Bangla and a one way street

Have you ever heard stories on your grandparents lap, stories where they tell you how they left home with whatever they had on, never looked back, and started somewhere new, where they thought fear wouldn’t haunt them?
Have you ever felt the pain of betrayal, when a land you thought was yours, a country you had given your everything to suddenly turned around and said … your passport could be worthless, we don’t care that you were born here, prove that you are truly from this nation?
This is not a new story. You have maybe heard them before, maybe seen them in movies, but have you ever lived it?
I write today from a place of anguish, these are feelings I have been coming to terms with over the last few weeks, as deadlines for NRC (the Coordinator of National Registration) approach. If you are an Indian citizen, and you live in India, there is still a 90% chance that you don’t know what it is. That’s fine. Because that’s how the government wants it. Because apparently democracy works. And the Supreme Court of India can chose to uphold something entirely unconstitutional, simply because politics. Can we say woot woot?!
Hindu Bengalis left their land persecuted in 1947 and moved to India, a country secular on paper, a country they thought was going to be safe, would protect them.
But for those who moved to Assam, the story was different, it was very very different. For the past whatever number of years (who cares, for us it’s all the same) India has been, well, India, my family has called Assam’s Barak valley home. We are Bengalis, that is our language, our identity, our breath, our life. But the government of Assam has always wanted to take that away from us. They want our land, but not us. Well, newsflash, this land was a part of Sylhet, now in Bangladesh, it wasn’t yours to start with. They wanted us to give up our language and speak theirs. Why? Because imperialists come in every color, shape and form, and they never need a reason to impose ego maniacal superiority over anyone else, do they?
So here we are after years of bloodshed that has gone unreported and unrecognized, after several ways of trying to approach the problem peacefully, with the Assam government’s NRC. What is NRC? It is a validation process to prove to the government that we indeed, have lived there since the 50s’. They want to mask it as saying we want to kick out illegal immigrants, but so far, after a year into this witch hunt, only Hindu Bengalis who have lived there for three generations seem to have been excluded from a national citizen list. After already leaving everything they knew to be theirs, once again Hindu Bengalis are probably going to pack up 70 years of their lives, land, homes and move to God knows where because all of a sudden, the government refuses to acknowledge them as citizens.
So I am sitting her, an expat, far far from my homeland,a homeland I have heard my parents call “roots”, the place I call my “dadur bari”, my grandparents home, wondering, is patriotism a one way street? Am I, as a citizen, only obliged to love a country that has done so little for me or my kind? Does a country, and its people as a whole have no responsibility to ensure that all her citizens are at least given the basic human dignity to live as they wish?
My passport feels like sawdust to me. I feel like I belong nowhere. When no other country wants me, I want to think that my country, the place where I was born would, but for us Hindu Bengalis of Barak, even that one guarantee is being stripped away slowly. I am hurt, I am sad, but I am most of all livid.
Today happens to be May 19. Eleven innocents laid down their lives exactly 57 years ago for the right to speak Bangla, my language of love, my language of pride, the language I dream in. They were mercilessly shot down by Indian men in khakis, not by some external oppressor, but by men who look like me, share the color and the emblem of my passport, share my national anthem and my proud tricolor. And these 11 are dead, for what seems like a futile cause. My mother spent a night in jail when she was 14 for simply asking for the right to speak this language, and all for what? For years we have been peaceful, we have tried to come to the table with open arms, hoping and hoping that finally someone will be open to acknowledging our right to speak and learn our own language, not point a gun to our heads for wanting to do so. In my heart, I am done trying. I have finally come to this painful conclusion that patriotism is a two-way street, and my loyalty isn’t always going to be free or taken for granted.
Someone told me last Independence Day, let’s put the partition behind us, it gave us the opportunity to live in a better country after all. I disagree. For some, freedom from English colonialism only empowered them to spread colonialism of their own within their own country against their own people. So today, in honor of my glorious Bhasha Shaheeds (Language Martyrs), I say Inqualab Zindabad!
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