‘We are Asomiya’: Miya Poetry and Maulana Bande Ali

Miya poetry is a genre of resistance poetry – one where Bengali Muslims in Assam reclaim the racial slur ‘miya’ that has long been used to other them as outsiders or foreigners. The slur suggests that they are illegal immigrants – foreigners in their own country. In recent times, as was the case in the mid-1980s, the genre found takers both in the form of writers and as audiences. Following the Nellie Massacre of 1983, where political violence led to the killing of thousands of Muslims whose ancestors had migrated from East Bengal into Assam, poet Khabir Ahmed began his poem with this poignant statement:

“I beg to state that
I am a settler, a hated Miyah
Whatever be the case, my name is
Ismail Sheikh, Ramzan Ali or Majid Miyah
Subject- I am an Assamese Asomiya”

While now a recognized tool of resistance and reclamation of identity, the first work to fit into this genre is said to have been a 1939 poem titled ‘A Charuwa’s Proposition’ by Maulana Bande Ali or Mia Bande Ali. Bande Ali (1906-1979) was a writer, journalist, graphic-artist and designer who is said to have authored 84 books as well as produced poems, plays and children’s literature. His dexterity spanned over politics and protest too. While he refrained from explicitly using the word miya in his poem, one can mark his writing of it as a watershed moment in the establishment of this genre.  It was the first instance of ‘miyas’ asserting their identity and he certainly set a path for writers to follow.

A Charuwa’s Proposition 
Some say Bengal is my birthplace
And gloat in this bitter accusation
Well, before they came,
My father and my mother and many others
Left their homes, became country-less
How many people belonged to countries then
Who now wear the crowns and masks of leaders?
They are trapped by greed, I know
I quietly observe the language greed speaks.
But I will not tear the plate that feeds me
My faith will not allow me.
This land that I live in
I will revel in this land’s well-being.
The land which my Aai, Abbajan
Left for the heavens
This land is my own, my golden Assam
This land is my holy sanctuary.
The land I scrape to build my house
Is my own land
These are words from the Quran
And in 
it there is no falsehood

The people of this land are simple, pure
The Assamese are our own
We will share what we have in our shared home
And raise a golden family.

I am not a charuwa, not a pamua
We have also become Asomiya
Of Assam’s land and air, of Assam’s language
We have become equal claimants.
If Assamese dies, so do we
But why will we let it happen?
For newer 
tribulations we will build new weapons

With new tools we will build a new future. 
Where will we find such love, such respect
Where will we find such a place?
Where the 
plough cuts through earth and reveals gold

Where will we find such a land of grace?
Mother Assam feeds us at her breast
We are her frolicking children
Let us sing in one tune- we are Asomiya
We shall not be 

We will need no ‘borders’
We will be brothers
And when outsiders come to loot us,
We will bar them with our bare chests.

charuwa: from the Chars  
-pamua: settler

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