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Assam’s maligned district gives humane touch to lockdown

Dev Kumar [in bluish-black dress] with some of the Muslim toymakers from Bihar at his house in Dhubri town.   | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The COVID-19 lockdown has revealed the humane face of western Assam’s Dhubri, a much-maligned district because of its large population of Bengali-speaking Muslims.

On Friday evening, Dev Kumar heaved a sigh of relief when he saw off 13 Muslim toymakers on a bus to Bihar. From Khagaria and Saharsa districts of Bihar, these 13 had been his guests since the lockdown began past March 24 midnight.

“They got permission to travel after spending all these days with us. We tried our best to make them comfortable, but they were longing to return to their families especially with the Ramzan month on. I wish they reach home safely without any problems on the way,” the 55-year-old Mr. Kumar told The Hindu from Dhubri town.

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Dhubri is about 260 km west of Guwahati.

Mr. Kumar’s great-grandfather had settled in the Nuniyapara area of Dhubri town from Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh. He has continued with the pottery business passed down the generations, sustaining his family of eight, including three brothers.

Annual visitors

The Muslim toymakers come to Dhubri every year around March and stay temporarily to sell their wares at fairs across the district. Mr. Kumar provides them with the raw materials such as bamboo and pottery items.

“We would have had a tough time fending for ourselves had Devji not let us stay at his house and provided us with food as well as facilitated our Ramzan prayers and Iftar. It was difficult to bid him goodbye at the bus station,” Md Ajmal, one of the toymakers from Khagaria district said after the bus with 19 people left for Bihar.

The other six with a different skill set stayed with another Hindu family in the same locality.

‘Humanity is norm’

“Such an instance of humanity is the norm, not an aberration in these parts, where 5,000 years of Hinduism and the Sufi strain of Islam have taught us to respect one another. Unfortunately, it is usually the conflicts and conspiracy theories that get focus,” said Masud Akhtar Zaman, a Dhubri-based lawyer who had been keeping in touch with the toymakers.

According to the 2011 Census, Muslims comprise 79.67% of the total population of Dhubri district, which shares a 135km border with Bangladesh. The district is often regarded as a “Bangladeshi hub” because of its demography and geography.

Last rites performed

A few days ago, about 25 Muslim men had performed the last rites of Shanti Choudhury, a 75-year-old widow of Panbari village. There are three Hindu families in the Muslim-dominated village 20 km from Dhubri town.

“Members of her family were stranded outside Assam and could not come because of the lockdown. As neighbours, it was our responsibility to call a Hindu priest and carry her body for the ritualistic cremation,” said Dilower Hussain, a local member of the All Assam Minority Students’ Union.

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Printable version | Sep 28, 2021 1:41:39 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/assams-maligned-district-gives-humane-touch-to-lockdown/article31595383.ece

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