A “high-level” committee set up by the government is currently trying to define who an “Assamese” is. The idea is to determine who the first claimants of the state’s resources should be. Cut-off years are being suggested; colonial-era treaties are being revisited.

But the answer may just lie instead lay in an iconic poem written by one of the state’s tallest cultural luminaries – and a person of migrant origin himself – Jyoti Prasad Agarwala in the 1940s. Evocatively titled Axomiya Dekar Ukti or the “Response of the Assamese youth”, it imagined an all-encompassing Assamese identity.

Agarwala’s Assamese umbrella was all inclusive. From the state’s hill-dwellers to the indigenous riverine communities to the much despised and feared migrants from the flood plains of the what was then East Pakistan, everyone was an Assamese. The Muslim migrants, the “Na-Asomiya” or the neo-Assamese, too – without a doubt.

Everyone who called Assam their home at various points of history.

Agarwala’s poem could, in fact, be the answer to much more than just a legal question in these troubled times for the state. It could be Assam’s anthem of resistance as tenuous bureaucratic exercises and legal changes threaten to undo years of multicultural co-existence in the state.

I am Khasi
I am Jaintia, the Dophola, Abor, Aka,
I am the Singpho, the Miri of the plains, the youth of the Subansiri
I will be the victor, I am of the Kachari, the Koch, the Mech, the Rajbongshi, the Rabha
I am the Lalung, Sutia, Lushai, Mikir, Garo
Mishimi, Khamti, the Angami hero
I fight for equality and friendship
I am the one who labours in the tea garden
The Na-Asamiya, the new Assamese
The Mymenshinghia
The village Nepali
The skilled dancer of the Manipuri
Of so many hills and plains, of the waters of a hundred streams
I flow, taking all in my path
To be one with the Brahmaputra

— Axomiya Dekar Ukti by Jyoti Prasad Agarwala (English translation courtesy The Telegraph).

Read all the articles in the Art of Resistance series here.