28 February, 2021

In The Beginning Was The Loaded Word

How can a human being be ‘illegal’? How the language of dehumanisation is fuelling the Assam crisis.

Sandipan Chatterjee
In The Beginning Was The Loaded Word

The main discourse in Assam today is of the children-of-the-soil being pitted against the so-called “illegal Bangladeshis”. The term, which is sadly gaining casual usage, is erroneous, not to mention pejorative. As a professional historian, I can confidently speak of the artificiality of the construct of “legal” and “illegal” people in India. And as an “ethnic Assamese”—a term coined by Sanjib Baruah, a well-known Assamese political scientist based in the US—I am horrified by the reckless display of violence to establish Assamese superiority.

Hiding behind the discourse of rights in “our home”, we want to deny others their basic rights as human beings. By referring to people who don’t share our religion or language as “illegal”, we are dehumanising them and ceasing to think of them as people like us. A human is condemned and reduced to nothingness by one word—“illegal”—implying that his very existence is criminal. Even the British did not refer to us, their...

In this article:

More from Yasmin Saikia

Latest Magazine

March 08, 2021

other articles from the issue

articles from the previous issue

Other magazine section