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‘Hybrid gamosa’ triggers row in Assam, Bengali literary society apologises after ‘harmony’ symbolism falls flat


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The Bangla Sahitya Sabha, Assam (BSSA) on Sunday felicitated guests at a function with “hybrid gamosas” made up of Assamese gamosas and Bengali gamchhas cut in half and sewn together. The organisation on Tuesday issued an apology after a controversy erupted in the state over this.

The BSSA is a newly formed literary and cultural society with the aim of serving as a “meeting point for Bengalis of Assam”.

Half of the controversial scarf it had used was a red-and-white phulam gamosa — considered a symbol of Assamese identity — while the other half was a red-and-white chequered pattern gamchha used by Bengalis. What it hoped would serve as a “symbol of harmony” in its first state conference in Guwahati triggered protests across Assam.

The controversy around their scarf was the claim by different organisations in the state, especially student and youth organisations, that it was an “insult” to the Assamese gamosa.

As a result, on Tuesday BSSA president and writer Khagen Chandra Das and general secretary Prasanta Chakraborty, who is a teacher in the Department of Bengali at Guwahati’s prominent Cotton College, issued an apology. They said in a statement: “We had adopted this idea as symbolic of harmony between the Barak and Brahmaputra valleys. However, this concept has not been accepted by a section of people in the state … We apologise for hurting anyone’s sentiments unintentionally and we shall be more careful in future to ensure no recurrence of such incidents.”

They also felt the need to clarify that they had borrowed this concept from a similar gamosa they had seen used by another organisation in Silchar to felicitate guests at an event a year-and-a-half ago.

Samujjal Bhattacharya, chief adviser to the influential All Assam Students’ Union, even called on the government to take action against those who came up with the idea. “Gamosa is our pride and it has the GI tag as well. The pride of Assam needs to be saved at any cost. We request that no one shows disrespect to or misuse our gamosa,” he said on Tuesday.

From the days of the Assam agitation of the 1980s to the more recent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, the gamosa has come to assume the symbolism of Assamese pride. It is also used to honour guests at almost all public events.

The gamosa had previously sparked a political controversy in 2021 after a video grab showed All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) chief Badruddin Ajmal throwing a gamosa at someone at an election rally. Then, too, there was outrage over alleged disrespect to the gamosa.

While campaigning for the 2021 state Assembly elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that those who love Assam were “angered and hurt” by the video.

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