The Assam Tea Party Movement

by Ranbir

Assam in north-east India is famous for its tea. Assam tea is a favoured brew among many drinkers of that now quintessential British as well as Indian hot beverage of choice. However recently this major tea-growing area of the world has been wracked by horrific violence.

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Tea plantation employee in Assam


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Tea plantation in Assam

On 27 July 2012 NDTV reported that 45 people have been killed in ‘ethnic’ clashes in Assam and nearly four lakh people are now housed in 200 relief camps. The BBC reported that tens of thousands of people had fled their homes after  tensions between the Muslim Bengali migrants and Assam’s tribal people for many years, mostly revolving around land rights. But the clashes this year actually began much earlier and had several causal factors. The Daily Mail reported on 1 July 2012 that Congress MLA Rumi Nath and her second husband Jackie Zakir , whom she had married without divorcing her first husband, were beaten up and injured by a mob at Karimganj. On 5 July India Today wrote that her conversion to Islam to marry her Facebook friend Jackie Zakir on April 13 triggered communal tension in the Barak Valley. The next day the Press Trust of India reported that culprits had set ablaze a temple at Maijgram in Karimganj district. On 28 July MP Asaduddin Owaisi on Saturday came out strongly against the ongoing violence in the Kokrajhar and surrounding regions in Assam saying that Muslims were being systematically targeted in the state. He further demanded that a human rights team and the minority commission visit the affected areas. One would never see Mr. Owaiso being so vocal on Hindus displaced from Kashmir. Nevertheless at least his candidness has inadvertently put focus on what are these clashes subsumed under the blanket term ‘ethnic’ because these were in the main not clashes between Bengalis and Assamese, but between Bodo tribals and Muslims, the latter being mostly Bangladeshi.


Assam was always part of India

Despite being geographically a rather isolated part of modern India, linked only to the rest of the country by a thin corridor known as the Chicken’s Neck, Assam has in fact been an integral part of the subcontinent. The Mahabharata and Ramayana call this region the kingdom of Pragjyotisha. Originally ruled by the Danava kings, this dynasty founded by Mahiranga was removed by the asura Narakasura. He was the demonic son of the earth goddess Bhumi and Varaha, the boar avatara of Vishnu and built an impregnable fortress known as Pragjyotisha. This was eventually destroyed by Krishna. Before breathing his last, the Asura requested a boon that his death anniversary should be celebrated by all people on earth. This day is celebrated as Naraka Chaturdashi, the first day of Diwali. He was also eulogised in the tenth century Kalika Purana, which was composed in Assam. Narakasura’s son and successor was Bhagadatta who took part in the Battle of Kurukshetra on the side of the Kauravas, for whom he acted as one of the main car-warriors, and fought under the invincible Bhishma. Having tried unsuccessfully to kill Arjuna with his special weapon known as Vaishnavastra, he was himself shot and killed by an arrow fired by Arjuna.

In the fourth century Assam came under the rule of Pushya Varman who established the Varman dynisaty of what became known as Kamarupa. This kingdom extended across not just Assam but much of modern West Bengal and Bangladesh. The Gupta inscriptions and poetry of Kalidasa also mention Kamarupa. In the thirteenth century Assam was invaded from Burma by a Thai people, the Ahom, from whom the name ‘Assam’ is taken. Their first king was Chaolung Sukaphaa and the state introduced wet rice cultivation using a system of land reclamation with dykes and embankments. From 1615 the Ahoms successfully resisted Mughal advances from Bengal and indeed inflicted not just a might defeat on the imperialist invaders but extended their territory west. The Ahom state was eventually extinguished by the Burmese invasion in the late eighteenth century and then its annexation from Burma by the British East India Company in 1826.


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Kamakhya Temple in Assam

Assam retained its full interaction with India’s ancient customs and traditions despite these upheavals. To this day Buddhism retains a following from the Chakma and Barua tribes, as well as the smaller Thai-speaking groups. The majority of Assamese however remain Hindus. Madhav Kandali translated the Ramayana into Assamese in the fourteenth century, and indeed his was the first Ramayana to be written in a modern Indian language. The Bhakti movement of devotional Hinduism was brought here by the native saint-scholar Srimanta Sankardeva (1449-1568) who started the sect known as Mahapuruxiya Dharma or Eksarana Dharma, which incorporated many local traditions into a Vaishnava focus. His writings were collected into the Assamese sacred texts Kirtan Ghoxa and Bhagavat of Sankaravdeva, the latter being an adaptation of the Bhagavat Purana which is in Sanskrit.

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Srimanta Sankardeva

Vaishnava monasteries became part of the Assamese way of life. Sankardeva’s Bhakti movement also contributed greatly towards language, literature and performing and fine arts. Brajavali a language specially created by introducing words from other Indian languages had failed as a language but left its traces on the Assamese language. Sankaradeva also met with Nanak during the latter’s travels in Assam as recorded in the Purantan Janam Sakhi. The ninth Sikh guru, Tegh Bahadur, also came here in 1669 to the same place where Nanak had met Sankardeva , the town of Dhubri on the banks of the mighty Brahmaputra. He was accompanying Raja Ram Singh of Amber, sent by Aurangzeb to defeat the Ahom king, Chakradhwaj Singha. According to tradition, the Ahom magicians tried to use their Tantric mantras against his encampment at Dhubri, including hurling 26-foot-long stone, which came arcing across the sky like a missile and struck the ground, near the guru’s camp. Guru Tegh Bahadur then took his bow and aimed an arrow at their altar of magic, which neutralised it. He assured the Ahoms that he had only come to bring peace and in response King Chakradhwaj Singh invited Guruji to the Kamakhya shrine, where he was honoured with great respect. he mound of peace of Dhubri was erected with the red earth carried by the soldiers of the armies on their shields. Both Hindus and Muslims took part in constructing the site which now attracts pilgrims from all over India as Gurdwara Thara Sahib.

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Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji making peace between Raja Ram Singh and Ahom King.

In 1820 500 Sikh soldiers went to Assam at the initiative of Maharaja Ranjit Singh to help Ahom rulers in their war with Burma. Their descendants remained and now speak Assamese while retaining their Sikh identity.

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The Truth behind so-called ‘Ethnic’ Clashes

Then again Assam was always a cockpit of various peoples and cultures. The earliest settlers appear to have been Mon-Khmer groups from South-East Asia, such as the Khasi. Tibeto-Burmese speakers such as the Bodos arrived later from southern China. Indo-Aryan speakers came to dominate the Brahmaputra valley, and assimilated the later dominant, but numerically much smaller, Ahoms. The British established tea plantations which led to the recruitment of labour from Mundari-speaking tribes of Munda, Santal, Savara, Oraon, and Gond from areas of India to the west of Assam. There was also a large influx of service holders and professionals from Bengal, Rajasthan, Nepal, and Punjab. More ominously, to increase land productivity, the British encouraged Muslim peasants from Mymensingh district of present-day Bangladesh to settle in Assam that began in 1901.


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Jayeeta Sharma, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Toronto has a new book out on the history of Assam and its relation to tea.

In 1205 captive soldiers of the Turkic general IIkhtiyar Uddin Khilji, who served Sultan Aibak of Delhi, were settled in the Hajo area and became the first Muslims in Assam. But after independence in 1947 there was an influx of Bengali Hindus fleeing what was then East Pakistan. It was a portent of disturbing new developments. On 8 November 1998 the Governor of Assam submitted a report to the central government on illegal immigration from Bangladesh into this Indian state which began ( ):


Large scale illegal migration from East Pakistan/Bangladesh over several decades has been altering the demographic complexion of this State. It poses a grave threat both to the identity of the Assamese people and to our national security. Successive Governments at the Centre and in the State have not adequately met this challenge.

It detailed how Bihar and other regions had supplied labour for the tea plantations developed by the British and how Bengali Muslim peasants were utilised to bring virgin land under cultivation. It was originally envisaged that Pakistan would comprise Muslim majority provinces in the West and Bang-e-Islam comprising Bengal and Assam, in the East. Moinul Haque Chowdhary the Private Secretary of Jinnah, who after independence became a Minister in Assam and later at Delhi, told Jinnah that he would “present Assam to him on a silver platter”. Jinnah confidently declared at Guwahati that Assam was in his pocket. But Lokapriya Gopinath Borodoloi vehemently opposed it. Supported by Mahatma Gandhi he foiled this scheme to include Assam from becoming a part of Pakistan. Nevertheless they were by no means shelved:


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Continent of DINIA favoured by Choudhry Rahmat Ali who formulated the idea of Pakistan in 1933

Partition brought about a sea change in the situation. An international border now separated Assam and East Pakistan. Population movement from East Pakistan continued but it was initially mostly of Hindu refugees, fleeing from religious persecution. Unlike the West, where refugee movement lasted for a few months only, in the case of the East, this spread over several years and is still continuing. Hindu population in East Pakistan started declining steeply. In 1947 it was 27%, by 1971 it got reduced to 14% and by 1991 it was down to 10%. Along with Hindu refugees, Muslim infiltrators continued migrating into Assam for economic reasons. The movement of Hindu refugees into Assam got largely arrested due to anti-Bengali riots and as a result of violence in the wake of insurgency in the State. However, Hindu refugee movement from Bangladesh has continued to Tripura and West Bengal. Illegal migrants from Bangladesh into Assam are now almost exclusively Muslims.


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Hizbut Tahrir encourages Bangladesh to reconquer India for Islam. Demographic infiltration is an essential part of this process.

While western democracies have sought Pakistan as an ally right from the Cold War and later in a war against ‘terrorism’ for which it is largely responsible in the first place, it has chastised India for not respecting the rights of Kashmiris to ‘self-determination’. Pakistan meanwhile has had plans afoot to use western arms to annex other parts of ‘Hindu’ India:

Failure to get Assam included in East Pakistan in 1947 remained a source of abiding resentment in that country. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in his book, Myths of Independence wrote, “It would be wrong to think that Kashmir is the only dispute that divides India and Pakistan, though undoubtedly the most significant. One at least is nearly as important as the Kashmir dispute, that of Assam and some districts of India adjacent to East Pakistan. To these Pakistan has very good claims.”
Even a pro-India leader like Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in his book, Eastern Pakistan: Its Population and Economics, observed, “Because Eastern Pakistan must have sufficient land for its expansion and because Assam has abundant forests and mineral resources, coal, petroleum etc., Eastern Pakistan must include Assam to be financially and economically strong”.


These plans at Islamic colonialist expansion have even been used by the very state which India helped to liberate from Pakistan’s colonialist yoke. Having saved the Bengali Muslims from genocide after years of racist oppression by their lighter-skinned co-religionists in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, the former ‘wretched of the earth’ have started to repay India in the most ungrateful and backstabbing manner. Ironically in doing so, they have adopted the very Nazi-style thinking which they themselves suffered from Jinnah, Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto:


Leading intellectuals in Bangladesh have been making out a case for “labansraum” (living space) for their country. Mr. Sadeq Khan, a former diplomat wrote in Holiday of October 18, 1991, “All projections, however, clearly indicate that by the next decade, that is to say by the first decade of the 21st century, Bangladesh will face a serious crisis of labansraum… if consumer benefit is considered to be better served by borderless competitive trade of labour, there is no reason why regional and international co-operation could not be worked out to plan and execute population movements and settlements to avoid critical demographic pressure in pockets of high concentration…. A natural overflow of population pressure is there very much on the cards and will not be restrainable by barbed wire or border patrol measures. The natural trend of population over-flow from Bangladesh is towards the sparsely populated lands in the South East in the Arakan side and of the North East in the Seven Sisters side of the Indian sub-continent”. Mr. Abdul Momin, former Foreign Secretary and Bangladesh’s first Ambassador to China writing in the same magazine in its issue of November 22, 1991 stated, “The runaway population growth in Bangladesh resulting in suffocating density of population in a territorially small country, presents a nightmarish picture”. Urging that along with borderless circulation of goods and commodities there should be borderless competitive trade of labour, he proposed that “if we in Bangladesh ingratiate ourselves with the hill tribes within our borders, our bulging population might find a welcome in adjacent land inhabited by kindred peoples”. The views of Jinnah, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Sadeq Khan and Abdul Momin have a common thread running through them. No matter how friendly our relations with Bangladesh, we can ill afford to ignore the dangers inherent in demographic invasion from that country.


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The report says further:


There is no evidence of Bangladesh authorities organising the movement of population but they certainly have made no attempts to prevent it and indeed, may be welcoming it, to ease their problem of bursting population. Thus, there is now even an attempt to cover up this movement. Prime Minister Sheikh Haseena has recently asserted that no Bangladeshi is illegally living in India.


The consequences of ignoring such deliberate infiltration were stark. Not only would such illegals demand the merger of Assam with Bangladesh, but with the growth of global Islamic fundamentalism this could no longer be dismissed as mere fantasy. For India it would not just be the loss of territory but a major part of its natural resources in which Assam is rich:


The dangerous consequences of large scale illegal migration from Bangladesh, both for the people of Assam and more for the Nation as a whole, need to be emphatically stressed. No misconceived and mistaken notions of secularism should be allowed to come in the way of doing so.


There was therefore a massive difference in the reasons between Hindu and Muslims illegally infiltrating into India from Bangladesh:


Assam has 262 km border with Bangladesh out of which 92 km is riverine. In 1947 with the emergence of two dominions on the Sub-Continent, India and Pakistan, this became an international border. For the first few years, unrestricted trans-border movement continued in this sector. Bengali Hindu refugees from East Pakistan fleeing from their homes poured across the border seeking asylum. Concurrently, Bengali Muslims too continued to come across the border for economic reasons. There was also some movement of Muslims from Assam into East Pakistan.

Whereas in the West, the trans-border movement of refugees from India to Pakistan and vice versa was a deluge which lasted only a few months, in the East the situation was very different. Hindus from East Pakistan (Bangladesh) kept coming across for many years and indeed they still continue to come. Muslims from Assam going to East Pakistan were relatively in much less number. The traditional influx of Bengali Muslims into Assam continued unabated. The large scale movement of Bengali population, both Hindus and Muslims into Assam, caused considerable resentment among the Assamese people and there were instances of anti-Bengali riots.



When Civilisation meets its Opposite

The Bangladeshi Press for its part has highly critical of the designs of the “Hindu fundamentalist Government” in India, trying to throw out innocent Indian Muslims and dump them in Bangladesh, with one newspaper even demanding that Bangladesh seek assistance from the USA to deal with India’s arrogance. It was this same ‘arrogance’ which freed that country in the first place. Without Indian intervention Bangladesh would have remained the eastern colonial wing of Pakistan and its largely Muslim population the ready made human guinea pigs of military enslavement, sexual slavery and target practice. Western governments should ponder this when they act bemused at why people in Iraq and Afghanistan have turned against their erstwhile liberators and the very freedom and democracy which they were handed on an exquisite platter: plus several millions of dollars in aid and assistance.


From 1979 violence flared against illegal migrants with the Assam Agitation led by the All Assam Students Union and the ‘All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad’, who set an agitational program to compel the government to identify and expel the illegal immigrants. Most was not non-violent but there was the notorious Nellie Massacre on 18 February 1983 by Luhang tribals of over 2000 people in Nagoan district. The recent unrest in Assam was also not just a simple case of Assamese and Bengalis, nor even just Hindu clashes with Muslims. On 23 July 2012 the International Business Times reported that it was mainly Bodo tribals clashing with Bangladeshi Muslim migrants ( ). In its report however the media outlet also differentiates the different reasons behind why the majority community as opposed to Bangladesh’s major minority seeks refuge in India:


It is difficult to assess how many illegal immigrants are currently residing in India. Consider that in 1971, during the civil war in neighbouring East Pakistan (the former name of Bangladesh), at least 10 million Bangladeshis poured into West Bengal in India. The majority of those migrants were Hindus fleeing persecution (rape, murder, forced conversion, etc.) from Muslims.


Yet on 26 July the Times of India reported Congress leader Digvijaya Singh rejecting statements drawing a parallel between the communal violence in Kokrajhar and neighbouring districts of Assam and the post Godhra riots in Gujarat. Three days later Delhi-based senior journalist Kanchan Gupta explained the reality in India’s The Pioneer. In Congress has allowed this silent invasion, Gupta exposes the use of entrenched vote-bank politics ( ):


Little that has appeared in newspapers and been shown on news television reflects the magnitude of the latest round of communal violence to visit Assam, and even less explains why conflict is inevitable. That is how it is meant to be, lest the people know of the truth, and the truth exposes the Congress for what it has long been guilty of: Subverting India’s national interest for a fistful of votes at election time.


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Bodo victims of Bangladeshi jihad in India’s Assam state

In their desperation for “natural allies” the Congress and the Communist Party of India have for decades encouraged the infiltration of illegals from Bangladesh into West Bengal, Tripura, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh as well as Assam:


But, as I have often argued in the past, those who stand to gain from the votes of India’s bogus citizens as well as those who believe that there is nothing sacred about nationality, leave alone the nation, have successfully struck the issue of illegal immigration from Bangladesh off the agenda of public discourse. Practitioners of cynical vote-bank politics and fake secularism, who also happen to extol tolerance of the intolerable as the litmus test of liberalism, have united to erase what should have agitated every Indian from the collective consciousness of this nation. And they have succeeded in doing so. Nothing else explains why illegal immigration from Bangladesh finds no mention in either political debate or policy deliberation. Any effort, no matter how feeble, to raise the issue is met not only with fierce resistance but slander and worse.


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In Eastern Panorama, an Indian magazine specialising in issues affecting the north-east, Bibhu Prasad Routray how successive governments had failed to deal with the trickle of Bangladeshis which led to the recent clashes with Bodos, and had previously been the reason behind the Assam Agitation from 1979 to 1983. he All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU) says that the violence is a result of the larger immigration problem. ABSU President Rwngwra Narzary said:


The indigenous people (Bodos) are under serious threat of being overwhelmed by the immigrants. Large tracts earmarked for tribals have been encroached upon by migrants. Their number has increased to such a level that they can now easily attack the tribals and render them homeless.


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Kishanganj: December 17, 2008: More than 50,000 students assembled at India’s largest student movement rally against Bangladeshi infiltration and demanded to completely seal the India-Bangladesh border and put a check on infiltration in order to detach north-east India as part of an Islamic state.

The Assam Students Union (AASU) takes the ABSU claim further by pointing at the role of the Jihadis in the clashes. In a statement it said, the Jihadis from Bangladesh are said to have found shelter among the migrant population and are the key participants in the clashes. Supporting AASU’s stance, Bodo youth and student organisations, the Federation of Bodo Youth (FBY) and All Bodo Post-Graduate Youth Federation (ABPGYF), in a statement on 11 October said that SIMI, Indian Mujahideen, HuJI and many more Islamic terrorist outfits and fundamentalists are the real culprits behind the violence. Similarly, the youth organisation, Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chhatra Parishad (AJYCP) accused the Muslim settlers of unfurling Pakistani flags in Udalguri and Darrang districts. AJYCP president Putul Dutta said that the Assam government is shielding the Muslim extremists and indulging in vote bank politics in the State. Contesting the claims of the AJYCP, Mujammil Haque, General Secretary of All Assam Minority Students’ Union (AAMSU) defended rather unconvincingly with:


It is an Eid flag which may appear like a Pakistani flag because it also has a green background and a star and a crescent moon on it.


The Assam Government has asked for a detailed report on the flag, especially after some television channels aired clippings of it.



The Dawning of an Assam Tea Party?

As far back as 1940 that foremost of Indian revolutionary freedom fighters, Veer Savarkar, warned that Assam was being turned into a Muslim-majority region by deliberate design. By 2008, the number of Bangladeshi infiltrators in India was estimated forty to fifty million. In his 1994 book Is India Going Islamic?, retired Director General of Police in India Baljit Rai warned Bangladesh was harbouring the terrorist outfit United Liberation Front of Assam, as well as other separatist groups. In addition Pakistan’s ISI was helping these organisations in their designs to break from India turning the region into another Kashmir, in direct collaboration with the very country it tried to crush, Bangladesh. That country has long had one of the densest population densities of anywhere in the world and population growth combined with lack of effective birth control means that millions will have to emigrate. Infiltration into India has led to constituencies in India’s West Bengal being dependant upon the Bangladeshi Muslim vote and Hindus have been dispossessed of their property. Already in 1994 Rai wrote that these illegals were demanding a second partition of India to create Muslim Bango Bhoomi which would encompass Bengal, Bihar and Assam for its eventual amalgamation into Bangladesh. Intellectuals in that poverty-stricken failed state have started claiming the whole of India’s north-east as the natural route for population expansion for their country’s Muslims. Meanwhile the Hindu minority of Bangladesh has plummeted due to rape, massacre, expulsion and forcible conversion: and that was after the still yet unrecognised genocide by Pakistan military in 1971. Here is the irony. Pakistan was created as a safe haven from what even Professor Akbar Ahmed could gloat on BBC television in 1993 as being an area “free from Hindu reaction”. Yet it was Pakistan which oppressed, and in almost totality expelled, its Hindu, Sikh and Jewish minorities. In addition over three million Bengali Muslims were exterminated in 1971 as East Pakistan was forced to remain part of a deadly pan-Islamic embrace in order to prevent the birth of Bangladesh. While Pakistan wages proxy war through drawn out terrorism in Kashmir, as well as terrorist attacks in Delhi, Mumbai and other parts of India, Bangladesh has used over population as an excellent vehicle for the compulsory export of Islam and the Islamisation over large parts of north-east India. Anyone who dares point out this obvious fact is accused of being intolerant and that much used and abused favourite in the Left’s verbal warfare, a ‘communalist’. Does anyone care to point out why Hindus are not fleeing into Bangladesh and Pakistan? In fact if Pakistan was created as a safe haven from “Hindu reaction” why are not India’s Muslims trying to get into Pakistan and its by-product of Bangladesh? This is not just a case of failed states, poverty and failure to implement effective programmes of development. Just as in Syria this violence is the communal and sectarian birth pangs of a sinister new pan-Islamic caliphate. Assam is merely another part of dar ul-harb, infidel land which is destined to become part of dar ul-Islam: Islamic territory.

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Muslims are circumcised, but Hindus are not. This is how Pakistani armies identified ‘True Muslims’ during the war of 1971. The same trend has been followed in Bangladesh for singling out the ‘legally identified enemies’.

In the meantime the corrupt and inept Indian state, which through the patron-client system of License Raj has crushed many an entrepreneur and forced many patriotic Indians to reluctantly leave the land of their birth in order to make it in countries where the economy (as well as thinking) is not shackled to the whims of an omnipotent interfering officialdom, ignores the obvious as corrupt politicians fear losing their entrenched vote banks. The maze of rules and regulations which stifle the creativity of a people whose ancestors invented digital numerals and the concept of zero (without which binary and hence computing as we know it would not even have been possible), and put police on every street corner in order to extort money from hapless motorists, street vendors, beggars or just anyone whose face they do not like, is impotent when faced with real challenges to its power. American novelist Mark Twain famously remarked:

India is, the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only.


He would be horrified to see what has become of that civilisation which he lauded. Assam is merely the latest casualty in war of imperialism and the compulsory export of an intolerant ideology which threatens us all and the very concepts of freedom which we take for granted. Being optimistic it may also be the turning point, where India says enough is enough, with both oppressive statist government and a soul-destroying movement that spreads death and destruction in its wake.

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