On 23 Sep, Thursday, two Bengali Muslims were shot dead by the police in a clash that followed the forceful eviction of Bengali Muslims in Sipajhar in Assam’s Darrang district.
The event unfurled in Assam was evidently state terrorism unleashed on villagers for ethnic cleansing and land-grabbing. The police claim the villagers had attacked them with machetes and sticks during the forced eviction. They claim that it was in self-defence that they had employed gunshots and lathi-charged the locals.
The locals claim they have been living in the area since the 1970s and had valid government documents to prove their ownership of the plots. Most of them think they are being targeted because they belong to the Miya community, primarily composed of Bengali Muslim immigrants. They had appealed against the eviction in the High Court and were awaiting the judgement. Despite the odds, they say all they asked was a better rehabilitation plan as the land allotted to the displaced people was low lying and flood-prone.
The hashtag #IStandWithAssamPolice, which topped the trending hashtags’ chart on the day of the incident, is not justified on the following grounds:
- According to the UN Human Rights Commission, forced eviction constitutes gross violation of human rights. By forcibly evicting people, the Assam police was involved in denying many universally recognised human rights, including the right to housing, security of the individual and family, and the right to freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
- Employing armed state machinery on villagers fighting for their right to land and life makes the self-defence argument moot.
- As asked by CPI(M-L) member Kavita Krishnan on Twitter, “What protocol orders firing to the chest of a lone man coming running with a stick?”.
On the day of eviction, thousands had gathered in protest of the eviction drive, demanding better rehabilitation. Multiple sources told the Indian Express and Hindustan Times that the protest was a peaceful one. A local told the Indian Express that the authorities had promised them a better rehabilitation plan and had even agreed to postpone the eviction.
The eviction drive was the last of several stringent measures and regulations to weed out ‘infiltrators’ from the indigenous population in Assam. In Nov 2019, a federal US commission on international religious freedom had alleged that the Assam National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a tool to “target religious minorities and to render Muslims stateless”. Despite being biased, the eviction drive amidst the pandemic was acutely inhumane and goes against the Indian government’s own laws to eliminate homelessness by 2022. It was only in July this year the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) had asked the Indian government to postpone the eviction drives. “Lockdowns imposed during the pandemic have made it difficult for settlement residents to earn a living, and they are suffering psychologically because of the eviction threat”, said a UN human rights expert.