Leftist propaganda website The Wire has problems with lots of things, like toilets, cooking gas etc. The latest to be attacked by the website is the humble gamosa from Assam. The rectangular piece of cloth which is one of the most well-known symbols of Assamese culture is actually a symbol of insecurity, declares The Wire.
The reason? The Wire thinks a lot more people are seen with the gamosa around their neck these days. Hima Das, the sprinting sensation from Assam, had it with her after she won medals at international events. People going to watch a cricket match at the newly built cricket stadium in Guwahati were seen with the gamosa on them. Basically, everyone in Assam carries the gamosa with them, suggest the article. And somehow, in some convoluted, liberal way, that is related to the ongoing process of updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam.
Out of nowhere, the article on Gamosa brings the brutal killing of two youths in Karbi Anglong district in Assam by a mob. During that time, the rumour of child kidnappers roaming the streets was going on full fledge and people would suspect any unknown people seen in their area. Local people thought the two Assamese youths were child kidnappers, and brutally killed them, while video recording the event. This was the second event of non-Karbi people killed in the district mostly inhabited by people from Karbi tribe. In 2013, one 21-year-old young man named Jhankar Saikia was beaten to death by auto-rickshaw drivers in Diphu town when he refused to pay ₹10 more.
After both the incidents, ‘Assamese’ youths killed by Karbi people were raised. But the writer mistakenly assumes it to be an effort to impose a notion of Assamese identity on Karbis. Of course, the Karbi people, including all other tribes in Assam are Assamese people. But in Assam, the words ‘Assamese people’ are also used to refer to caste Hindu Assamese people, the non-tribal people in the state who speak the Assamese language as their mother language. It is just a nomenclature of convenience, as unlike the Karbis, the Bodos, the Misings, the Rabhas, the Ahoms, the Tiwas, the Dimasas, the Marans, the Mataks, the Sonowal Kacharis, the Bengalis etc, the non-tribal indigenous Assamese speaking people don’t have a separate community/ethnicity name, and that’s why they are usually referred to Assamese people.
It does not mean that only they are ‘Khati Assamese’ (real Assamese), it is just a shortcut to differentiate them from other tribes and communities in the state. The Wire is completely wrong in this assertion.
Coming back to Gamosa (not Gamusa, the mo in Gamosa to be pronounced as the mo in mole), The Wire in the second paragraph correctly says that it is used by all irrespective of ethnic background. But just a few paragraphs below, it makes a 180° turn asserts that Gamosa is not a cultural symbol for all and asks why the other versions of the gamosa of different tribes are not seen in public. Well, that is a weird question, if the gamosa belongs to all communities and not just Caste Hindu Assamese, what is the problem if everyone carries it?
The gamosa is a rectangular piece of cloth woven on a handloom. The most familiar form is white with red borders. The borders on the long side are stripes, while the borders on the short sides are intricate designs woven into the cloth, never embroidered. This is the gamosa that is used to facilitate dignitaries at public events. Gamosa is also an integral part of the Bihu festival. It is wrapped over the Bihu Dhol, the men use it as headscarf during Bihu dance. During Bohag Bihu, newly woven gamosa is gifted to family members and relatives.
Gamosa is also an integral part of religious rites in Assam. A gamosa around the neck is a must while offering prayer at a Namghar, the Vaishnav shrine. The Sanctum Santorum of the Namghar also must have the gamosa, where it is laid on the Guru Aaxon. Often such gamosas are woven with religious motifs.
Yes, gamosa is an integral, inseparable part of Assamese identity. But no, keeping it on you all the time will not ensure inclusion of your name in NRC, that is one of the dozens of misconceptions about the NRC process. Only some political parties and left-wing media outside Assam are worried about NRC, the people in Assam are generally cool about it. In fact, there is no protest in the state despite such a large number of people being left out of the final draft of NRC. The state is seeing massive protests over the proposed citizenship amendment bill, none on NRC. So, the assumption that more people are carrying the gamosa for the NRC is baseless and wrong.
But do we see more people with gamosa these days? Perhaps yes. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seen with regularly, not just when he is in Assam. Even leftist activist Yogendra Yadav is always seen with a gamosa around his neck. Like Hima Das, more and more people from Assam have received national and international fame. More people from the state are seen on national television these days, and often such people carry the gamosa with them. It is just a matter of a particular item becoming popular, like a food item or a music form.
Moreover, like Modi jacket, the gamosa has also become a fashion statement due to its increased visibility. It does not have anything to with proving one’s identity. And people love it when their cultural symbol is seen carried by an international leader, an international champion, or a Kaun Banega Crorepati winner, only a few leftists may cringe at that. Rest assured, it is not a matter of concern at all.
Nobody is being forced to carry the gamosa, not even indirectly. People are doing it on their own. It does and cannot suppress the identity of other tribes in the state. The Wire should stop worrying about such non-issues, and stop attempting to create animosity in the minds of tribes in Assam against other communities in the state.
Corporate Dropout, Freelance Translator