Rights

Writers, Academics and Activists Condemn FIRs Against and Online Harassment of Miyah Poets

The signatories note that they view Miyah poetry as a "legitimate form of literary protest against the victimisation of Bengal-origin Muslims of Assam".

New Delhi: Over 200 academics, activists, journalists and civil society members have joined together in their opposition to the recent FIRs filed against ten writers and poets who identify themselves as ‘Miyah poets’.

In a written statement issued on Sunday, the signatories noted that “In the absence of other avenues” poetry often becomes “the sole medium of speaking truth to power,” and everyone should have the right to do so “without the fear of perverse consequences, including punitive action.” The signatories note that they view Miyah poetry as a “legitimate form of literary protest against the victimisation of Bengal-origin Muslims of Assam”.

On July 10, the Assam Police registered cases against ten under varied sections of the IPC and the Telecommunications Act for a poem titled Write it Down, I am a Miyah, accusing them of depicting the Assamese people as “xenophobic in the eyes of the whole world” and posing a “serious threat to the Assamese people as well as towards the national security and harmonious social atmosphere.”

Most of the accused are Muslim poets and rights activists who trace their origins to East Bengal.

The poem belongs to the genre of ‘Miyah’ – originally the Urdu honorific for men which gradually became a slur for Bengal-origin, ‘immigrant’ Muslims in Assam. The slur has now been reclaimed by a generation of poets who call themselves and their style of protest poetry ‘Miyah’.

The poem, penned by Kazi Neil or Kazi Sarowar Hussain and translated to English by another poet, Salim M. Hussain, had gone viral in social media in 2018. The complainant, Guwahati-based journalist Pranabjit Doloi, contended in his FIR, lodged at the city’s Panbazar police station, that the poem “sought” to project Assamese people as “xenophobic in the eyes of the whole world which is a threat to the security of the nation in general and Assam in particular.”

The state action against then ten has promoted widespread debate over Miyah poetry in the Assam context and what the genre means for the literary landscape of the northeastern state.

On Friday, the ten were granted anticipatory bail by the Gauhati high court. At the same time, three other FIRs were lodged against the Miyah poets in other police stations of the state. These complaints have mostly come from organisations representing the Assamese Muslim community.

Also read | Debate: Miyah Poetry in the Time of Nationalism

Apart from the FIRs, several of the these poets/activists have, according to the statement issued in their support, have been “subjected to a barrage of online trolling and intimidation by certain individuals on social media and WhatsApp. These include death threats, rape threats and other explicit forms of harassment.”

The use of “derogatory” and “baseless” stereotypes, the signatories note, only further the “existing sentiment of hostility against Bengali-origin Muslims of Assam who remain highly vulnerable to ethno-nationalist majoritarianism and anti-immigrant rhetoric in the state.”

They have thus urged the government to uphold their constitutional rights, including “the right of writers to speak and write freely without fear of fear, harm or intimidation” and stressed that “full force” of the law may be used against those who “impinge on these fundamental rights with arbitrariness and frivolous interpretations.

The statement further notes that with the final draft of the National Register of Citizens to be published on July 31, the “timing of the controversy and the vilification of the poets point to dangerous times ahead”.

They have thus issued an appeal for everyone to “assert their voices against hate, suspicion, chauvinism and censorship of literary expressions”.

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Full text of the statement and list of signatories:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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