Last week, an eviction drive in Sipajhar in Assam’s Darrang District took a violent turn, leaving two dead and several injured. After the clashes broke out between the police and protesters, a horrifying video showed the protester armed with a lathi being shot by a policeman.
Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has instituted a judicial probe into the deaths, and the civilian has been arrested.
The eviction drive in Sipajhar, where primarily Bengali-speaking Muslims lived, was aimed at removing “illegal encroachers” to free up government land for the “landless indigenous communities”.
According to the authorities, the drive on Monday and Thursday evicted 1200 to 1300 families who had illegally occupied roughly 10,000 bighas of government land. The drive is rooted in the CM’s visit to the area in June where he promised the local communities that the encroached land would be recovered and that the Dholpu (Sipajhar) Shiv mandir in the vicinity would get a manikut, a guest house, and a boundary wall.
Later, the state budget earmarked Rs 9.6 crore for the agriculture project, which is called the Garukhuti Project, on the cleared land. The project would promote afforestation and agricultural activities, involving indigenous youth.
At the request of the Agriculture Department, the district administration declared the area as Community agricultural land.
Further, last Monday, about 800 families were evicted from Dholpur 1 and 3 villages. While it has happened without resistance, the locals and activists were unhappy because it was done without a proper rehabilitation plan.
On Thursday, organizations such as the All Assam Minority Students Union (AAMSU) along with the public carried out demonstrations demanding rehabilitation.
Later, the authorities held a discussion with them, and a settlement was agreed upon.
Those evicted allege that the eviction was carried out despite the agreement in which the authorities said that they would put the eviction on hold till facilities, as demanded, were arranged.
The AAMSU member Ainuddin Ahmed said, “This is when the situation became tense, and then spiraled into violence.”
On the other hand, the authorities alleged that even after the agreement, the locals suddenly began to attack the police with sticks, stones, and spears. Darrang SP Susanta Biswa Sarma said “police did what they had to do” in “self-defense”.
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