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Assam: Eviction of the Natives

A fact-finding team sheds light on the trials and tribulations of the displaced Muslims in Assam’s Darrang district, besides documenting incidents of state violence against its own people

By Quamar Ashraf

“Even as we were packing up our belongings following eviction order, some policemen barged into our home and started thrashing us. My father-in-law was beaten up black and blue, my niece suffered a broken hand,” told wife of Moinul Haque, upon whose body a photographer jumped repeatedly moment after he was shot dead, to the visiting members of a fact-finding team in the affected Darrang district of Assam. Haque chased policemen with a bamboo stick when he saw his “badly bruised” father before being killed allegedly by cops on 23 September.

Two persons, 33-year-old Haque and 12-year-old Farid Shaikh, were killed and several villagers suffered gunshot wounds in police firing during the “inhuman eviction drive” by the state government. As many as 11 police personnel were also injured in the clash with protesters.

The six-member fact-finding team, constituted by civil rights group Association for the Protection of Civil Rights (APCR), documented the trials and tribulations of the affected families in its report titled, ‘Eviction, State Violence and Hate’. The fact-finding team accused the BJP government in the state of “unleashing violence” and violating all eviction rules while urging civil society to raise voice against the injustice being done to the poor Muslims in the name of developing a patch of land. The team members also assailed the silence of opposition parties.

The locals told the fact finding team that they were not given adequate warning or time and that the eviction notices were served to them less than 24 hours before the government began displacing them. “Even though the people agreed to evict their facilities, the police got reinforcements and attacked the people who were evacuating their homes,” said one of the affected families.

The APCR noted that the eviction drive has a broader political context targeted at alienating and ‘othering’ the state’s Bangla-speaking Muslims.

During the release of the report at New Delhi’s Press Club of India, Supreme Court lawyer Adv Sanjay Hegde said that the “rule of law is replaced by the rule of guns”. He observed that the Indian state was increasingly becoming violent against its own citizens. He said: “State is willing to use disproportionate force to quell protests.”

Noted human rights activist Nadeem Khan said that the state government didn’t follow the due process of eviction, informing the press that he would approach court for  rehabilitation of the families. “The encroachment drive is a pretext to displace the state’s Muslim minority,” said Khan.

On the occasion, author and civil rights activist Farha Naqvi drew similarity of the Assam displacement with the ones she witnessed during 2002 Gujarat riots and 2013 riots in Muzaffarnagar. She pointed out, “It is not an isolated incident. This is the manifestation of systemic injection of hate campaign being run across the country with full impunity,” she said. She added, “The Muslims are being systematically ‘othered’ in their own land by sinister attempts, branding them of weird terms like UPSC jihad, Corona Jihad, land jihad, love jihad …and now they are called encroachers.”  She added, “If the incident of stomping on dead body doesn’t jolt us to the core, we cannot claim to be a human society,” she said.

Salman Ahmed, national president of the Students Islamic Organisation of India, said that situation is deplorable and calls for need to redressal of the grievances.

Prof Apoorvanand called upon all like-minded people to “put our heads together” and honestly ponder over the growing state of unrest in the country. “There is a design in Assam eviction. It’s not a normal action of freeing the land from encroachers,” said the professor whose thought-provoking analysis of the overall situation is alarming.

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