyas, Daflas, Karbis, Rabhas, Lalungs, Singhpos, Garos, Khamtis, Bhors, Lyngngams-even a small number of Lushais and Kukis were settled on Ahom lands after similar guarantees.

Under Chilarai, the Koch-Rajbongshis rulers of lower-western Assam defeated the Ahoms in a 16th century battle. For a brief period, Chilarai, successfully created another political federation based on the loyalty of mainly Barak and Surma Valley tribes. In the post-Chilarai era, the Bodo-Dimasa rulers of the Barak valley and parts of Surma valley also integrated several Naga tribes in a federal structure.

Ahoms introduced-in contrast to the traditional jhum cultivation-the technologically superior, wet rice farming in Assam. Sankardev, a 16th century Bhakti saint, pioneered the Vaishnavite creed that extended till Manipur. In Assam, his disciples included Chandsai, a Muslim, Govinda, a Garo, Paramanda, a Miri, Jayananda, a Bhutia, Narahari, an Ahom, Madhav, a Jaintia and Damodar, a Bania. Under Ahoms, Vaishnavism co-existed with Shaktism. The Kamakhya temple-one of the most important seats of Shakti worship in India-was part of Ahom lands.

MUSLIMS IN ASSAM AND NORTHEAST INDIA

Today, one hears of Bodo vs Muslim clashes-it is instructive that Ali Mech-perhaps the first person to embrace Islam in Assam (14th century)-belonged to an indigenous tribe with Bodo links. Soldiers left behind by Bakhtiyar Khiljis invading army in the 13th century, and other prisoner of wars, settled in Assam. Quite a few intermarried with women of local tribes.

Also, in the 14th century, a Muslim saint named Giasuddin Aulia came to Kamrupa. He established a dargah at Pua Mecca in Hajo about 30 km west of Guwahati. Other religious leaders like Ajan Fakir, Khandakar Peer, Manik Fakir, Nawaz Peer also came to Assam and adopted the local language and culture.

As early as the 15th century, a distinct brand of Assamese Muslims began emerging with different surnames and titles. During the reign of Ahom ruler Swargadeo Rudra Singha in the early part of the eighteenth century, some Muslim families proficient in different crafts and arts were invited from Delhi to reside in Assam and offer their services. These families were Pharsiparia, Aakharkatia (experts in making cannon balls, locally known as hiloi), Silakatia and Khanikar.

During the Ahom-Mughal war, Assamese Muslims fought hand-in-hand with their Hindu brethrens. In the decisive battle of Saraighat (1671)-that led to Ahom victory under Lachit Barphukan-Bagh Hazarika alias Ismail Siddiqui-led an Assamese force of one thousand Muslim soldiers against the Mughals.

Shah Hussain Khan and Ramzan Khan-two Assamese Muslim nobles-fought against the late 18th century-early 19th century Burmese invaders. In the Hadirachaki war, local Muslims fought against the Burmese forces, under the command of Mir-ud-Daula.

Incredible as it might sound today-under the successful rule of Dimasa-Bodos-Sylhet-in present-day Bangladesh-close to Silchar in Assams Barak valley-emerged as a major centre of Sufism and Muslim learning. Sylheti became a foremost language at par with Assamese-both these languages formed the eastern dialects of the great Bengali language family. While Sylhets chieftains became Muslims under the influence of Shah Jalal Yemeni, a great Sufi saint, several other political principalities of the Barak and Surma valley and East Bengal amalgamated Hindu-Muslim, even Buddhist features. For a long time, Chakmas of Chittagong (East Bengal) were Buddhists with Muslim chieftains.

Chiefs of Jaintia-located in present-day Meghalaya-believed in a matrilineal line of succession. In the 17th century, a Jaintia chief gave his sister in marriage to the Mughal Governor. Her son-a Muslim-became the next ruler. But his sister married a non-Muslim Jaintia. So when the British annexed the state in the 1830s, it was a mixed Hindu-Muslim-tribal-Jaintia kingdom!

The composite culture of Assam saw Radharam-as the chief of South Karimganj district-resisting the British in the 18th century. Most fighters in Radharams army were Muslims. The chief actually was called Nawab Radharam! More importantly, he was known as a Kayastha with mixed tribal blood!

Such features-the co-existence of Hindu, Muslim and local tribes-leading to the creation of a new breed-born out of intermixing and intermarriages or non-conventional liaisons-are to be found in such abundance that it is difficult to classify/separate Northeastern and East Bengal identities.

THE GREAT MANIPURI CHAPTER

Beyond Assam, Hindu rulers of Manipur merged Vaishnavism with Sanamahism, the traditional religion of the Meitei people, whose rulers controlled the area till 1947, and still constitute the majority (60% of the total population). Meitei-Sanamahi-Hindu-Manipuri princes carried multiple identities. They were also, often raised in Naga households. Pamheiba was one such 18th century warrior-prince. His exploits were not limited to victory in warfare and crushing Burmese excursions. Despite being a staunch Vaishnavite Hindu, following the traditions of that era, Pamheiba declared himself protector of the poor, openly announcing the adoption the Persian-Muslim Garib Nawaz title on his coins and royal standards!

Has anyone ever heard of such a thing-a mixture of tribal and Muslim elements-constituting a composite culture? Why is it that this unique history of Assam and the northeast was not taught to north, west and south Indians? What kind of politics waves its murky hands behind this exclusion?

Indeed, Muslims of Manipur-mostly outsiders who settled in the area in waves beginning from the 14th century-and intermarried locals-carry their own Meitei-Pangal identity. The Muslim population of Manipur touches the 9% mark; however, it is impossible to find Muslim Pangals residing outside Manipur in any noteworthy numbers. Under the rule of Meidingu Khagemba (1597- 1652 AD), a Muslim personal law board, under a Qazi, was established by orders of the King. Manipuri Muslims played a major role in the preservation of the Meiteilon-Manipuri language and script, to an extent that even today universities and colleges in Manipur offer courses in Meiteilon.

It seems that all over Assam and northeast India tribes, Hindu sects, Muslim Sufis and warriors, Brahmins, peasant castes and Kayasthas interacted with lan. Bodos, Ahoms, Kochs, Sutiyas, Karbis, Mishims, Bengali Hindus, Muslims, North Indian Brahmins, Vaishnavites, Buddhists, worshippers of Sakti, and Kayasthas, followers of tribal deities of Chinese, Burmese, and Tibetan derivation-just to cite a few examples-formed part of this truly remarkable amalgamation of different races, modes of land tenure, forms of worship, imported peasant cultures of the plains and the hill culture of the tribes, clerks and paiks.

BRITISH RULE

The British annexed Assam after the first Anglo-Burmese war. The war resulted in the treaty of Yandabo (1826). Due to Burmese atrocities, people and leaders of Assam welcomed the British initially; but then the British raised land revenue and began harassing the peasantry. Several new taxes were introduced and peasants were made to labour on lands colonized by the British East India Company (BEIC). It can be safely assumed that the British introduced features of European-style feudalism in Assam and the northeast.

As a political-military force, the British entered Assam during the first Anglo-Burmese war-prior to that the Maomoria rebellion (see `Last Days of Ahom Monarchy’, written by SL Baruah, 1993, New Delhi, `A History of Assam, written by Edward A Gait, 1906, Calcutta and `Medieval and Early Colonial Assam, written by Amalendu Guha, 1991, Calcutta)-a fight between Ahom rulers and the Vaishnava sattrasin which the latter got the support of another Ahom court faction-severely weakened the Ahom polity. Taking advantage of the unsettled conditions, the Burmese invaded Assam committing numerous atrocities on the people.

Due to the mayhem caused by the Burmese, people and leaders of Assam, the Ahom Raja, and some North Eastern tribes, welcomed the British initially. But the real, imperial nature of the British became apparent soon after the treaty of Yandabo (1826) between the British and the Burmese. For several years, British officials kept avoiding a settlement with Ahom rulers. After much delay and dithering, the British signed a treaty with Purandar Singha, the Ahom King, in 1833.

Maniram Dewan

Belonging to an old elite family of Kayastha administrators of North Indian (Kannauj) origin, Maniram Dewan (originally Maniram Barua), was a vital link between the British and the Ahom Kings. Working as part of the British bureaucracy in the 1820s, Maniram was also given the additional charge of Borbhandar (Prime Minister), at Purandar Singhas court in 1833.

Maniram discovered the potential of tea plantation in Assam. He surprised Bessa Gam-a local Singpo chief-by turning up at his village one fine morning, in the 1820s-with Robert and Charles Alexander Bruce-of the legendary Bruce Brothers fame-credited with identifying tea in Assam-in tow. But BEIC Calcutta officials refused to acknowledge the genuineness of Manirams discovery. However, after 1833, when the BEIC lost its tea trade monopoly with China, BEIC officials were forced to eat their own words.

On 1st February, 1834, Governor General William Bentinck established the Tea Committee. Maniram met Dr. Wallich, the same man who had rejected his samples earlier, as a representative of Purandar Singha.

Besides monopolising tea plantations and trade, the British had other evil designs in mind. A 26th February, 2009 Assam Tribune article, written by Dr. HK Goswami, observes that soon after Manirams meeting with Dr. Wallich, Jenkins, the North-East Agent of the Governor General, visited Purandar Singhas territory on a fact-finding mission…one man who strongly defended the Raja was Maniram Dewan, Chief Counsellor of the Raja. Purandar Singha was deposed in 1838 on the plea of bad governance and default in payment of the tribute and the British annexed his territories (http://www.assamtribune.com/scripts/details.asp?id=feb2609/edit3).

All through the 1840s and 50s, the BEIC administration annexed several states in India on the trumped up charge of bad governance. But, despite Jenkins’ adverse comments, Maniram outflanked the Governor Generals agent, becoming in 1839, the Dewan of the Assam Tea Company at Nazira, drawing a salary of 200 rupees per month.

But Maniram felt suffocated working under the British. A surprisingly well researched Wikipedia entry on Maniram Dewan notes that “in the mid-1840s, Maniram quit his job due to differences of opinion with company officers…he established his own tea garden at Chenimora in Jorhat, thus becoming the first Indian to grow tea commercially in Assam…Maniram established another tea plant in Sibsagar. Apart from the tea industry, Maniram also ventured into iron smelting, gold procuring and salt production. He was also involved in the manufacturing of goods like matchlocks, hoes and cutlery. His other business activities included handloom, boat making, brick making, bell-metal, dyeing, ivory work, ceramic, coal supply, elephant trade, construction of buildings for military headquarters and agricultural products. Some of the markets established by him include the Garohat in Kamrup, Nagahat near Sibasagar, Borhat in Dibrugarh, Sissihat in Dhemaji and Darangia Haat in Darrang (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maniram_Dewan).

Here we have-in the person of Maniram-much before Tatas and Birlas appeared on India’s business stage-the first example of a modern, Indian entrepreneur. Imagine an Indian in the 1840s and 50s, establishing not only tea plantations but extending activities to a whole range of goods and products, staggering by even todays standards. In fact, Tatas began as British middlemen in the China opium trade in the 1850s and 60s. Birlas also started their businesses as middlemen in about the same period.

But rather than becoming a comprador (intermediary) bourgeoisie subservient to imperialism, Maniram chose independence and the path of a nationalist bourgeoisie. Like Americans today-the British-then the foremost Imperialist world power tolerated even encouraged, compradors. But they regarded independent, nationalist entrepreneurs as an anathema. The Wikipedia entry further notes that, Maniram faced numerous administrative obstacles in establishing private tea plantations, due to opposition from competing European tea planters. In 1851, an officer seized all the facilities provided to him due to a tea garden dispute. Maniram, whose family consisted of 185 people, had to face economic hardship.

Another Assam Tribune article notes that “As a matter of fact, Maniram wanted to build up a self-dependent economy. Incidentally, former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam in his Republic Day speech of 2005 stressed on making entrepreneurial course compulsory…it may be surmised that what Assam thought 143 years ago…the credit for this goes to the father of modern Assamese nationality-Maniram Dewan (http://www.assamtribune.com/scripts/details.asp?id=feb2608/edit2).

Soon, Maniram’s “property was auctioned at a very nominal price to George Williamson”.

MISERY OF ASSAM AND THE NORTH-EAST

Maniram’s disenchantment with the British occurred against the backdrop of widespread discontent in Assam and the North-East. After 1826, the BEIC had gone on to acquire territory after territory including Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Manipur. Despite treaties and agreements with various tribes, the essential British policies of harassing the tribes and peasantry produced revolts.

The Singhpos and the Nagas were the first to rebel, and the Anglo-Naga war extended from 1835 to 1852 AD.

Under British rule, peasants of Assam in particular had to pay three times the land revenue they delivered under the Ahoms. Minor delays in payments-overlooked in the Ahom-paik system of decentralized revenue-which favoured local factors and leniency-saw properties both of small peasants and distinguished upper/Eastern Assamese service-military gentry-being attached. Erstwhile lords and labourers alike were reduced to penury. Plus, the British began importing Santhals from Bengal to work as indentured labour in the tea gardens, being set up by the British in both upper (eastern) and lower (western) Assam. By the 1850s, economic hardship became so severe, that apart from Ahoms, several erstwhile Koch and Bodo men of influence were working as labourers in tea gardens.

BRITISH IMPACT ON LOCAL CULTURE

But the worst part of British rule was the interference in local culture. It was the British who began identity politics in Assam. Large sections of specific tribes-the Kukis and some Naga sub tribes to begin with-were converted to Christianity. British administrators also began insisting on `pure bloodlines; chieftains with mixed religious or tribal heritage were shunned.

Simultaneously, the impact of the Bengal renaissance and the Brahmo Samaj movement was felt in Assam. Even though Assam lacked a Bengal style, pro-British, colonial middle class, Anandram Dhekial Phukan( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anandaram_Dhekial_Phukan) began his pioneering work to revive Assamese literature (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Assamese_literature) and initiate social reforms.

However, Maniram refused to go over to the reformist-collaborationist, pro-British, Bengal-renaissance side, which distorted and confused reformist-modernist figures like Debendra Nath Tagore, the father of Rabnindra Nath Tagore. Instead, Maniram Dewan, the indigenous modernist, took the revolutionary path.

In a famous petition/manifesto (http://books.google.co.in/books?id=JCnLlpHhtUgC&pg=PA95&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false) presented before Moffat Mills, the British Judge, in 1853, Maniram clearly stated Assams main problem: the loss of political-social and economic power by indigenous forces of all classes under British rule. He denounced the setting up of unfamiliar, phirang courts with alien laws, the emergence of the dalaal, the high British revenue, the desecration of royal tombs and temples (like Kamakhya), the loss of occupation, the introduction of opium, and the system of collecting rents through mouzdars (rent collectors-mostly Bengalis and Marwaris from outside Assam). In an almost stunning bid to achieve a pan-Assam-North East unity, Maniram further wrote that the “objectionable treatment” of Hill Tribes (such as the Nagas) was resulting in constant warfare leading to mutual loss of life and money.

FREEDOM MOVEMENT IN ASSAM

In 1857, Maniram Dewan formed an underground network of revolutionaries. His main hope lay in the Jorhat-Sibsagar based 1st Assam Light Infantry (ALI) and the Gauwahati based 2nd ALI. The Assam regiments were a mixed cauldron with Poorabias from western Bihar (Arrah) rubbing shoulders with mainstream Assamese Muslim warriors, Nepalis, Manipuris, Jarrowas and Doaneas (the last two born out of mixed Assamese-Singhpo union).

Especially after the revolt of Bengal Army Regiments at Danapur (near Patna), Bihar on 25th July 1857, Poorabia elements of the Assam Infantry began talking about British overthrow and the installation of Bahadur Shah Zafar as Indiasemperor. (http://books.google.co.in/books?id=MzjyHi4LEQAC&pg=PA142&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false).

Dewan’s circle’s inimitability rested on its diverse nature: it included Mayaram and Krishna Chandra Mazumdar-two Golaghat based Assamese of Bengali origin-Madhu Malik-a Dibrugarh Bengali-Ganesh Chaudhary, Umakant and Khageshwar-of mixed Bengali-Assamese heritage-Piyali Barua, Ditiram Barua and Marangikhowa Gohain-three major Ahom figures-and Ramdas and Visnhudev Mahanta-two sattra Vaishnavite spiritual leaders.

Thus 1857 bridged also, the fault-lines and political lacunae left by the Ahom-sattra struggle that was instrumental both, in the Burmese invasion, and the military march of the British into Assam.

The pan-Assam unity achieved by Maniram included Urbidhar Barua, Mayaram Barbora, Chitrasen Barbora, Kamala Charingia Barua, Mahidhar Sarma Muktear, Luki Senchowa Barua, and Deoram Dihingia Barua.

Bahadur Gaonburha and Sheikh Formud Ali-two leading Muslim personalities of Assam-helped Maniram-who was in Calcutta in May, 1857-establish direct linkages to Shiekh Bhikun and Noor Muhammad-two Muslim subedars of Assamese origin-posted in the Nogore detachment-of the Sibsagar based 1st ALI unit.

Acting on Manirams advice-Kandarpeswar Singha-the grandson of Purandar Singha-the last Ahom King-met Sheikh Fomud Ali and Bahadur Gaonburha. Soon, Subedars Sheikh Bhikun and Noor Muhammad were corresponding with Kandarpeswar Singha (also called Charing Raja) secretly.

Promising to double the salaries of all ALI Sepoys, the Charing Raja gave his consent to lead the Assam revolution. In keeping with precedents set by Begum Hazrat Mahal-representing Nawabs of Awadh in the 1857 war-at Lucknow-and Peshwa Nana Sahib-at Kanpur-Kandarpeswar Singha agreed to rule Assam after expelling the British as a vassal of Bahadur Shah Zafar! Mughals were never able to capture upper Assam from Ahoms. But in a revolutionary, political moment of Indian history, Ahom and Mughal houses united in struggle against British rule!

THE ROLE OF BODOS AND KOCHS IN 1857

Maniram had also enrolled in the freedom movement personalities like Madhuram Koch-a Koch Rajbongshi figure who owned a tea plantation but was relegated by the British to the status of labourer; Rupahi and Lumbai Aideo-two Assamese women pensioners; and Usubar, Laochiklang and Maalu Sikhla-three Bodo warriors.

The inclusion of Bodo warriors in the anti-British, 1857 plot was a masterstroke. Imagine the Indian history in which Bodos fought for Indias freedom struggle under the leadership of Bahadur Shah Zafar, a Mughal King! Revealed in an obscure book written by a descendant of one of the Poorabia survivor of 1857 in Assam (San Sattavan ki Ankahee Kahani, written by Prem Dutt Pandey, 1957, Prayaga Sahitya Sammelan, Allahabad), this aspect presents a great challenge before Indian and Bodo historians. Even Bodos in general seem unaware of their heroes who fought against the British in 1857. This is just the beginning; and more work-especially with regard to Bodo sources-needs to be done in this field.

After losing completely, their Barak valley based kingdom to the British in 1832, Bodo-Kacharis had spread-by 1857-to nearly all parts of present-day Assam. Members of the Bodo-Kachari nobility migrated as far as Kashi (see Benaras ka Anootha Itihaas, written by Shiv Kumar Dwivedi, Hindi, 1962, Prayag Sahitya Sammelan, Allahabad).

However, a large section of Bodos, settled in the Darrang area on the Bhutan border, were never part of the Barak valley kingdom. Darrang-Kokrajhar Bodos either survived as roving, independent tribes-practicing jhum cultivation and not bowing to any authority-or as nominal subjects of the western Assam, Koch kingdom.

Usubar, Laochiklang and Maalu Sikhla were all Darrang-Kokrajhar Bodos. They followed the martial traditions, codes of fierce independence, and the religion-revolving around the worship of Bathou-of the roving tribes.

Folk songs-celebrating the struggle between Bodos and Bhutias of present-day Bhutan-survive to this day (http://www.aygrt.net/PublishArticles/529.aspx). Famous Bodo warriors-men and women-of yore include Bachiram, Daoharam, Cheobar, Gambari Sikhla, and Birgahri Sikhla. The song recalling the heroism of Bachiram is legendary:

Goraya dabradw Bachiram Jwhwlao

Gonggar chubaya phwilaygou

(Ride on horse Bachiram

Bhutiyas are coming in a body)

Interestingly, in the `The Oral Poetry of the Bodos: Ethnic Voices and Discourses�, written by Anil Kumar Boro, Department of Folklore Research, Guwahati University, Assam, the author mentions the depiction of Lord Bathou as Lord Siva (or Sibrai). Anil Boro article goes on to mention Gibi Bithai, a traditional Bodo scripture that provides an astounding Bodo world view (http://wiki.indianfolklore.org/images/4/4c/Ifl_27.pdf).

In this, Lord Siva is opposed to Lord Brahma, God of the white skinned people, and Lord Vishnu, God of the dark skinned people. It seems that Bodos carried their own interpretation of history that spoke of the coming of white skinned Aryans and dark skinned (Dravidians?) from the western parts of the Indian sub-continent to their lands. Of Tibeto-Burman stock, Bodos not only resembled the American Red Indians. Their religion, warrior folklore, and sense of peripatetic sovereignty, recalled the North American warrior tribes who put up a heroic fight against European settlers during the early history of the USA.

Considering these close linkages between the Bodos in the salad bowl that is Assam, it is surprising how narrow-minded political and local leaders prised open this close relationship between Muslims, Bodos and other tribes for commercial and political gains. And the results are before all to see.

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Mumbai: Noted Islamic scholar and reformer Maulana Sajjad Nomani of Lucknow was present as chief guest at 15th MMERC Convocation in Mumbai. In his address to the students of MMERC completing Diploma in English Language and Literature (DELL), he admonished them to reach the peak of English speaking and writing and then convey the universal message of Islam to those knowing nothing but English, the internationally dominant language. However, he cautioned them to get influenced by the Western culture. ‘So far, I have listened English from ‘slaves’ (according to mentality) but for the first time I am listening it from ‘free’ ones,’ said Maulana adding, ‘the way to materialize the English skills you got in MMERC should be by serving Islam. Some of the youths among you must resolve to do for the humanity not for oneself. Don’t use it for material gains or you will commit lose the trust of the Muslim community.’

Maulana, on the basis of his observation, told the attendees that not much effort was needed to persuade the women in western countries to put on veil. He narrated, ‘I have some female relatives in European countries. They told me that their Christian classmates visit them on Sundays and request to spare some time as they wanted to learn the way to wrap scarf.’

It must be admitted that the exhortations of Maulana Nomani were the piece de resistance of the convocation ceremony and the hall was full to overflowing by the public who came to hear his sensible comments.

This function held recently at Mumbai’s Hajj House was the annual Convocation of Markazul Ma’arif Education & Research Centre. In the function MMERC graduates gave their presentation on various burning topics. All the graduates were alumni of Islamic seminaries and were given their first acquaintance with the English language through its two-year Diploma in English Language and Literature (DELL)

he function was presided over by Sirajuddin Ajmal. He is the director of the Ajmal Group Of Companies and an MLA in the Assam assembly. While welcoming all the attendees, he said that MMERC was a part of the educational activities run under the largest North-East NGO Markazul Ma’arif.

Giving details about the establishment of Markazul Ma’arif in 1982 for rendering welfare service, he said it was a dream of his father late Haji Ajmal Ali, and that Maulana Badruddin Ajmal Qasmi (his brother) had contributed greatly towards nurturing the NGO. He expressed his sense of satisfaction on seeing that the madrasa graduates trained by MMERC have attained remarkable communicative skills in English after completing the prescribed two-year diploma in English speaking and writing.

The course condenses into a short period all the levels of English grades right from the first to the graduation level and hones the communicative skills of the students in English.

In the function, two MMERC graduates, Usama Imran Zakir Qasmi and Mufti Nisar Ahmad Qasmi, presented speeches on ‘Modernization Of Madrasa Curriculum’ and ‘Qur’an Peace & Violence’ respectively.

Classifying opinion makers about prevalent madrasa curriculum into two groups-one calling it outdated and irrelevant and the other claiming it requires no changes at all- Usama said both were wrong as they were holding extreme positions. ‘The moderate solution lies somewhere between the two extremes. What needed is to ‘upgrade’ the syllabus and not to ‘replace’ it,’ he said quoting justice Maulana Taqee Usmani who reportedly stated, ‘The most pressing need of our time is to renew and review the system of education and training in madrasas and try to infuse a new spirit in its dead body.’

‘A few selected verses of the Qur’an are misquoted, out of context, by those propagating the notion that Islam promotes violence by sanctioning Muslims to freely slay the infidels. Islam does not allow its followers to fight people except those who fight them and it orders Muslims to stop war if the opposite party stops,’ argued Mufti Nisar Qasmi speaking on his topic. He added that Islam imparts teachings of peace and good behaviour to others. ‘According to a saying of Muhammad (saws) ‘the creature is a family of Allah and the most beloved to Him is the one kind to His creatures’.

Besides, two MMERC scholars related to MMERC Dawah department also gave their talks. Maulana Shahid Mo’in Qasmi, coordinator of the department, spoke on ‘Risks from Homosexuality as per Logic & Islam’. He expressed surprise over the efforts by the so-called protagonist ‘freedom’ to legalize homosexuality under the guise of ‘personal freedom’ and said, ‘Homosexuality is both ‘unnatural and injurious to health,’ adding ‘none of the religions– a religion does not prohibit natural needs–allow it.’ Arguing that the natural trend was ‘heterosexuality’, not homosexuality, Shahid Mo’in said that Allah did not create a ‘gay’ fellow for Adam to get peace and pleasure rather He created Eve. He also claimed that homosexuality causes AIDS. ‘Since the time AIDS was discovered, 2 crore and 50 lakh people have been affected till date.’

Contrary to the misrepresented notion, Maulana Hifzur Rahman Qasmi, a Dawah trainee, said that hijab (veil) is a means to protect a woman’s modesty and it safeguards her from falling prey to the lustful eyes of males. He came down heavily on the hypocritical attitude of the West towards hijab.

Referring to the controversial statement of French president Nicolas Sarkozy that burqa was a ‘sign of subservience’ therefore, it was not welcome in (secular) France, he said, ‘They talk of freedom of choice but when it comes to Muslim women’s choice of wearing burqa they cannot bear it! The claims of freedom turn out to be hollow once any one else instead of the Muslim woman tries to define it as to what type of dress she can put on and which attire she should abstain.’ He also asked if veil was a sign of slavery then why the well-known Tamil writer Kamladas Suraiyya was influenced by it to accept Islam and why even the women of western countries protested against the statement of Sarkozy.

There was also a screen presentation of the activities of the NGO Markazul Ma’arif on its publications, makatib, education, teachers’ training, computer training, relief and rehabilitation work, health care, water supply and mass marriage, among others.

The chairman of Anfar Group of Companies, Maulana Mushtaq Anfar in his talk suggested that the students should get knowledge throughout their life accompanied with sincerity and piety and make people take advantage of that. For encouraging the students to perform best Tarun Rathi, the Mumbai United Democratic Front president, awarded a cash of Rs 5,000 to the three toppers in the examination and requested to let him confer this award every year.

Dr. Abdur Rauf Soomar, the chairman of Muhammad Haji Saboo Siddique Musafirkhana Trust, while calling the experience of equipping madrasa graduates with English a successful one, suggested introducing the same in other madrasas too. ‘Students from Mumbai and Maharasthra should be given more opportunities’, he affirmed.

In the function, the six toppers of the first year- Muhammad Haneef Qasmi, Nisar Ahmad Qasmi and Muhammad Salim Qasmi- and three of the second year- Muhammad Zafar Akhtar Qasmi, Muhammad Javed Iqbal and Muhammad Usama Zakir Qasmi were awarded trophies. Muhammad Ashraf Qasmi and Muhammad Nisar Qasmi were awarded the Best Writer and the Best Speaker respectively.

Four students, Asrarul Haque Qasmi & Muhammad Ehsan (1st Year) and Shuja’at Husain Qasmi & Muhammad Zaki Qasmi (2nd Year) were awarded for being particular about attendance– not absent for more than five times during the academic year– in the class.

Besides them seven more awards were conferred on the students showing their commendable performance in various aspects of academic life in MMERC. Muhammad Zakaria Qasmi, Muhammad Abdul Aleem Qasmi, Taqee Ahmad Qasmi, Fakhruddin Ahmad Qasmi, Waseem Akhtar Qasmi, Asrarul Haque Qasmi and Muhammad Ashraf Qasmi were conferred with ‘The Punctual Student Of MMERC, ‘The Efficient Personality Of MMERC’, ‘The Immaculate Personality Of MMERC’, ‘The Pleasant Personality Of MMERC’, ‘The Social Personality Of MMERC’, ‘The Spiritual Personality Of MMERC’ and ‘The Sportsman Of MMERC’ awards, respectively.

The function was attended by many leading and notable personalities of the city including the convener Maulana Burhanuddin Qasmi, director of MMERC, Mufti Azizur Rahman Fatehpuri, the grand Mufti of Maharasthra, MLA Basheer Moosa Patel and Mahmood Daryabadi, general secretary of Ulama Council, among others.

Abdul Hameed is a research scholar at MMERC.
He can be reached at ahameed12@gmail.com

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Ummid News paper

Mumbai: Its 9’oclock late in the evening, the time to pack up for most of the people in Mumbai. However at Markazul Ma’arif Education and Research Center (MMERC) in the heart of the popular international city in India, it is as if the beginning of the day. The activities in the classrooms, the calm in the library, the clerks at work, the buzz in the court-yard and the appetizing smell emanating from the kitchen, the combination was a match perfect to describe beginning of a busy day in any institution. No. They haven’t started their activities now. In fact they are busy right from 6 in the morning. Yet the freshness over their faces reveals absolutely no sign of fatigue.

This is the routine at Markazul Ma’arif Education and Research Center (MMERC) in Mumbai, the Institute-cum-Research Centre for Madrasa students. The Institute that polish a select batch of immature yet talented Madrasa students and convert them into a valuable asset for the country and the world. The Institute that is the brainchild of Maulana Badruddin Ajmal Qasmi who came into the limelight after floating Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF) few years back and recently after winning the parliamentary election by a huge margin.

“We don’t have a weekly off, neither a Friday nor a Sunday. Our students are busy right from the morning till late in the evening for whole of the year”, said Maulana Burhanuddin Qasmi. Maulana Burhan, the trusted lieutenant of Badruddin Ajmal in Mumbai, is also the principle of the Institute, a mentor and a father like figure for the students. At the same time, very confident and absolutely clear while expressing his views.

We asked him the motives behind setting up an Institute for Madrasa students, a bunch considered as useless and on whom no one would consider investing anything let alone millions of rupees every year, the philosophical Burhanuddin Qasmi goes on. “Had there not been Ulema after the decline of Muslim rule, the mythical Indian civilization would have absorbed Muslim identity and culture”, he said while adding, “Ulema have been the backbone of the Muslim community and their extraordinary efforts through ages have kept the Islamic assets protected and flourishing on the Indian soil. Therefore, the fate of Muslims as a unit and a separate religious group depends on the progressive ideas, up-to-date policies and universal thoughts of their spiritual leaders.”

“At the onset of the new millennium”, he said, “As the community was surrounded by multitude political problems, it faced the biggest challenge to its civilization and cultural heritage. Since the Ulema, being aware of only Islamic sciences and Urdu-Arabic languages, were not only lacking access to the international community but also to a good part of their population. Hence it is needed to equip the graduates of Madrasas with the modern science so that they can meet the modern challenges and play a greater influential role in the society.”

At the helm of the affairs, Maulana Burhanuddin Qasmi personally takes care that the quality is strictly maintained for the two-year course having a total of just 25 students for each year. No less than education bliss for the Madrasa students, Markazul Ma’arif Education and Research Center (MMERC) has changed the lives of more than hundred students in few years since its foundation.

“Total discipline and absolutely no leisure to anyone, our rules are very clear. Above all our evaluation method leaves no chance for the students to freak out. To come with the flying colors, they have no option but to perform”, said Maulana Burhan Qasmi.

Today the Madrasa students after completing the course from Markazul Ma’arif Education and Research Center (MMERC) are most sought after by the consulates, publishing centers and even by the industries, everyone coming to Markazul Ma’arif Education and Research Center (MMERC) with attractive packages and lucrative offers for MMERC students.

Certainly an IIM in making for the Madrasa students, the experiment that began in Mumbai has now spread to Assam, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh (UP).

Courses

Diploma in English Language & Literature (DELL): English is the Lingua Franca of the world today. People world over, communicate with each other and transact business through this language. Though Ulema from Madrasas know Arabic and they can comprehend Islam directly from the original sources, they find it difficult to communicate with the intelligentsia as they lack proficiency in English language. Consequently they are not only unable to present Islam to others but also fail to communicate with the educated people of their own community. To cement this communication gap, the Institute inspires Ulema to learn English so that they acquire enough proficiency in reading, writing, speaking this language and translate Islamic works into the same utilizing the modern tools of communication such as computer and Internet. It may help them become effective preachers and propagators of Islam.

Under this program, graduates from different Madrasas are selected after written and oral tests to join this two-year course. Priority is given to those graduates who have an aptitude and willingness to learn English and an ambition to work for Dawah in future. Students joining this course undergo training for two years with the sole objective of acquiring proficiency in English language and operating computer and Internet.

Students completing this course stand at par with graduate of English medium public schools and colleges. Also they become capable of writing articles, delivering lectures on Islam and comparative religions, teaching English and Arabic and taking research works in English independently. At the same time they get an opportunity to join renowned organizations, institutes and magazines and also to work as an administrator, teacher, interpreter and translator in India or abroad.

Research Training

Having successfully passed the exams, some qualified students are selected for three years intensive full time “Research and Training Course”. During the period research methodology is instilled in them and in the process they are trained for an in-depth research. The topic of research is basically related to Islam and Muslims. During the first year the trainees select a topic in consultation with his guide. He is asked to collect materials and participate in seminars on the subject. He is also encouraged to meet different experts of the subject and visit various libraries. The trainee is required to submit a thesis of his research findings in no less than 100 pages. Once a trainee completes the Research Training course and submits his paper successfully, he is enrolled for “Research Fellow” phase.

Research Fellow

During second year, the Research Fellow is to take thorough research on the same topic for which he has already submitted a paper. Intensive research is done here with a view to come out with new findings that help remove misgiving related to Islam vis-à-vis other religions and modern scientific researches.

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Times of India

MUMBAI: Purdah. Terrorists. Imrana. Offended by what they perceive as a biased and unfavourable portrayal of Islam on television, a section of the Muslim community has decided to take matters into its hands.

Two new free-to-air, 24×7 Islamic channels will showcase “the true Islamic perspective” on issues facing Muslims across the world. The new channels will compete with QTV (Quran TV), the Dubai-based channel which has a vast and dedicated audience of Muslims in India and Pakistan.

The first channel, Kitaab, whose name is a homage to the Quran, will go on air on October 7, the second or third day of the holy month of Ramzan. The second channel, tentatively called Peace TV, will be launched in two months’ time by Dr Zakir Naik, a well-known preacher on QTV.

“Kitaab will not just counter anti-Muslim propaganda in media, but will also help cleanse Muslim society,” claimed Akhtar Sheikh, builder and the channel’s chief promoter. “Muslims have long felt the need for a channel which they can claim as their own.”

The programming for Kitaab will be entrusted to a largely orthodox group of… … madrassa-educated Deobandi ulema.

Markaz-ul-Maarif, a Mumbai-based centre of Muslim religious scholars, has already set the compass for the channel – remove misconceptions about Islam, highlight the sacrifice of Muslim freedom- fighters such as Maulana Azad, and the Ali brothers, debate issues of personal law like marriage, talaq, maintenance and purdah.

The ulema’s involvement is surprising given the debate about the legitimacy of television that currently divides the ulema in India. Last year, Mufti Mahmud-ul-Hasan of the Darul Uloom Deoband seminary had issued a fatwa banning television for Muslims.

Madrassas do not allow their students to watch TV. “Television is a means to (frivolous) entertainment,” the Mufti had said, triggering a debate in the Urdu press.

But Maulana Burhanuddin Qasmi, who is involved in Kitaab’s programming, says the ulema cannot deny the importance of visual media. “Take the case of Imrana. It was debated endlessly to the exclusion of everything else as if Muslims didn’t have any other issues,” he said.

Other members on the programming panel include Maulana Mehmood Madni of Jamiatul-Ulema-e-Hind and Syed Salman Nadvi of Nadwatul Ulema in Lucknow

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Markazul Ma’arif reaches to the rescue of 1200 families

Milli Gazette
Murshidabad, 10 August*, 2005: The devastating flood and erosion of Padma river and the following hunger have played havoc on the lives of people at Jalangi in Murshidabad District of West Bengal, 400 km. from capital city Kolkata by the Indo-Bangladesh in the northeast region of India. Two Muslim NGOs – Charity Alliance, Delhi and Markazul Ma’arif, Assam are placed in the affected areas to assist the victims. Many families in villages like Parashpur, Dayarampur, Taltali, Udyanagar and Raipara on the banks of the river Padma are left with nothing. ‘Even one complete village- Parashpur is totally submerged rendering hundreds of acres of land washed away and more than 200 families deprived of their houses and belongings in the swirling river water,’ reports M. B. Qasmi, Director MMERC, Mumbai after visiting the area in July 14-19. ‘Large areas of farmland have been inundated and it blocked sources of income and livelihood of the people in the area. Added to this, the famine condition further aggravated their living conditions and the tragic, catastrophic situation is slowly but surely pushing them to starvation deaths’, said Mr. Qasmi.

Markazul Ma’arif, an Assam based Muslim NGO, moved by the reported starvation deaths in Murshidabad sent a survey team in May to measure the loss and requirements of the people there. Following the survey report the Organization sent its officials- Mr. Sharifuddin Lashkar, Fakharuddin and Shah Jahan Ali- with relief commodities. The group organized local volunteers and provided the starving victims with rice (10 Kg. Per family), Daal, salt, cooking oil, baby foods, medicine, Lungi and Saries to 1200 families in 3 phases in June and July. Mr. Shamsul Haq Choudhury, Vice President of the Organization, Maulana Siddiqullah Choudhury, General Secretary West Bengal Jamiat Ulama-e Hind and M. Burhaniddin Qasmi from Mumbai have also distributed from the Organization goods to build shelters, to those who have lost shelters, and means of income to the selected males and females in July 15 and 19.

So far 600 bundles of Tin to 400 families (each bundle contains 72 ft. of aluminium shields), 15 rickshaw vans to men and 10 sewing machines to women have been distributed in the affected villages as means of living and earnings in addition to food, clothing and medicine to 1200 families in earlier three phases of distribution. In all some 7500 people have been benefited by the volunteer services of the Organization. Notably, Markazul Ma’arif is rendering this relief and rehabilitation commodities in Murshidabad with full collaboration of a London based humanitarian organization- MUSLIM AID.

The survey of the Organization also reveals requirements of proper educational infrastructure in the locality. Hence, Markazul Ma’arif is working to establish five schools in the severely affected villages where basic religious and primary secular schooling would be facilitated to both the boys and girls. Maulana Siddiqullah Chaudhury, General Secretary Jamiat Ulama-i West Bengal unit has agreed to look after the schools for the next five years with Markaz’s financing.

Markazul Ma’arif, headed by Maulana Badruddin Ajmal Al-Qasmi, Member Shura Darul Uloom Deoband; is the largest Muslim NGO in northeast India. From the very beginning of its establishment in 1982, the Organization has been engaged in plying a key role for a sincere, devoted and altruistic service to the people of northeast region, in social, economic, educational development without discrimination of creed or cast.

*Please note that the above press release was ready to be released on July 26 at nearly 03:30 PM when the historic rainfall and sudden flood in Mumbai changed our life for few days. The rain has submerged our office and literally whole campus of MMERC became an ocean of water within less than an hour. MMERC, Mumbai faced heavy lose, whole campus with all computers, furniture and a huge library was completely deep in the water for at least 12 hours. Today, Al-Hamdulillah, we are back again with a new set up. MMERC has been doing relief and rescue work since July 28 across Mumbai and Thane with food and house hold goods and medical camps.) http://www.markazulmaarif.org/newsite/donate.asp

-sd-
(M. Burhanuddin Qasmi)
Director,
MARKAZUL MA’ARIF EDUCATION & RESEARCH CENTRE (MMERC)
Pratiksha Nagar Masjid, Patliputra Nagar
Oshiwara, New Link Road
Jogeshwari (W), Mumbai – 102 (India)
Tel: (+22) 26798538/ 56832225
E-mail: manager@markazulmaarif.org; http://www.markazulmaarif.org

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Inquilab Annual Function


Home of Hope

Amidst the horrors of militancy in the hilly regions of Assam, a group of committed Muslims have set up
Markaz Darul Yatama, an orphanage for kids who are victims of ethnic violence

By Md Akhtab-ul-Ala

Think of Assam and there would be two things cropping up in the mind-the refreshing tea for the brighter side and the horrors of militancy, the State has been going through, which is the darker side. But Assam has its moments of hope where a committed group of Muslims have taken the initiative to extend their services for the needy and the poor and all that is done quietly and gracefully. Nestled amidst greenery, in the little town of Goalpara in the State, is the Markaz Darul Yatama, an orphanage which was the outcome of the philanthropic efforts of an NGO named Markazul Maarif having its bases at Hozai, along with the support of the local Muslims. It all started with the notorious ethnic violence in 1993 in Assam. The Bodo militants, in order to prove their majority in support of their claim for a separate Bodo State went on an ethnic cleansing spree in the districts of Barpeta, Kokrajharand Bongaigoan. These areas became the centre of communal carnage and many innocent Muslims were killed and lakhs were rendered homeless.

Thousands of Muslim kids were orphaned and dislodged from their homes and took refuge in various relief and rehabilitation centres set up by the government. The living conditions in these camps were pathetic with two square meals being a luxury for the families and the kids. So education was a dream too.

The Bodo militants, in order to prove their majority in support of their claim for a separate Bodo State went on an ethnic cleansing spree in the districts of Barpeta, Kokrajhar and Bongaigoan. These areas became the centre of communal carnage and many innocent Muslims were killed and lakhs were rendered homeless.

It was under these circumstances that Maulana Bostanvi of the Jamia Islamia Ishaatul Uloom and Maulana Badruddin Ajmal Qasmi, president of Makazul Maarif took the bold step of shouldering the responsibility of building the future of these helpless children by setting up an orphanage in the name of Markaz Darul Yatama at Goalpara in Assam. A plot of land was purchased from a local estate owner Md. Abdul Kadir who agreed for the sale at a much concessional rate. As a first step, 350 destitute orphan kids from different camps were taken into the new orphanage with the intention of imparting spiritual and contemporary education. Under, the leadership of the director Hafiz Bashir Ahmed Qasimi, Markaz Darul Yatama, currently has 400 boys and 250 girls (orphans) in separate campuses. Along with the modern education in English medium, Islamic classes too are organised along with physical training and NCC classes.

The boys section of the Markaz Darul Yatama is managed by 25 qualified teachers headed by Mufti Sa’aduddin Qasimi, while the girls section is managed by 15 teachers. The English medium section named as Markaz Academy has a staff comprising nine qualified teachers headed by Md M. H. Lashkar. Recently a 10-bed hospital named As-Salam was set up here to take care of the inmates of the orphanage. An Industrial training institute is part of the plans to impart training to the orphans in vocational jobs. Despite odds and the tense situation in Assam, the unflinching spirit of the small group of Muslims here serves as an example and indicates that hope exists even in the most hostile conditions and one needs to be determined to fulfill the goals.

Health Camps by Markazul Maarif in Assam

HOJAI : Noted voluntary organisation Markazul Maarif held health camps at seven places in the state of Assam between July 26 and August 5. 2,227 patients received treatment for various ailments at Phooltali, Udali, Padumphukuri, Kapashabar, Raikhata, Kumarakhata and Udaypur.

Most of these places are said to be inaccessible areas of a backward region. A 22-member medical team headed by Dr. Afif Khan, ex-Joint Director, Assam Health services, Nagaon pitched their camps in the places. He was assisted by Dr. Ashok Ray, Dr. Kumud Hazarika, Dr. Anup Kumar Das, Dr. Iqbal Hazarika, Dr.Subrata Banik etc.

The team doctors instructed the people about preventive measures against common ailments viral fever, diarrhoea etc.

Markazul Maarif is running several schools, dispensaries, and scholarship endowments in Hojai and Nagaon districts of Assam.

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Investment lessons for Muslims

New Delhi, March 8: India’s Muslims will be urged this weekend to shed their fear of banks, stocks and mutual funds, invest their money, and watch it grow.

The country’s first ever Islamic Investment Opportunities conference, to be held in Mumbai on Saturday, will argue that Islam may forbid speculation but allows core investments as long as the means are Shariat-compliant.

Joint organisers Parsoli, a Mumbai-based investment company, and Markazul Ma’arif, an education and research centre, have invited clergy, mostly from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, to help break their community’s “traditional mindsets” on money.

M.B. Kazmi, a Markazul director, said studies by his centre showed that in the metros, the majority of Muslims had base assets of over Rs 1 lakh but were reluctant to take the money out because of “lack of confidence”.

“Most of them are practising Muslims who fear they may be guilty of committing haram (a crime) by making un-Islamic investments,” he said.

The conference is expected to showcase a convert: Mufti Ishtiaq Ahmed Azmi, who got his degrees in jurisprudence from the Dar-ul Uloom in Deoband.

“The economics syllabus in the madarsas needs to be updated to remove popular misconceptions about banking and investments. I studied the modern economic system from an Islamic perspective for a year and found that most of the concepts were easy to understand and apply,” Azmi said.

“There’s nothing in the Quran and the Prophet’s sayings that forbids Muslims from competing in a dynamic economic order.”

Kazmi said the conference’s objective was to start a debate, whose outcome could be codified into some kind of an economic law setting out the parameters for investment by Muslims. He said imams and scholars on the Quran, Hadees (a compendium of the Prophet’s sayings) and the Arabic language would draft the new law. “The Quran has words that are the equivalent of ‘share business’, ‘debts’ and ‘security money’, but these have to be rediscovered.”

Some Muslims believe that even without a reinterpretation, Islam affords a little leeway on interest: it is permissible to invest in businesses whose interest income is less than 10 per cent of their total revenues. If the earnings on interest are channelled into philanthropy, there’s no problem. But sects are sharply divided on the subject.

What’s definitely banned are investments in companies engaged in conventional finance, alcohol, tobacco, gambling, “vulgar” entertainment and — in India — sugar companies, because they generate molasses that are used in making liquor.

Despite these restrictions, India fares well on Shariat-compliance. A four-year survey of listings on the National and Bombay stock exchanges shows that while 115 of 988 companies passed the test in 2002 on the NSE, the number had gone up to 335 out of 1,000 by 2005. In the BSE, while only 95 of 500 companies made the cut in 2002, the number was 237 out of 500 by 2005.

But Ashraf Mohamdey, who owns Idafa Investments and will be at the conference, is cautious.

Mohamdey’s Mumbai-based company targets the middle-class retail investor. Although its growth over 12 years has been problem-free, his main concern is that India is not as “open” as Europe and the US, or even Sri Lanka, who have institutionalised Islamic banking without inviting the charge of being “communal”.

The Centre on Tuesday denied having decided to set up a committee to study the feasibility of setting up an Islamic bank.

By-RADHIKA RAMASESHAN

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In booming economy, an attempt to make stocks halal

In booming economy, an attempt to make stocks halal

Gujarati businessman, who bounced back after the riots, to hold meet on Shariat-friendly investments; ropes in Islamic scholars, Munich Stock Exchange chief

Kavitha Iyer

Mumbai, March 8: No government will ever do anything for the Muslims,” says this bearded, soft spoken investment consultant, stock broker and MD of a Rs 100-crore company. “What has to be done, Muslims have to do themselves. And there are plenty of opportunities available.”

It’s easy to write off Zafar Sareshwala (43) as a member of the Muslim elite, born into money to a Gujarati Muslim family that’s been manufacturing industrial valves for 150 years and one who can afford to say his community brothers must “get out of the Sachar-centric mindset”. But soon after Gujarat burned for months in 2002, Sareshwala’s Ahmedabad-based business was wrecked. He was nearly bankrupt.

In the story of how he bounced back is the central theme of a conference to be hosted in Mumbai-the city’s first-ever ‘Islamic Investment Opportunities Conference’, an attempt to draw Indian Muslims-nearly 15 per cent of India’s population-into the equity market boom. Sareshwala’s Parsoli Corporation Ltd will organise the conference at the Nehru Centre on March 10, even as a large group of minorities stages a dharna at Azad Maidan demanding that the Rajinder Sachar committee report be implemented.

Speaking at the conference, which has already received about 950 registrations, will be Shariat scholars including one from a Moradabad madrassa who will review a list of ‘Shariat-compliant’ stocks and discuss ‘Shariat-compliant opportunities’ in stock markets. Also participating is Uto Baader, president of the Munich Stock Exchange, who will make a presentation on how Indian stocks are today the place to park global dollars, and dinars too.

All of them also participated in a similar seminar held in Parsoli’s native Ahmedabad in December, but the scale and outreach of the Mumbai conference makes it hugely significant, organisers say.

“The stock exchange of any country is a barometer of its health,” says Sareshwala, who received many brickbats when he chose to meet Narendra Modi during the chief minister’s London trip. “And, if you’re speaking of growth, how can a country grow if 15 per cent of its population is outside that growth?”

For Muslim investors who wish to conform to the Shariat in matters of personal finance, asset-creation must be a halaal-exercise-no association with alcohol, no unethical means, no pork, no flippant entertainment businesses. While a few so-called Islamic banks and chit funds failed, the equity market will succeed, say the conference organizers.

“The filters are not so restrictive,” says Anand Tandon, investment manager and founder of Griffon Investment Advisors, who has been reading up ever since his association with Sareshwala began some years back. “About 50 per cent of the BSE 500 are available to Muslim investors,” he says.

While he will speak at the conference on how the equity markets work, how the market is booming, Tandon says the broad theme of the conference is also to get ulemas to talk to the community on the research, tell them that their country is on the growth path and they can’t deprive themselves.

For that, partnering Parsoli is the Markazul Ma’arif, an Assam-based non-governmental agency with a Mumbai arm that imparts English language higher education to ulemas, mostly the toppers from country-wide madrassas. For Maulana Burhanuddin Qasmi of the Markazul Ma’arif-literally, it means Centre of Excellence—it all began with a research paper completed by one of his wards last year. “It was on the modern economy in the light of the Quran,” says the Maulana. “We found that there are possibilities in the existing stock market where Muslims can invest, but simply don’t have the information required.”

The three-year-old Parsoli Islamic Equity (PIE) Research Cell’s index of Shariat-approved stocks tries to fill that hole. This index, apart from discarding companies engaged in activities or means considered non-Muslim, also gives details on debt-equity ratios, the rule of thumb being that debt be no more than 33 per cent of total market capitalization.

And, since the Maulana Qasmi is a “practising Muslim who intends to remain one”, like most of the 950-odd people who will attend, the organizers are showing great regard for Muslim sentiment-a separate enclosure for women, even arrangements for Zohar namaz.

“One Hindu woman asked me why a separate enclosure,” says Sareshwala. “I told her we want women to see the world of opportunities independently, away from their husband’s viewpoint.”

He stresses that his company is are completely within the regulatory environment, registered with the SEBI, listed with the BSE, very close to getting a commodities listing. That the conference is an investment, a huge business opportunity for his firm is no secret. Still, between recruitments for four or five new branches in Mumbai, he says: “We have everything that a Motilal Oswal or a Merrill Lynch can offer you, plus Shariat-compliant investments.’’

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