The cops used excessive force against displaced people in Assam’s Darrang and acted without direct provocation, causing deaths of two Muslims including a minor boy, and many injuries, according to a fact-finding report by the Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR).
A fact-finding team of APCR recently visited Dholpur area of Darang district in Assam which saw the forced eviction of hundreds of Bengali Muslims and open police firing last week. The team comprising social activists, journalists, and researchers collected the facts and eyewitness accounts on the ground.
The local residents contested the BJP government’s claim that they were given adequate warning. The villagers told the fact-finding delegation that the eviction notices were served less than 24 hours before the government drive began. Even though the people agreed to leave, the police got reinforcements and attacked the people who were evacuating their homes.
The families of Moinul Haque and Shaikh Fareed, who were killed, as well as those who were injured, recounted that the police personnel started attacking them unprovoked.
The fact-finders found that no representatives of the district administration or the state government have visited the aggrieved family as yet to console them and share their grief, leave aside oﬀering a compensation.
CM Sarma responsible
APCR, civil rights advocacy group, said that the eviction drive needs to be seen in a broader political context of the Assam government under Himanta Biswa Sarma using to pretext of removing “encroachment” to target the state’s Muslim minority. This is evident from the fact that since before the 2021 Assembly polls in Assam, Sarma’s politics has involved a deliberate process of alienating and ‘othering’ the state’s Bangla-speaking Muslims.
During the elections, Sarma had said that “the BJP doesn’t need Miya Muslim voters”, targeting Bengali origin Muslims in the state.
In February, barely two months before the polls, Sarma had also said that he is an “extremist in protecting Assam’s and India’s culture from illegal immigrants patronized by Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF.”
Soon after taking over the CM post of the largest state in northeast India, Sarma made a number of remarks targeting the state’s Muslim minority as well as justifying the use of extra-judicial methods, the report finds.
In July 2021, Sarma announced that his government will create a “population army” to “curb the birth rate in Muslim dominated districts.” A number of police encounters have also taken place since Sarma assumed office. He has publicly justified the use of extra-judicial methods by the police.
“The killing of Moinul Haque and Shaikh Farid and the police violence against residents in the name of cracking down on ‘illegal encroachment’ needs to be seen in this context. Interestingly, the SP of Darrang under whose orders the police fired on civilians, is Himanta Biswa Sarma’s brother Susanta Biswa Sarma,” read the report.
Punish the culprits
The fact-finding report noted that the Muslim families who have been living in the riverine area of Dholpur since 1965 are still termed ‘encroachers’ and ‘Bangladeshis’ while the government has issued permanent land titles in 2019 to “indigenous” people who have lived in a particular piece of government land for over three years at a stretch.
APCR has demanded that the families of Shaikh Farid and Moinul Haque and all those who were injured in the evictions drive should be given compensation by the government. Action should be taken against the guilty police oﬃcials involved in this operation including SP Darrang Susanta Biswa Sarma, the group urged.
The government should announce a comprehensive rehabilitation plan before any further eviction of a family or any person.
APCR also has urged the authorities to drop cases against the locals who were protesting against the eviction drive. So far, three Muslims including two local body leaders and a police firing survivor were arrested by Assam police for “instigating the protest and violence.”
Hate, not eviction
The report was released at a press conference on Monday, where members of the fact-finding team spoke to the press.
Supreme Court of India lawyer Adv Sanjay Hegde who described the report as “a story of memory over forgetfulness,” said that the rule of law is replaced by the rule of guns under the current regime.
Nadeem Khan, Secretary of APCR, pointed a series of lapses in the due process that should have been followed prior to eviction, creating a frenzy panic situation that led to the police killings of two Muslims.
“We will approach the court for rehabilitation of the families forcefully evicted and the others who are on the verge of it,” Khan told the presser.
“Assam incident shouldn’t be seen in isolation. This is the manifestation of systemic injection of hate across the country,” according to the author and writer Farah Naqvi.
Salman Ahmed, national president of the Students Islamic Organisation of India (SIO) alleged that the government is trying to paint a picture of normalcy in Assam, and was restricting the visit of people at the evacuation site.
“The situation is very deplorable and the government is shrugging away its responsibility of immediate relief work,” Ahmed said.