Two civilians were killed and 9 policemen were wounded today when an anti-encroachment drive in Assam exploded into a brutal clash.
The Assam Government carried out a massive eviction drive over 800 families from villages populated mostly by East Bengal-origin Muslims on a village on a sandbar in the Darrang district on Monday, September 20, leaving at least 800 families homeless in the drive against encroachments at Dholpur on Monday. The state wants to repossess 4,500 bighas of government land for an agricultural project.
This was the second round of evictions carried out in the last three months at the village – Dhalpur populated mostly by Muslims of East Bengal origin.
A fact-finding committee had visited the village soon after the district administration carried out the first eviction drive in June. The committee had declared that 49 Muslim families and one Hindu family had been uprooted in the drive, which local newspapers said had “cleared” 120 bighas of land (1 bigha is around 900 square yards), purportedly belonging to a “pre-historic” Shiva Temple.
The Chief Minister had also visited the area. In a tweet during the visit, he said, he was there to “inspect the riverine areas that were encroached by illegal settlers near Dholpur Shiva Mandir. 120 Bighas land of the temple under encroachment of illegal occupants in the area have been freed by @assampolice and district administration. Such squatters would be evicted from all parts of Assam to protect our land and the Assamese identity from encroachers and intruders.”
The eviction process has left 800 families homeless, and the people were angry and reacted. This led to a violent clash between the police and people protesting eviction. On camera, policemen in riot gear and armed with guns and sticks chased and attacked protesters and even firing shots.
Horrific visuals show a man beaten to death with sticks, shot on camera. The police said locals attacked them with stones today and they had to use force. The policemen in riot gear and armed with guns and sticks chased and attacked protesters and even firing shots and in frightening visuals, a government cameraman filming the clash attacked a protester who had earlier followed him with a stick. The protester, battered by policemen, lay still as the cameraman kept attacking him until he was restrained. The police are now searching for the cameraman who fled.
The state government has ordered a probe – to be headed by a retired High Court judge – into today’s violence.
“Nine of our policemen were injured. Two civilians were also injured. They have been shifted to the hospital. Now things are normal,” Superintendent of Police Sushanta Biswa Sarma said.
Mr. Sarma, who was at the site of the clash, added, “We couldn’t complete the eviction because of the situation. We will assess later. We are returning as of now.”
But when asked about the footage of the local being shot and then beaten, Mr. Sarma said “The area is big. I was on another side. I will find out and assess the situation.”
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, reacting to the police brutality, targeted the state’s BJP government and tweeted, “Assam is on state-sponsored fire”.
“I stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the state – no children of India deserve this,” he added.
Horrific visuals in Assam from NDTV show how the police lynched the men to death with sticks
Some residents of Dhalpur told The Wire that the number of evicted families was more than 900, which would take the count of affected people to at least 20,000.
Photos and video clips circulated on social media showing evicted families taking shelter under makeshift sheds to shield themselves from a massive bout of rain after their dwellings were demolished. The drive was carried out while the state government still has multiple pandemic-related restrictions in place.
A report by the Sentinel called the state government’s actions a “never before seen massive eviction drive at Dhalpur No. 1 and Dhalpur No. 3 areas”. These areas fall under the Sipajhar Revenue Circle in the Darrang district. The newspaper said that the government’s actions were taken to “evict encroachers from government land.”
The news reports said the district administration cleared “8000 bighas” of land which led to the eviction of 800 people.
As per local news reports, “Project Gorukhuti” has the backing of the Darrang unit of the All Assam Students Union (AASU). In a meeting held with local AASU leaders in August, Hazarika had said, “During the historic Assam Movement, it was our dream to make our State self-sufficient in all aspects and to involve our youth force in agriculture. But during the regime of the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) government two times, such projects were never taken up.“
“Of late, Chief Minister Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma has taken up this novel project, initially as a pilot project, which will cover every district of the State in due course. The land belonging to the indigenous people has been encroached upon on a large-scale with a well-designed conspiracy by a group of well-organized encroachers who have always been posing as a threat to the identity and existence of the indigenous people. It is high time that our youth should come forward to join this project and to make it a total success,” Hazirka had continued.
The fact-finding committee, which had visited the affected village in June, observed in its report that, “The villagers had settled in that part of land back in [the] early 1980s…They must have shifted to this place during [the violence] in the [course of the] Assam Agitation in 1983.”
‘The land belonging to the indigenous people has been encroached upon on a large-scale with a well-designed conspiracy by a group of well-organised encroachers,’ the government said.
The report also said, “The villagers have been evicted three times; first in November, 2016, second in January 2021 and for the third time in June, 2021.”
The fact-finding committee included activists Pooja Nirala, Mehzabin Rehman, Prasun Goswami and Kashyap Choudhury, along with lawyer Shouradeep Dey of the Human Rights Law Network.
The team was assisted on the ground by members of the peasant rights group Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) and All Assam Minority Students Union (AAMSU).
The committee’s report had also accused the BJP government of “unleashing its pro-corporate agendas in terms of the [three controversial] Farm Bills” through Project Gorukhuti and of “playing a shrewd communal agenda to divide the people” by claiming that a large chunk of the evicted land belonged to a Shiva temple.
As per the report, the “pre-historic” temple was set up by one of the Hindu families which had settled in the area in the 1980s.
The fact-finding committee’s report had highlighted that, when the affected people came to meet the members, they brought with them the proof of their names in the renewed National Register of Citizens (NRC), an official document on the citizens of Assam as per its exclusive citizenship cut-off date – March 24, 1971. Courtesy The Wire.
Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had tweeted after the eviction drive on Monday, “I am happy and compliment district administration of Darrang and Assam Police for having cleared about 4500 bigha, by evicting 800 households.”
Chief Minister Mr Sarma also wrote: “We also offer prayers at Shiva temple to seek Lord Shiva blessings. A short temple management and local people to set up a Manikut, builder guest house and boundary wall. All steps should be taken to turn temple into a tourist attraction.” (sic).
However, the tweet is no longer on Chief Minister Sarma’s timeline.