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Out on a mission

As she takes yet another daring step, this time to set right the disharmonious political system of Assam, Indira Goswami, the celebrated writer, talks about her experiences to NITI PANTA.

BE IT a life threat for her controversial writings or a face-to-face encounter with the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), nothing daunts this intrepid explorer to continue writing on social or political issues that the State has been grappling with for so many years. One of the most celebrated writers in the vernacular and a Jnanpith Award winner, Indira Goswami, talks about her experiences as she takes yet another daring step to contribute to solving a disharmonious political system of Assam.

Q: You are penning a book on the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA). How did the idea hit you?

A: I accidentally visited the ULFA transit camp around 12 years ago. Since I've had a great association with students all my life, some of the students in Assam invited me for a talk by Bishnu Rabha, where I discovered that those students were ULFA members. I was also invited to visit their transit camp, which terrified me at first but I was touched to see them involved in welfare activities despite having taken up arms. A few days later, I learnt that all the boys I met were killed in a military encounter, except for one, who was imprisoned and continued to write to me. This incident inspired me to pen a book on their life, which is still in progress.

Q: From a caste riddled world in "The Shadow of Kamakhya", and an impassioned plea against animal sacrifice in "Chhinamasta" to life of ULFA militants. It's a complete transition.

A: Most of my writings have a humanist theme. Animal sacrifice has been an age-old tradition in Assam and surprisingly no one has ever protested against such gruesome practices in the name of religion. There was a hue and cry when I wrote against such an inhuman practice. Although the priests of the Kamakhya temple protested the theme of my novel and one of my old publishers even refused to publish my book, I had the support of a large section of Assamese society and people like Anuradha Barpujari - editor of a weekly. ULFA too has been a serious problem in Assam for 25 years and there has been so much bloodshed. We Assamese have witnessed a lot of killing in our State and I personally have lost some of my colleagues and a close friend. This has to end somewhere. All that is required is awareness among people which can be effectively brought about by writing on such social and political issues.

Q: You now play an intermediary between the Centre and ULFA.

A: It was a personal desire to help in this situation and if this one step could change things I was most willing to take the plunge. I don't like to be termed as a `mediator' but have simply requested the government to talk to the militant group and my role ends here. Q: There have been several attempts for negotiations earlier. Sanjay Hazarika and even singer Bhupen Hazarika have sent appeals but in vain.

A: It is for the first time in 25 years that ULFA has agreed for talks with the Centre. I am not aware of the strategy of other people or do not know why attempts of people like Sanjay Hazarika or Bhupenda failed to show results. I saw ULFA Chief, Paresh Barua, who approached me for the same - probably because I have known them for some time now.

Q: Do you think your effort will bring results? Is your strategy any different?

A: My strategy is a simple appeal to the government written after consulting senior professors and my colleagues in Delhi University and it requests the government to invite ULFA for negotiation.

Q: Are you positive about the negotiations taking place? How has the government reacted to your plea?

A: The State government has agreed to support me, though the Centre's approval is still awaited. Since ULFA is ready to negotiate it makes things easier for the government. Q: Don't you think regional writing is yet to make a mark in Indian literature?

Well regional writing has come a long way though it's still underrated by Indian publishers. I can vouch that there are any number of regional books through which publishers can popularise good writing.

I personally feel that English writers in India don't cover the experience of real India. Without knowing the regional languages they cannot write with a true sense of feeling.

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