Can ULFA suggest us on Bihu?


It is painful to pick up the pen to write on the beloved Bihu and its current trends when the festive moods have not yet settled. As an Assamese it is always a proud affair to introduce Bihu among others as one of the few festivals that cut across religious and community lines to bring together the people of the blue hills and red rivers. It is a lifeline of the culture and traditions of the people of Assam. Late Radha Gobinda Baruah brought this institution from the fields and courtyards of the villages to the stages of Guwahati at Latasil. Since then till today Bihu programs have only been growing and today almost every locality celebrates or in other words organizes a Bihu function. While that seems like a good thing, recently such events and the artists performing in them have had to face criticism from various sections of the society. The principal allegation being that such events were diverging from the central idea and purpose of Bihu. Since the past few years stages have invited various artists from outside Assam as well to perform for the crowd. Mostly singers who were winners of reality shows came and performed popular Hindi numbers. Resentment from various sections of the society was visible. While some chose to voice against it overtly, covertly it was there in the minds of many and discussed in smaller circles. Various experts of the Bihu dance have also voiced against the growing commercialization and lack of interest towards the traditional and local art forms. A recent statement by the ULFA that notified Bihu committees to refrain from allowing performance of Hindi songs has caught the attention of many. Naturally words of agreement or of disproval have also started pouring in. This article has been written to view this proposition made by the banned outfit in singularity from all angles. Justifying anything about this particular move is not tantamount to giving a clean chit to them.

“A diktat is a statute, harsh penalty or settlement imposed upon a defeated party by the victor, or a dogmatic decree.” Before any discussion begins it can be very well realized that ULFA’s statement was far from this. It was one in its series of the perennial statements made to the people of Assam. Also important is to note that similar feelings have been spoken of by sections of the society previously to ULFA as well. Then why did this particular statement create such uproar? Was it a new way in which ULFA delivered its statement? Certainly not. It has always warned of consequences if their statements are not followed. Many a time their verdict has been overthrown by the people unless it is a call of Assam Bandh when it is overwhelmingly accepted. Indian citizens believe in the Indian democracy, it is ULFA who defies the Indian setup. As responsible citizen we must allow opinion to flow in even if it is by a banned outfit because at the end of the day their action does impact our consequences. Furthermore it is necessary that we keep rhetoric out of the picture and verify the basic premise and content of such a statement. Because rhetoric must have caused more harm to the state of Assam than any other in India. If we get provoked just because of the fact that ULFA made that statement and because of the fashion in which they did so, then we will hardly be able to distinguish ourselves from an irrational individual with preconceived notions.

So while narrating and analysing the incident two things are very important. Firstly these issues are always spiced up by agencies that can derive profit from it. Secondly it is important that we treat this statement as one in general instead of linking it time and again to ULFA as that makes the context lot more emotional. So after having said that there are few questions to which we must try and answer. Has Bihu been rooted deep into mainstream Assamese society that it faces no trouble in future? Are traditional rituals like Bihu dols performing Bihu at each courtyard still predominant in society? Lastly but very importantly are all folk performers economically sound and secured? If answer to any of the above is no then we must realize that although Bihu as a festival might still be having the same or greater love in our hearts, but on the ground times are changing. Unlike traditional celebrations Bihu stages are not an arena where everyone can be a spectator and a performer at the same time. The stage is set there for a bunch of performers to enthral a huge group of audience. So logically the stage cleared the space for more star performers or crowd pullers. So much so that today the first question that is raised by people regarding any Bihu function is, “who is the main artist?” Hence forth the focus and energy of most organizing committees have diverted towards collecting more funds to be able to afford such performers. Demand and supply takes its natural curve and hence forth the star performers cannot be blamed for it. It is the people and their judgements that are responsible for this. So given that these performers are heartthrob of the people who almost idolize them, they have a greater responsibility back to society, both in terms of their conduct and in order to maintain the legacy of our culture. Hindi might be one of the most popular languages of India and with the entry of bollywood into Assam few songs have gained mass popularity. The likes of Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar are still respected across the length and breadth of the nation including Assam. Music has no language, that’s true. But every musical concert or performance sticks to a genre or a set agenda unless it is a bollywood award ceremony. A rock concert can accommodate rock music in English, Spanish, and Hindi etc but certainly it won’t accommodate folk or metal.  Similarly is Bihu any other musical extravaganza or does it have significance? If we think it does have significance then is it not important to portray it in the correct light? Henceforth, out of the 52 weeks of the year leaving 1 week for our beloved Bihu should not be a difficult task. The reason we make this claim is because although some believe that Hindi songs are not an aggression to our culture, this capacity to visualize our culture comes only after a great deal of exposure. Most of the ears which are an audience to these Hindi numbers are but sadly unable to judge this perfectly.  Solely banning Hindi songs would not solve most issues faced by Bihu, may be it won’t solve any. But it is important that we look back at our age old tradition and try to rectify the steps that will help sustain it. ULFA raised an issue in this regard which must be logically dealt with rather than bringing it down in a jingoistic fashion by calling them murderers and extortionists. As free citizens we must be confident that our freedom to express has more power than their gun.  ULFA must be given the option to comment or suggest and we must consider that in our discourse rather than confirming it as a diktat.

558521_455785574496676_398625767_nIt can be agreed that when ULFA made this statement it was not one of the affirmatives. And people support affirmative thoughts rather than value judgements. Singularly taking a dig on Hindi songs and that too in a generalized negative form is what caused this trouble. But at the same time let us not refrain from looking at ourselves and realizing the double standards that we have set in our society. Many sections have repeatedly spoken against indecent behaviour of artists and on the issue of threat to Bihu due to entry of the Hindi songs. Just because ULFA made the statement made it much more lucrative for some to defy it for their benefit and for other to jump into that cult. Where do the same guts to defy their statement die out when a call for bandh is given? When dozens of people died in Rabha Hasong, when hundreds were drowned in Dhubri the front pages of the national media had other issues to be more interested in. But Zubeen Garg made the national news. Is this propaganda, or is this neutral journalism? I leave this to be answered by you. But the act of reacting so vigorously to the ULFA statement rather than simply allowing it to pass by is highly immature both for the artist and his fan followers.

On a finishing note I am running out of any Bihu naam in my mind to replicate this situation, so instead I pick the famous lines of Late Bhupen Hazarika whom we so dearly miss every Bihu, “Raij aji bhaworiya, dekhei naat ghor, kune ki bhau loba, aha xomoy je takor”


16 thoughts on “Can ULFA suggest us on Bihu?

  1. rahul deka

    i fully comply with the ethico of why a meagre 7days can’t be reserved solely for performing only Assamese numbers during the festive season of Bohag in various Bihu ‘pandal’s across Assam. I am neither an artist nor an armed-revolutionary, but as a conscious Assamese hope that our cultural society would refrain from implicating any other language,be it Hindi or Bangla, in true & positive spirit in the Bihu functionaries from next season.( songs of our local tribes Karbi,Miching,Bodo etc. are most welcome) .

    1. Arindam Baruah Post author

      I realized that bringing all that was inconsequential to this discussion. We Assamese have criticized them very overtly. This was a question of Bihu and its future, hence in my article you will read these lines; “This article has been written to view this proposition made by the banned outfit in singularity from all angles. Justifying anything about this particular move is not tantamount to giving a clean chit to them.” And then I moved on to address the main issue. Perhaps you should have done the same.

      Anyways, Thanks.

      1. Nilakshi

        I too realised that bringing it up would be inconsequential.. Coz people have started to give importance to controversies than striving for the betterment of the state.
        Your article was however very influential. Thank you for your time.

      2. Nilakshi

        This is indeed the first time. I am an engineering student of Jorhat Engineering College.

  2. lifeisbettertoday

    Media and other propaganda systems have made ULFA being perceived as an irresponsible organisation, only responsible for SULFA and terrorism. So every statement of theirs are met with ridicule and negativity, at least among media and certain section of the society. The moment the perception is questioned, the basis of the argument changes. We need to publish figures about how many ULFA surrendered, and what percentage is today known for their notoriety. We need to study who is creating an atmosphere of terrorism in the state. Is it really ULFA? It is a long debate… I hope Assamese people realises sooner than later.

    1. Arindam Baruah Post author

      Boss your replies are always apt, this one was a killer. Will strongly request you to write on the questions you raised towards the end of your comment. That will be a path breaker in thinking about the Assamese ideology and our concept of Nationalism

  3. Palash Ranjan Das

    It has always been a joy reading you, this time time around it was no different.
    The recent spate of debate regarding ULFA and its statement on Hindi songs in Bihu functions have once again shown the kind of paranoia as a community we are suffering from. It has shown us time and again that we drift away from the real issue when time demands otherwise. The issue was not whether Zubeen or for that matter any other Assamese singer shall sing Hindi songs or not, issue was whether we shall make efforts to keep the ethnic and folk character of Bihu intact or not? And on this we failed miserably to lead a healthy debate, and preferred to stick to rhetoric. On whether ULFA has the right to say what they have said on this particular issue or not is well a matter of much debate, fine let it be, but who will decide their rights as altogether is another matter. The democracy that we take pride in gave all the right to put their views forward, we agree or disagree those views is another thing. So from the perspective of the right to opine, yes ULFA still have it. Now, what media and the artist concern made out of this issue was a complete exaggeration without getting into the nerve of it and it can be very easily termed as an attempt to garner some cheap publicity. Bihu is the manifestation of our folk culture, and when we talk about keeping it in its purest forms possible, is not diabolical at all as the fans instead tried to color ULFA on this particular issue. We shall not forget, wrong people can say right things at times and this time ULFA said it. A lot has been talked about artistic freedom, but while talking about freedom that no one for once bothered to think of responsibility that freedom carries on its shoulder is in itself an example of our obfuscating demeanor as a community. Why Bihu can’t be celebrated as it should be, with its entire traditional flavor? Is it because it’s no more fashionable for many to do so or is it that we don’t take pride in our legacy, history and culture? In either of this, it is a lampooning sickness, something that needs serious correction at the earliest time possible. The bigger question is of identity, THE IDENTITY of this land, its people and its very ethnic and diverse culture is in need of serious efforts to be preserved and to be carried forward for generations to come and crooning of Hindi songs in Bihu functions in no ways going to do any good in this direction. Will those up on their heels to argue in favor of toxification of Bihu in the name of artistic freedom will ever allow Zubeen Garg to croon YA ALI instead of a Borgeet in front of the Guru Asana in a Kirtan Ghar? If answer is no, they are proved regressive by their own standard, if they says yes, they are not worth of the legacy that Assamese culture has. Is it not height of insanity that when our Dhulias, exponents of Ojhaplai, Tokari, Borgeeet, Jikir and many others involved in our traditional performing forms of art and craft goes to bed hungry, we are debating whether the well offs shall sing Hindi songs in Bihu functions or not? Shall not we be more indulged in finding a way out of this cultural misery of ours? The better thing to do could be is of enjoying Bihu in all its traditional vigor, and for that let us bring together all living in this land, let us dance and sing together and be festal with all forms of Bihu naams be it Karbi, Deuri, Bodo or Mising forms of Bihu or for that matter the very enthralling Jhumur. Let us tap our feet to the fine tunes of Tokari, or relax with known fervor of Borgeet, Lokageet and Jhikir. Let us be what we are and what we are good in. Let us be together to find our lost identity, so that when go beyond the chickens neck we can proudly say, Yes Bihu is our identity. Let us enjoy once Rongali Bihu this way, I am sure our future generations to come will cherish this day.

  4. Sudhir Handique

    Evolution is a natural process and is a fundamental truth. Everything undergoes evolution that means everything undergoes transformation. The bihu I have seen in my childhood in nineteen sixtees was different than what it is today. Every village used to have atleast one ” Huchori ” group who will go to every household in the village and surrounding villages and will perform bihu. Mosndtly huchori used to come in the night . We used to be mentally prepared to wake up in night to receive ” Huchori dal “. I myself have accompanied our village “huchori dal ” one night when I was in college. Today there are no ” Huchori dal ” . If some body wants to see them they will have to be invited paying a few thousand rupees. Dancers were boys dressed in girls cloth. A girl dancing in Huchori was unthinkable. For today’s generation a boy dancing in girls cloth in Bihu is unpalatable. These are Change – evolution.
    Garba dance ( Nava ratri ) of Gujaratis are as close to their heart as Bihu is for Assamese. Basically it is a religious festival where portrait of goddess Amba ( Durga ) is kept at the center and people dance around the goddess singing songs. In late seventies I saw emergence of ” Disco Garba “. There were murmurs of protest at “degeneration” of the Garba but latter on it became routine . So we have to accept change in Bihu also.


    But I also appreciate the efforts to preserve the original forms of art and culture. If we know the original form then we understand the process of evolution Change should be within a defined matrix or what is called proper. It will not be proper to sing ” Ya Ali ” in front of a hindu deity. It is not artistic freedom.

    Now bihu is not in ” Huchori ” it is in stage. When people come to enjoy bihu function they do not come to see only bihu dance but a mixed program. So there is no reason why there should not be hindi songs in Bihu function. These mixed programs will bring non-Assamese people to the bihu functions. We should know how to get other people involved in our activities.

    Ulfa’s call to avoid hindi songs is a political initiative conforming to their anti India philosophy. We should not expect indepth thinking from them. So in this case we should have neglected their comment. In my book ” Into the heart of darkness ” I have written that their philosophy of independant Assam is not based upon correct economic data and indepth thinking .The noise created is due to media which is only after sensation.
    Sudhir Handique

    1. Arindam Baruah Post author

      Thank you so much for such a well explained reply. It will be my pleasure to go through you book “Into the heart of darkness” entirely. Please let me how I can access a copy of it.
      Also I would like to say that your idea of evolution is very true, Bihu has been evolving and it will evolve. And so has many other art and dance form of India. But this particular incident that rocked Assam was a war of words between Bihu (both traditional and modern) and Bollywood music. It was not a debate between modern Bihu and traditional Bihu like the example of Garba and disco Garba which you gave. That is the reason why may be most people found it hard to see any positive evolution of Bihu through such Bollywood Hindi music and hence the opposition.

      1. Sudhir Handique

        i am sorry I could not make the point clear, When it was Huchori it was only Bihu Dance. Now when it has come to stage as a Bihu function it has evolved . It will contain other programms also – like modern songs, Satriya dance etc. Why not Hindi songs, Bengali songs or Marathi songs ? Why we narrow down ourselves that in a Bihu function we should entertain only Assamese knowing persons ? Why we donot broaden our view that we should have programms for people living in Assam who do not know Assmese ? Should we be fanatic or should we try to embrace others also ? Being such fanatic we have lost a Greater Assam. There are Hindi songs in Garba. There are Hindi songs in Durga Puja.
        If you open up your arms to embrace you will have more well wishers. If you narrow down you will loose more and more people. Why Khasis or Mizos or Nagas will like us ? Did we showed their culture in Bihu functons ?

        If you include Hindi songs for 10 or 15 minutes you are not loosing but gaining well wishers from Hindi speaking people living in Assam. Let us not be ” Assamese fanatic”.

        When I formed the Assam Association , Bombay, in 1979, some people objected and told it should be Akhom Samaj, Bombay . I told that it is not only for Assamese speaking people but for people of Assam. Any person from Assam should feel that they can become member. In fact I kept membership open to all people from NorthEast. Right from begining we have Manipuri , Khasi and Tripuri members. Even now also we have Missing , Boro etc as members although they have their community Association. They like to be part of the Assam Association because it is Assam Association not Akhom Samaj.
        People were insisting that Assam Association circulars should be in Assamese only. I refused and it was in English and also in Assamese whenever it was possible to type in Assamese. Children born in Mumbai cannot read or write Assamese. So if it is only in Assamese our own future generation gets cut off. Do we want to be fanatic and destroy the future ? Association is for whom ? Is it not for our children ? It was not easy to counter the fanatic forces – but I stood firm to preserve the future.

        Living outside Assam for more than 40 years I have realized that our “Assamese fanaticism” has destroyed the old Greater Assam. So let us have a paradigm shift and learn to embrace and not to restrict. In Assam Association, Bombay Bihu programms I used to include Marathi and Gujarati items. It has given us benefit- Gujarati and Marathi youth came to learn Bihu dance. So a few minutes of Hindi song is not going to harm Bihu.

        Sudhir Handique.

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