By Sagarneel Sinha
The ongoing eviction drive in Assam turned violent when the police team was attacked by a large mob with sticks resulting in the death of two persons, which included a 12-year-old, due to police firing in Dholpur falling under revenue circle of Sipajhar of Darrang district. It was horrific. More shocking was the stamping of the dead body by the photographer accompanying the police team. The chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had ordered an enquiry on the firing incident and the photographer was arrested by the police.
The firing done by police could have been avoided. This is not to deny the injuries of the police personnel, who were attacked with sticks and stones by the mob and police also have the right to save their lives. That doesn’t, however, mean police should resort to firing first. The onus is on those too who attacked the police.
Himanta has blamed the Kerala radical Islamic organisation Popular Front of India (PFI) for instigating the people to attack the police force. If PFI — or any other organisation — is responsible for instigating the people to be evicted to take the law into arms, then definitely the government has the right to take as much as possible strong action against it. This isn’t the first time that PFI has been linked. During the anti-CAA riots too, PFI’s senior leaders were arrested by Assam police.
Coming back to the horrific incident, there are legitimate concerns of communal harmony being disturbed. Society has already been divided by ethnicity, language and religion. These divisions have strengthened in the past the growth of sub-regionalist militants. There had been efforts in the past to heal the wounds of the communities to restore communal harmony. Presently too, these are continued. The present dispensation laying importance to bring militants to the mainstream and stressing on the crucial issues closely related to saving lands, language and culture of the indigenous communities are a part of those efforts. Eviction drive is also one of those issues.
The influx of Bengali Hindus leaving their homeland East Pakistan (modern Bangladesh) facing persecution at the hands of the Islamic fundamentalists to settle in Assam and the illegal immigration due to free borders supported by then ruling governments for their political interests have undoubtedly affected the lives of the indigenous communities. However, there is a section of intellectuals who have been trying to interpret the eviction drive completely through the lens of communalism. This section has always ignored the issues of the indigenous communities of the state. Even worse, some of the intellectuals have never shied away from calling the entire Assamese society “xenophobic”.
The woes of the indigenous communities can never be denied by merely dismissing their concerns as their own imaginations. How can one ignore the reality that vast areas of land have been illegally captured in the state? In 2019, then state parliamentary affairs minister Chandra Mohan Patowary, according to the Indian Express, said that 22% of forest land was under encroachment.
Although figures remain ambiguous, illegal occupation of government lands and also of many Xatras or the Vaishnavite monasteries, the prominent religious and cultural hubs of Assamese society, is a harsh reality and can’t be ignored. This is the reason that even the main opposition Congress is supporting the eviction drive. Importantly, organizations like Sadou Asom Goria-Moria-Deshi-Jatiya Parishad, an indigenous Muslim body, have been supporting the eviction drive. What the “intellectuals”, who are desperate to give communal colours, ignore is that indigenous Muslims too have been affected by encroachment.
Having said this, the horrific incident of Dholpur should be a concern for Himanta and his government. This showed a police team at ease using guns against its state people. After all, there are methods to overpower the angry mob and in a democratic system, guns should be the last resort for the police to fire on the angry mob.
Notably, if the eviction drive, as claimed by the government, was done after reaching an agreement with all the stakeholders then how come there was opposition? In The Wire’s report, All Assam Minority Students Union president Rezaul Sarkar pointed towards the government’s failure to show the rehabilitation areas before the execution of the eviction drive in Dholpur.
Clearly, there are lapses from the government side too, apart from the involvement of a notorious third party. Agree that the clearing of the illegally occupied lands had been a poll promise of the BJP and the saffron government led by Himanta has the right to execute the eviction drive. Already the eviction drives — barring Dholpur one — have been carried out without any violence.
The saffron government, however, shouldn’t forget that it has the responsibility to ensure that the eviction campaign shouldn’t be used to vilify the entire Bengali Muslim community. It has to always ensure that all the stakeholders be taken into confidence before the execution of an eviction drive, particularly related to the issue of proper rehabilitation of the evicted families. At the same time, elements are working to stoke the fire of violence in the state by encouraging communalism and the BJP government has to be cautious and vigilant. Eviction drives shouldn’t be disturbed by the communal elements and the onus lies on the state government. (IPA Service)