By Ashis Biswas
For once, opposition parties have got it right, when it comes to condemning the brutal killing of two persons by Assam police at Dholpur, Darrang district on September 23 during an official eviction drive against illegal settlers. Congress leader Kapil Sibal called for the government to take suo motu notice of the incident. Priyanka Chaturvedi’s (Shiv Sena) lament that ‘We are becoming a bloodthirsty society’ also found instant resonance among social media followers.
Among national leaders Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee lost no time in hitting out against the BJP.
In some ways the incident was unusual. It was not so much the low death toll — two killed (three according to unofficial sources) and 12 injured among the mostly Muslim victims, while 10 policemen got hurt — that mattered. What really shocked most people was a 30 second video clip showing how an official photographer jumped on an apparently dying person supine on the ground, just mowed down by a hail of police bullets and lathi blows. His name: Sheikh Farid. Even as a policeman hit the badly wounded victim, the photographer continued to punch him hard until he was dragged away by others. No wonder the spectacle repelled countless viewers — the mindless mistreatment of a dying man was somehow too traumatic for words!
Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma brazened it out, saying the police had to do their job after being attacked by a ’10,000 strong armed mob that turned violent during the eviction drive’ . The government had announced plans to allot alternative plots to the people about to be displaced and all arrangements were discussed with them. The eruption of such violence was never anticipated. There must have been ‘third party instigation ‘at work. But such eviction drives would continue as planned.
Neither the Chief Minister nor senior police officials who met mediapersons later, had a word to spare for the victims. Farid’s body was left lying as the armed policemen walked away without looking back, taking the photographer along for company. There was no move to call in a doctor.
Later the photographer was arrested. .
The government first blamed organisations like the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) All Assam Minority students’ Union (AAMSU) and the Indian National Congress (INC) for stoking unrest among the local Bengali speaking Muslims. The Congress was blamed for allowing illegal settlements on vacant land over the years to create its own vote banks.
Later, the Popular Front of India (PFI), officially regarded as a militant minority organization, was held responsible and reportedly six people including a teacher were identified as the chief trouble makers. Later two men Asmat Ali (37) and Chand Mahmood (47) were arrested. The two victims were Sheikh Farid (30- something) and Saddam Hossain (12). Farid carrying a lathi, had apparently tried to resist the police, it was alleged.
Sarma insisted that his government should not be judged on the basis of a 30 second video clip. But according to information reaching from most states, this is where his plea fell apart, his contention totally rejected by viewers. Both he and his government were judged by the telltale clip, going by the widespread social media condemnation that followed.
As a Kolkata-based senior scribe said, ’The incident has damaged not only the BJP’s cause or exposed the Assam government’s ruthlessness towards the minorities. It has badly hurt the very image of Assam and the Assamiyas — this is a pity because as most visitors would confirm, the state is normally very peaceful and has its own vibrant, inclusive culture! It would be very sad if this were to change under the rule of the BJP!’
Worse, it will undoubtedly consolidate hardline Western mainstream media opinion of the BJP as a fanatical right wing party and of Prime Minister Modi as a fundamentally autocratic leader!
Under public pressure, the Assam government has ordered a judicial inquiry into the incident. Since Sarma has already given a brief official account of what exactly had happened on Sept 23, — namely that a 10,000 strong armed mob had attacked the state police which fired in self defence — it remains to be seen what the final report says about the matter. Incidentally some press reports said there were about 2,000 people in the crowd. One of the victims was only 12 years old, while 12 others suffered various injuries.
There were also unconfirmed reports that the people targeted by the administration had their names registered as citizens in the recently published NRC rolls!
Most Assamiya-dominated political parties as well as INC want these people (Bengali speaking Muslims) to stay and register their mother tongue (falsely) as Assamiya during the decadal National Census operations. This is a must, an oath of their loyalty to Assam as it were, for the privilege of living in the state, without normal civil rights! Their support is necessary to maintain the numerical superiority of the Assamiya speaking population, which some observers fear, may be in a minority.
The idea is to keep illegal immigrants as a social substratum of people reduced to serfdom. They are tolerated to stay in Assam because they can be forced to work at well below official minimum wages and perform the hardest kind of labour. With the BJP currently in power, the plight of Bengali Hindus in Assam is somewhat more secure in theory, but the situation has deteriorated for the Muslims.
The shooting of two persons at Dholpur cannot compare with the massive Nellie massacre of 1983 where some 2500 Muslims were killed in 1983 by enraged tribes people
Yet as stated before the Dholpur incident was very shocking in terms of the raw, brutality that was on display, a bloodlust that does not spare even dead or near dead people, even from a civilian no combatant with no official standing!
For generations, Assam’s obsession with the presence of illegal immigrants has been its main political issue. But at one stroke, by one ugly intemperate brutal show of violence, photographer Vijay Shankar Baniya has done the hardline Assamiya cause lasting damage — if the reaction of common people on most social media platforms is any indication! In the process he has also supplied opposition parties like the INC and the AIUDF in Assam, not to mention major parties at the all India level, a good rallying point to come together against the ruling NDA. (IPA Service)