Guwahati: Twenty-seven-year-old poet and a social activist Ashraful Hussain, who won the Chenga assembly constituency located in lower Assam’s Barpeta district, is one of the youngest candidates among who either won or contested in the 126-seat Assam state assembly elections.
Hussain is now an elected representative from the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) party.
He defeated the incumbent Sukur Ali Ahmed, a sexagenarian candidate from the Congress party who served as a minister during the Tarun Gogoi-led state government, and Rabiul Hussain, another sexagenarian candidate from the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) who trailed Hussain with a total of 23,373 votes as compared to 75,312 votes secured by Ashraful.
Hussain secured 58.83% of votes and the winning margin stood at 51,939 votes. In addition to Hussain, there was another candidate who was also 27 years old, while the others were aged between 37 and 60 years.
Activism to politics
But his political win is a far cry from what he had endured two years ago when he along with other poets from Assam’s Miyah (Bengal-origin Muslims) community faced the ire of mainstream Assamese media and society.
In the summer of 2019, Hussain and the Miyah poets ushered in genre-specific poetry which has been dubbed as Miyah poetry. Miyah is a common derogatory term to refer to the Bengal origin Muslims of Assam, which in common parlance denotes as someone who has crossed the India-Bangladesh border illegally or in simple terms Bangladeshis.
Hussain’s poem ‘My Mother’s Name is D-Voter’ and other poems by the Bengal-origin Muslim poets have caused deep consternation among the detractors of Miyah poetry. The poems have all been written in the Miyah dialect and recited in the same dialect. Few lines of Hussain’s poem when translated into English reads as such:
I am away from home and my path is dark,
My father is lost, my mother is hurt,
They are troubled, and I too am very from my home.
There is no food at home,
The poor receive far less food.
Such poems recited on social media platforms did not take time to invite the wrath of some Assamese individuals, especially from the general secretary of the state BJP’s minority cell (Changsari unit), and groups like the Goriya Moriya Deshi Parishad (Bongaigaon unit) and the Uzani Asom Muslim Kalyan Parishad (a self-proclaimed) representative of indigenous Assamese Muslims based in upper Assam.
On July 10, 2019, Pranabjit Doloi, a former journalist filed a police complaint against Hussain and multiple others. He accused Miyah poetry of being “radical which was being circulated internationally and intentionally depicting the Assamese people as xenophobes”. The sections filed were Section 120B/153 A/295A/188 of the Indian Penal Code and Section 66 of the IT Act in the three-paged FIR.
Doloi also accused the poets and their supporters, which included cultural connoisseurs, activists, scholars, social researchers, litterateurs, social media platformers and others, of “posing a threat” to Assam’s and India’s security.
Hussain, who was once a journalist, said when The Wire reached out to him: “I have left that episode behind. I have forgiven those who pitted against me and others who simply wanted to express the conditions of the marginalised people. One has to take the higher path at one point of time in life and we should never be tied to the past.
I am totally focused on the issues which are affecting my constituency. Floods, erosion, education, infrastructure, roads and transportation, people who have been let down by the National Register of Citizens (NRC), D-Voters and many other issues based on which I would like to help my people. I would also like to strengthen our precious democratic structure and make people more aware of our valuable constitution.”
Haidar Hussain Bora of the AIUDF said, “The anti-incumbency was an important factor against Sukur Ali Ahmed. Ashraful Hussain was a good candidate and people in Chenga love him. He made his presence felt with his works. His youthful energy and his social work in the past all worked in his favour. But at the same time, he has to acquaint himself with the processes and workings of the state legislative assembly.”
Hussain is also a member of Sambidhan Sevak, a grass root initiative started by social worker and writer Harsh Mander to infuse awareness about the Indian constitution among the people in lower Assam. During the 2019 floods, Hussain and members from the Sambidhan Sevak worked to distribute relief across scores of villages in the Barpeta district.
“He, along with some other poets, was viciously targeted on social media and multiple FIRs were filed. This win, and more importantly his voice in the assembly, will hopefully be a response to the hate and a road towards proper service to the public. Despite attempts to silence him and his politics, Ashraful Hussain has remained steadfast and continued to be vocal for the rights of the marginalised. His poems also speak about the travails of the less privileged,” said Jyotirmoy Talukdar, a senior writing fellow and writing tutor at Ashoka University.