Fanning the Char-Chapori Flame

Wednesday, 27 January 2021



Fanning the Char-Chapori Flame

Swapnil Bharali | November 08, 2020 13:55 hrs

The controversy of the week – the one closer to home and not in faraway Mumbai - has remained the demand for showcasing the char-chapori culture in Srimanta Sankaradeva Kalakshetra even though the matter should have hardly beckoned the controversy that it already has.   

For one thing, the char-chapori culture is clearly about the migrant settlements on the shifting sand bars (or chars) and riverbank (chaporis) of the Brahmaputra and as designed to be described by the current dispensation in power, it is an entirely different ‘civilisation’ that does not conform with the Vaishnavite culture that the Kalakshetra serves to portray and propagate. 

We can’t deem anything wrong in this observation and statement of the government. The Kalakshetra was conceived with the exclusive prerogative of encapsulating and thereafter displaying the Vaishnavite way of life promulgated by guru, Srimanta Sankaradeva and which has been adopted by the greater Assamese society. Any attempt to dilute this aspect is tantamount to disrespecting the Assamese Hindu societal sentiment and tarnishing the religious fabric. The char-chapori culture apart, even an attempt to bring in the Hindu Shakti culture into the Kalakshetra would be as great a sacrilege. 

And so, we can only conclude that the demand made by the Congress MLA from Baghbor, Sherman Ali, was either out of complete ignorance and respect for the greater Assamese cultural fabric or a wilful act of blasphemy designed to rustle up a political storm ahead of the elections. What is laughable is the opposition drumming up support for the demand; this speaks of the levels to which politics has stooped.

At the same time, the char-chapori inhabitants comprise around 10% of the state’s population and its complex history dates back to chapters in proper history textbooks that hold records of the early 1800s. Through this period up to the modern times, it will not be wrong to say that there has been assimilation with the indigenous Assamese society to a great extent. Char-chapori students have studied and educated themselves in Assamese schools through the decades and today, despite clear indications of the continued existence of the ‘blue-green lungis’ within this community, Assamese dhotis have also unmistakably been photographed. Yet, various political compulsions (or vote bank politics) over the decades have resulted in no holistic advancement of this impoverished lot and 80% of these roughly 30 lakh people continue to remain below the poverty line.

As such, the situation is far more complex than two warring political parties exchanging verbal fisticuffs over an issue that seems petty given the larger picture. After all, we are dealing with human lives – lakhs and lakhs of them – who find themselves in this unenviable situation of poverty through a century and a half as unfortunate victims of a deadly political game. 

The latest gambit that was employed by Sherman Ali and his supposedly ‘impassioned’ demand that the char-chapori culture be incorporated in the Kalakshetra, is nothing but another attempt to fan the sentimental fires between the chapori and indigenous communities with no tangible design or plan to improve their economic condition. Displaying char-chapori culture at the Kalakshetra would in no way improve the economic condition in the char areas. Or am I wrong? Such improvement has, anyway, never been the sincere effort of any political party so far and it does not need mention as to which party had been in power for long years and could have taken up the economic cause of the char-chapori settlers. I mean, the physical condition of the chars and chaporis change according to the whims and fancies of the river; to put it mildly, the very ground beneath the feet of these settlers is unstable and adds to the uncertainty of their lives to that extent. 

So, Sherman Ali masquerading as a messiah with his pathetically unjustified demand makes no other sense than him playing the polarizing card ahead of the state assembly elections at the expense of the aspirations of a lot that has seen nothing but abject poverty and uncertainty throughout their lives. And he clearly got the riposte that he deserved.

These are dangerous fans to flame; they prey on the human mind that is constantly struggling with financial fragility. Ahead of the elections, the mala fide intentions of all concerned are all the more visible and no one is a fool today.

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