Feature: Condition of evicted Bengali-speaking Muslims in Assam’s Darrang ‘precarious’

Waquar Hasan

In the last week of September, the Assam government carried out a brutal anti-encroachment drive against Muslims living in Darrang district’s Dholpur area. During the eviction drive, the police forces also opened fire when the victims protested the eviction. The issue caught national as well as international attention when a cameraman jumped on the body of a protester after he was shot by the police force.

A delegation consisting of academics, journalists and activists recently visited the region and met the victims of the eviction drive. On Tuesday, November 2, they released their report in which they lamented ‘the deliberate intent of Assam government in inflicting carnage on the people in Dholpur’.

The delegation under the banner of Janhastakshep consisted of Dr Vikas Bajpai, faculty at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU); Prof Biswajeet Mohanty of Deshbandhu College, University of Delhi (DU); and Sudhir Pattnaik, an independent journalist and anti-displacement activist from Bhubneshwar, Odisha.

“The present condition of the forcefully evicted people in the area remains precarious. They are living in makeshift sheds made from tin, straw, and bamboo, with little hygiene, lack of safe drinking water supply, severe shortage of food, and no medical care whatsoever. It was reported that some NGOs and private bodies have reached with some relief by way of food, and have installed some hand pumps for water, but given the enormity of the situation such help can only amount to less than a drop in the ocean,” said the delegation in its report which was released in Delhi on Tuesday, November 2.

The delegation members further observe: “It is remarkable that our team did not find any trace whatsoever of any government agency reaching out to these people to provide relief in any form, which further attests to the deliberately nefarious intent of the government in inflicting the carnage on the people”.

The team pointed to “the criminal mindset of the state machinery” by highlighting the fact that the residents were not given sufficient time to vacate the place. A resident named Zaheer was served notice of eviction at midnight 12 pm on 19 September and next morning, the administration descended upon to demolish the house. The words in the notice which asks him to vacate the place within three months of the receiving notice was whitewashed. The team found that the administration used similar tactics to evict most of the people.

“Such an attitude on part of the administration and the police is clearly reflective of the criminal mindset that has beset the State machinery,” said the team.

The team feel that the desire of the government to acquire more and more land to serve the commercial profit of the corporates are the motive behind the eviction of the people. According to them, the 2019 land policy of the state government is intended to take over the char lands.

The team also drew attention towards another malaise which has threatened “the livelihoods of a large section of the people in Assam over the years”.  The issue is “that river Brahmaputra and its tributaries have led to erosion of vast tracts of land in different parts of the state resulting in forced voluntary internal migration of the people within the state”. But the ruling class failed to resolve this issue.

“It is this context which engenders a confluence between the hard socioeconomic realities resulting from the riverine erosion phenomenon and the communal agenda of the present RSS-BJP government in the state. It is for this reason that the Bengali speaking Muslims need to be constantly painted as outsiders even though they have lived in Assam and contributed to its growth over generations. Divisions are sought to drive deeper between not just the Hindus and the Muslims, but also between the Assamese speaking and Bengali speaking Muslims,” they said.

The team members asked the government to ensure the safety of lives and livelihoods of the evicted people, to withdraw the Land Policy of 2019 and constitute a team of scientists to study the riverine erosion. Courtesy Clarion India