Psychology behind NRC mirrors narrow, dominating side of Assamese language, and its fragile nationalism, cultural identity

  • In order to understand the psychology of NRC, one needs to ask the question who are the sympathisers of NRC and what could be the economic and psychological basis of its appeal

  • NRC psychology shares disturbing similarity with the history of Nazism whose sympathisers not only share similar profile with the well-wishers of NRC, but they share the hatred against racial and political minorities, as well

  • The liberating potential of NRC which was sold by the Left and Liberals in Assam is a contradiction which ought to haunt them. There cannot be a bigger fallacy of intellect or political calculations

On 20 October, 1945, Gustave Gilbert, an American military officer and psychologist who was trained in Columbia University, arrived in Germany's Nuremberg to attend the trails of Nazi war crimes. He worked as a 'moral officer and translator' in the trails and later became known as 'prison psychologist'.

Gilbert was invested in studying the psychology of Nazism through his interactions with the defendants in their cells. He found them to be anxious as they found themselves in the middle of the trail. He summarised those conversations in the form of detailed notes which was turned in to a book called the The Nuremberg Diary published in 1947.

During the testimony in the Adolf Eichmann's hearing, he noted in one of his statement that 'it apparently meant nothing to him (refereeing to Rudolf Hoess, the Commandant of Auschwitz) that he had murdered millions of people, he had no hesitation in describing everything in detail, and without any attempt to share blame, or to prepare a defence or anything'.

Racial superiority marked the ideology of Nazism, which was pushed in Germany by Adolf Hitler, found support of the intellectuals at that point. Gilbert found that Nazis lacked empathy and any kind of remorse. Even after killing millions of people, the officers who carried out the orders remained unfazed and sometimes even lacked any conscience of the crime they participated and committed. They were no more than 'murderous robots' for Gilbert. Anti-Semitism took over their life and they guided their ideology.

 Psychology behind NRC mirrors narrow, dominating side of Assamese language, and its fragile nationalism, cultural identity

File image of people waiting their turn to file NRC claims at Sipajhar NRC Seva Kendra. Bidisha Barman

If psychology of Nazism shows us the savage part of that ideology, the sympathisers of NRC shows us a lack of moral compass, guilt, empathy for other humans and a fetish for a homeland which is no less anti-Semitic in terms of who it wished to exclude. Assertion of Assamese identity and how the outsider is framed in Assam is also blatantly racist in character.

One of the ways in which Nazi ideology was foregrounded was by misinterpreting religion. Hitler thought that by "standing guard against the Jew, I am defending the handiwork of the Lord". In Assam, we see a cultural and political distortion of who is an Assamese and what ought to be the measurement of culture, not just in theory but also in practice.

In order to understand the psychology of NRC, one needs to ask the question who are the sympathisers of NRC and what could be the economic and psychological basis of its appeal.

The illustrious list of sympathisers forms the basis of understanding the psychology of NRC. Like in the case with Nazism, they share immense hate for the outsider and the stranger. Their very presence unsettles them and espouse a fixed and narrow idiom of culture, race, ethnicity and kinship.

NRC sympathisers are also captivated by a theory of scarcity, similar to how the Nazi's though of scarcity. It is certain in their minds that the 'Bangladeshis', the aliens are the primary causes of landlessness, even ecological degradation. This notion of scarcity and purity is not just in terms of material things but perceived culturally and psychologically, too.

NRC psychology shares disturbing similarity with the history of Nazism whose sympathisers not only share similar profile with the well-wishers of NRC, but they shared the hatred against racial and political minorities, as well. They, too, showed comfortability with the idea of camps, confinement and reduced rights of people. The hate directed at the 'Bangladeshi' in Assam, even after NRC, is an example of how racial and political minorities are framed in the state.

The desire for domination, and marking who is an outsider, is evident in the push for a narrow caste Assamese identity premised on the hegemony of Assamese language. The opposition to Miyah poetry, even by the intellectuals in the state, shows the fragile Assamese ego and nationalism that centers on the fetish of one language. NRC mirrors the narrow, selfish and dominating side Assamese language and in turn, its fragile nationalism and cultural identity.

There were a significant group of working-class people, and others too, who did not share the optimism. Similarly, the working class, the liberals and the Catholic bourgeoise also did not agree with Nazism, but at the same time, also never showed inner resistance, Erich Fromm noted.

It is possible that people in Assam who shared an ambivalent position about NRC, now rationalise their suffering of having been forced to be a part of the NRC process by blaming the presence of the 'Bangaldeshi', despite not wanting something like NRC. In other words, NRC amplifies the antagonisms between social classes and legitimises social stigma of being an outsider. Moreover, social stigma can never be erased through a bureaucratic and legal exercise because they reside deep in our consciousness.

One of the ways in which psychological literature justifies Nazism is through the use of sexual repression that gets manifested in the form of such a racist epithet ingrained in its ideology. In doing so, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari refers to the 1933 book The Mass Psychology of Fascism of Wilhelm Reich in situating fascism at the molecular basis of fascism - in the family.

We were born and brought up in Assam and were told to hate the 'Bangladeshi' everyday of our life. Our introduction to the Bangladeshi is one filled with suspicion, an outsider, a migrant and a land grabber, among others.

The intellectuals and academicians in Assam also echo such a sentiment where they almost bureaucratically tell us to fear and hate the 'outsider'. With NRC, we even saw philistine practice in Assam where the current torchbearers of humanitarian gestures post NRC publication, earlier took grave offence when human right violations, numerous suicides and daylight injustice were spoken and written about.

Assam Movement and consequently, the Assam Accord, demonstrates a rhetorical and confessional politics of self-preservation of a singular identity that directed its anger against the outsider and instils this notion of scarcity in people's psyche. The 'Bangladeshi' became an everyday soft target, followed by a chauvinistic rejection of their claims of recognition sustains the project of Assamese nationalism to this date. The Assam Movement that largely mobilised the common people on the common grounds of understanding for the removal of the 'illegal migrants' ended up with a vicious cycle of violence between the self and the other. The psychology of NRC, and the intent of NRC, ought not to be read without considering such a psychology and history.

The liberating potential of NRC which was sold by the Left and Liberals in Assam is a contradiction which ought to haunt them. There cannot be a bigger fallacy of intellect or political calculations, because if there is liberation, there ought to be 'enslavement' and 'confinements', as well. The presence of people in detention camps and the confinements in minds that led to multiple suicides only show how NRC machine is also enslaving people.

The psychology of NRC, on the aftermath of NRC process, increases antagonism between social groups. The fetish that the Assamese nationalist share for NRC which are foregrounded through notions of language and scarcity is projected as collective consensus of the 'Assamese'. The idea of collective consciousness and support for NRC is manufactured to hide and erase the alienated citizens. It helps them to dream that there is no class character in that collective consciousness. NRC is nothing but a mutation of the Assamese psychology of hate towards the outsider.

The author is a doctoral candidate in Sociology at National University of Singapore and tweets @char_chapori

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Updated Date: Oct 20, 2019 20:48:23 IST