A caged bird sang feverishly, not in a feathered choir of joyous self-abandonment, but songs of loss, pain and anguish following her imprisonment. Then in utter grief she died. There was no funeral for the caged bird, lonesome and forlorn, she just fell and was swept away by the shores of time. No one sang a dirge to the fallen bird; no one sings of the persecuted poet.
However, when a group of poets actually have an FIR lodged against them for inciting ‘xenophobia’ and for ‘creating an image of our state as barbarian in the eyes of the world’, I truly wonder what has become of my beloved country.
The poem ‘I am a Miya’ published on a Facebook post, goes like this:
I am a Miya
My serial number in the NRC is 200543;
I have two children
Another is coming
Will you hate him
As you hate me?
The poem and the subsequent FIR registered by the Assam police have to be seen in the light of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which is an attempt to identify ‘those who are outsiders’ and remove their rights to citizenship. Most of the people who have been made stateless -- as they have been unable to prove their citizenship by providing the relevant papers -- are Muslims.
The offending poet, Hafiz Ahmed, is from the Char area – the sandbars by the Brahmaputra -- where the poor and helpless Muslims were brought by the British from unified Bengal. It matters little that the offending poet is also the President of the Char Sapori Sahitya Parishad – a body of letters -- and that he has expressed an apology if his poem has offended anyone.
After all, the NRC will be finalised on August 31, and all dissent, indeed the poetry of pain and the poets must be banned, censored and gagged.
Just as the voice cannot carry the tongue and lips that gave it wing, the caged bird must sing. Her poetry is her own expression of experiential pain, anguish and discrimination in the face of the powers that be that drone on, trying to create a unified, lusty military anthem of one religion. The speaking of truth to power is being systematically throttled, but the caged bird cannot have her soul-song stymied.
This was a country that gave, in Kabir’s words:
‘Maati kahe kumhaar se
Tu kya ronde moye;
Ek din aesa ayega,
Mein rondungi toye.’
Roughly translated, the clay addresses the potter, how will you mould me; one day will come, when I will mould (rule) you.
In India, we have had several thousands of years of dissent, but the present day rulers assume we are mud under their boots to be trampled and must lie silent in the dirt.
In his poem, ‘Birthmark’, Khadar Mohiuddin, a Telugu poet writes:
‘Hindu – Hindu – Hindustan
Muslim go to Pakistan
Another place to go as well
You will know its name as hell.’
Mohiuddin is crying out aloud that he is a child born in free India, but,
‘They see 1947
In the umbilical chord, freshly cut
Its end still wet with the blood
Of the baby born in my house’…
This is the cry of the caged bird today; he has nothing to do with the barbarism unleashed during the Partition but is being made accountable for them as being a Muslim is attached to his name.
Is there, in present times, any meaningful discussion of unemployment, social security and the looming economic crisis compounded with climate change? Instead, we have the NRC that has made millions insecure and many thousands of people, stateless. Also where will these helpless people go, is any country prepared to accept them?
The plight of the Miya poets is akin to a woman trapped in a cycle of drudgery and household work. After a lifetime of bearing children, looking after the old, when she actually raises her head, she is told, ‘this is my house, you can go!’ Believe me, this is what millions of young daughters and women face but they do not have a voice to be heard.
Yet this house was envisaged by our founding mothers and fathers with a dream that all their children were equal and had a right to pursue their dreams. They did not ever imagine we would have to produce sheets of paper to prove our legitimacy.
The things you have to say no one can say them for you; that is why the caged bird must sing!
We must listen to her song and speak up for her!
The writer is a poet and an award-winning author & film-director. The views are personal.