The Paresh-Barua-led faction of insurgent group United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) on Thursday sought to threaten popular Assamese singer and composer Zubeen Garg against defying the outfit’s ban on the performance of Hindi songs in the ongoing Rongali Bihu festival. The festival is celebrated by the people of the State to welcome the Assamese New Year and the arrival of Spring.

Unfazed by the threat, Mr. Garg said an artist could not be dictated to. He said he would live with his own freedom and would sing more of his own Hindi songs during his scheduled Bihu programme in the city on Thursday.

He also announced at a press conference, hours after the ULFA faction issued the warning through e-mail to a section of media, that he would sing a Hindi song composed by one of Assam’s culture icons, Jyoti Prasad ‘Rupkonwar’ Agarwala, in the programme.

Mr. Garg said the ULFA should not interfere in cultural matters. While Mr. Garg sang his own Hindi number upon audience request at the Bihu programme, other artists refrained from honouring such requests in view of the ULFA diktat.

The ULFA faction issued the threat to Mr. Garg after he sang a popular Hindi number ‘Ya Ali’ — which he had sung in Gangster — while performing at the Guwahati Bihu Sanmilani at Latasil on Monday night. “We appealed to the organisers of the Rongali Bihu function, artists, to refrain from performing Hindi songs at least during the Bihu programmes. While all other artists displayed their national responsibility and consciousness by heeding to our appeal, Zubeen Garg has wilfully violated it….. He is an agent of Hindi aggression [in] Assam. If he continues… then our contradiction with him will take the turn of a conflict, and… ULFA will not be responsible,” said the ULFA’s statement. The organisation also flayed the organisers of the Latasil function for allowing Mr. Garg to sing Hindi song.

‘Language no barrier’

Mr. Garg, on his part, has insisted that music has no language barrier.

“Bihu is celebrated by all sections of the people living in Assam and is not a festival of only Assamese people. It is a festival of people without any boundary. Assam is part of India. We are very much Indian. We should instead make this festival more popular across the country by inviting singers and musicians from different nooks and corners of the country [who speak] different languages and [are] of different cultures. No one should dictate [to] us what we should do. I have sung 15,000 Assamese songs, also in indigenous languages like Karbi, Bodo, Mising [over the] 20 years of my singing career. I have sung in Bengali, Hindi too. Artists of our genre have earned national fame by singing popular Hindi numbers as well as singing in other languages. Hundreds of artists from Assam are currently working in Mumbai trying to establish [themselves] through hard work. Will the ULFA ask them to come back? I appeal to Mr. Paresh Barua to review their stand,” Mr Garg told The Hindu.

Speaking over phone from Mumbai, veteran filmmaker Jahnu Barua underlined the need for sharing of culture: “As an artist, I believe that culture is innovation. It should not be politicised. Every culture has its own beauty. That beauty needs to be shared. Humanity can come to the forefront only through more sharing of culture. I feel sharing of culture is very healthy in human evolution. Because of that, human evolution has taken place in a positive manner.

Mr. Garg said Hindi was the country’s national language and it was a mistaken perception that Hindi songs would destroy Assamese culture.

Keywords: Zubeen GargULFA