On Maynal Haque and Bijoy Bania

Two strange characters in one strange story. When they met, history cried.

On 23 September, 28-year old Maynal Haque lay dying on a dusty patch of grassland under a sparsely-clouded sky in Assam’s Darrang district. He had just lost his home to a battalion of nearly 1500 security forces and bulldozers. He received a single bullet to his chest and it was sucking the last ounce of life left in him.

Then came Bijoy Bania – a photographer hired by the local administration. As if stomping on a fly that had already been squatted, Bijoy feverishly jumped on Maynal’s dying body and punched his punctured, heaving chest. Twice. As heavily-armed security forces looked on.

That single brief moment, caught unsparingly by a cellphone camera, captures multiple histories of hatred – stacked one upon the other. Maynal was hit by one bullet, but he died many deaths.

TRIGGER WARNING: VIOLENCE, DEATH

But who are these strange, grisly characters in this strange, grisly story?

One at a time.

Who is Maynal Haque?

Maynal Haque is many things at once. He is the all-weather bahiragata (outsider) in Assam. He is that alien, that termite, that infiltrator which the Assamese need to get rid of to redeem itself. In Maynal’s annihilation and misery, lies Assamese salvation and joy.

Maynal is that great historical enemy of the Assamese race whose loyalties lie in East Pakistan. He is CS Mullan’s “land hungry peasant” who trespassed a nonexistent colonial border to grab Assamese land. He is SK Sinha’s Bangladeshi invader who pushed Assam’s Muslim population up by many multiples overnight.

He is the average Assamese Nationalist’s settler colonialist who is out to occupy their beloved state.

Maynal, today, is also a national enemy. He is the Muslim that the ruling Hindutva monarchs want to expunge. He is that wretched invader of sacred Hindu lands and encroacher of Hindu temples. He is the beef-loving Muslim who slaughters and eats the holy cow.

Maynal is guilty, Maynal is guilty. Of what? Maynal is guilty.

Maynal is an absurd historical creature, a nobody lodged between two histories. Maynal is stuck in a rotting No Man’s Land – between Assamese jatiyatabad and Hindu rashtravad. In fact, he brings them both together. His mere existence fuels the fire of love between them. He is the great unifier.

Maynal, in short, is a multi-dimensional enemy for many, a microcosm of myriad animosities. He is the ultimate persona non grata in this part of the world today – both for an Assam paranoid about bidexis (foreigners) and an India doped on Hindu pride.

Maynal, strangely, is also an Indian citizen. He features in the glorious National Register of Citizens (NRC) and carries an Aadhar Card. Such is the profound paradox of being Maynal in today’s Assam.

Maynal, in fact, is so many things at once that he ends up being a bewildering abstraction.

But, the hatred that killed Maynal is not abstract. It is very specific. Which brings us to our second character – Bijoy Bania. Who is he?

Bijoy is the protector of the Axomiya jati. He is the vanguard of Axomiya jatiyatabad. He is a Khati Axomiya or ‘purebred Assamese’ – as also declared ceremoniously in his Instagram bio. His veins carry unsullied Assamese blood, and the pores on his skin ooze pristine Assamese sweat. He is the son of the soil.

Bijoy is a warrior. He is the MVP of modern Assamese history, the frontline commander in the Battle of Saraighat. He is the batman of Axomiya jatiyatabad.

Assam’s land under threat of evil Bangladeshi invaders? Call Bijoy. Muslim foreigners encroaching temple land? Call Bijoy. A dying termite who is still not dead? Call Bijoy. What a man.

Bijoy’s toned muscles, pumped with gym-induced testosterone, is testament to his valour and bravado. The gamusa around his neck is an even bigger testament – to his unflinching loyalty to the Assamese cause. The tiny tika (Hindu ceremonial mark) on his forehead? Well, that’s just a cherry on the cake.

Strangely again, Bijoy too is an Indian citizen – like Maynal. He probably features in the NRC and has an Aadhar – like Maynal. But, stranger even, he is not Maynal. He is the majestic king of the jungle, while Maynal is the sly little fox. There is an infectious sort of grace in Bijoy’s gait, in the way he stomps and punches a dying Maynal. What a brave man.

In short, Bijoy is a proud, nonviolent, secular, casteless Axomiya who wasn’t born out of a mother’s womb, but emerged out of the sacred soil of ancient Pragjyotishpur. No land title, birth certificate or voter list copy can validate Bijoy’s immaculate past. He is above documentary pettiness – reserved only for Maynal.

Maynal is abstract and complex. Bijoy is specific and simple. Yet, in this violent intersection of the abstract and the specific – captured in 1 minute 10 seconds by a random cellphone camera on 23 September 2021 - lies the story of Assam. A story stitched together by pride, blood and gore.

Remember Maynal when you think about Assam. Remember his historic courage, his martyrdom. But, also don’t forget Bijoy. Or his epic cowardice. If you think about them together, you can perhaps scratch the surface of the 21st century dystopia that is Assam.

Rest in peace and power, Maynul Haque.

Note by author: In an earlier version of the article, there was a sentence that used a metaphorical analogy on Lachit Borphukan. However, given that it could be interpreted literally and taken as an insult against the historical figure, I have now removed the line. The intent was never to hurt any particular community's sentiments here.


Featured image graphic by Suhail Mir. Taken from Twitter.