Dispur [Assam]: Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP)’s Assam state coordinator Zamser Ali who is a highly respected human rights activist and journalist, was arrested in Mangaldai on May 7, in connection with a case where he had objected to communal social media posts made by Rupa Rani Bhuyan, who teaches English at the Mangaldai College. CJP unequivocally condemns this arrest as it is rather ludicrous to arrest someone for protecting and preserving communal harmony!
Brief background of the case
Rupa Rani Bhuyan came into the spotlight when she quoted a portion of an Assamese poem by noted writer-poet-playwright Syed Abdul Malik, out of context alleging he was ‘glorifying Mughals’. The post was circulated widely on social media. Malik was not only a Padmashree awardee and former Member of Parliament, he was well known for bringing out the beauty of Assam’s composite culture in his works. The post may be viewed here:
Infact, it was this post that got her so much flak that leader of the opposition in the Assam Assembly Debabrata Saikia as well members of All Assam Students Union (AASU) demanded action against her. An FIR was filed against her and she was arrested on May 6 for misbehaving with the police. She was charged under 353, 294 and 506 of the Indian Penal Code.
When Zamser Ali called her out for her virulent bigotry, little did he realise that he would be targeted for defending the composite culture of Assam!
Zamser Ali had used his Facebook and Twitter profiles to speak up against the blatantly communal posts by Bhuyan. After Bhuyan’s arrest, he was called to Mangaldai by the police to answer some questions and Zamser Ali being a law-abiding citizen cooperated fully with the authorities.
But on the evening of May 7, Zamser Ali was himself arrested under sections 294 (a), 295 (a), 500, 506 of the IPC read with section 67 of the IT Act! He has been remanded to judicial custody pending a bail hearing.
Needless to say, Zamser Ali’s arrest has sent shock-waves across Assam.
Rupa Rani Bhuyan’s history of communal posts
But this isn’t the first time she has made communally inflammatory posts. In a series of posts in Assamese that may be viewed below, Bhuyan had made disparaging comments against members of the Muslim community and their culture:
Sample this post by Bhuyan on Facebook blaming Muslims for the Covid-19 pandemic (direct translation from Assamese to English): “From Quaran, Allah has sent the Corona to India. At the Jihadi meeting in Nijamuddin, prepared the plans of Corona jihad and sending to India, Shaheen Bagh (sic).”
Or this post accusing Muslims of attempting to erase Hindu traditions: “To distort and ruin the Indian traditions, Hindutwa, language, culture, the Islamic narrative, Intellectual Jihad are continuing from the past.”
Another despicable jibe was directed towards student activist Safoora Zargar who was recently booked for her alleged role in triggering the Delhi violence: “Is it said that Allah’s gajab? Safoora an unmarried girl was very active in Shaheen Bagh’s protest. She is now three months of pregnant! Allah Gajab!”
Who is Zamser Ali
Shri Zamser Ali was born in Bijni on January 1, 1972, into such an impoverished family that the day of his birth was the third consecutive day his mother had been forced to go without food. But born of the womb of a starving mother, Zamser went on become one of the most inspiring and respected human rights activists of his time. Shri Zamser Ali is currently State Co-ordinator, Citizens for Justice and Peace, Assam.
The sheer grit, determination and commitment of Shri Zamser Ali’s life is worthy of note. As a child Zamser Ali suffered many physical ailments. He was paralyzed at the age of 8 and could not attend school for some time. Then his eyesight suffered as he was forced to study in the light of an oil lamp. From initially struggling with the academic burden at school, to taking interest in political science due to the encouragement received from a kind hearted headmaster, to eventually obtaining a master’s degree in History and also studying Law, Zamser overcame many challenges in his formative years. He loved to read and also helped finalise the synopsis material for Dr Amrendra Guha’s book on Assam’s peasant movement.
In 1990, Zamser Ali also started working as a freelance journalist. He was also active in the student movement. In 1996, on directions from the CPI(M), Zamser went to Bongaigan to lead the students’ movement in the region during a particularly turbulent time for the Left. He gradually emerged as a strong student leader recognised across Bongaigaon and Kokrajhar. But he drifted away from the party and eventually did not renew his membership in 2003 thus ending ties with them. However, his work in the fields of journalism and human rights continued.
He was deeply moved by the plight of people affected by the riots in the Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD) where over 3.5 lakh people were displaced. In 2012, he became president of BTAD Citizens Rights Forum and played a key role in demanding rehabilitation and compensation for people in the region. Zamsher Ali was also a spokesperson for the Sanmilita Janagoshthiyo Oikya Mancha, a forum of more than 20 organisations of Assam’s Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD) and had demanded an enquiry against violence against ethnic groups in areas that come under the BTC.
In January 2013, Zamser went to Delhi with the intention of bringing this crisis to the notice of the Prime Minister and President. He and his team stood at 278 locations and distributed pamphlets, just so that marginalised people could find a voice. This cost him his job with a local newspaper.
In 2014, Zamser Ali joined Dainik Ganadhikar and continued to bring to light the plight of oppressed and marginalised communities. Since 2017, he has led CJP’s Team Assam bringing succour, legal help and paa legal aid to hundreds of thousands in Assam. His writing as a journalist continued to be published in Sabrang India where he reported extensively from Assam on the suffering of Indians in Assam due to the citizenship crisis.
As State Coordinator for CJP, Zamser Ali has also played a key role in organising CJP’s Assam team of over 500 volunteer motivators and community volunteers spread across 18 districts to help people from far flung villages complete documentation and application procedure for various processes related to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam. He not only spearheaded a state-wide awareness campaign, but ensured door-to-door contact with people on the ground. He has, together with Team CJP, also helped secure the release of 15 people from detention camps in line with a Supreme Court order. Today Zamser Ali leads a team that is engaged in providing rations and relief supplies to some of the most impoverished people across the state of Assam.
This incident reflected by Dr. Monalisha Roychaudhury in her book Women in Spaces of Ethnic Conflict: Text and Context sums up Shri Zamser Ali’s vision. The book records a certain Alia Begum of Hapachara, resident of a relief camp set up after ethnic violence mention how Zamser Ali encouraged her to walk away from a proposed marriage and helped her gain financial independence by getting her admitted to a nursing college in Guwahati. “I secured 74% marks in the higher secondary but now my family wants me to get married to a boy who has studied till class VI and has a shop in the town nearby. But on the day of my marriage Mr. Zamser Ali, President, BTAD Citizen’s Forum, Kokrajhar, our invited guest, on his visit to the camp asked me if I was willing to continue with my studies. I took a bold step at that moment. I refused to get married and with his help soon joined a nursing institute in Guwahati.” (exact quote of Alia Begum, Hapachara at Page 132 of the book)
Once again, CJP condemns his arrest and urges the Assam state government to order his immediate release. Zamser Ali is not a criminal. If anything this act of defending Assam’s honour and culture should be celebrated as one of heroism!