‘Will we not have any rights?’ Indian Muslims’ worry after Assam evictions | India

Maynal Haque was holding a bamboo stick in his hand when the police shot him at point-blank vary. Throughout him, the homes of the village he grew up in had been being destroyed or set alight by police. As Haque fell to the bottom, officers’ batons pounded on his physique and a photographer, appointed by police to doc the raid, ran over and started stamping arduous on him, a scene caught in video footage. As soon as useless, Haque was rolled right into a bulldozer and carried off by officers.

“He was with only a stick however they fired at his chest,” Haque’s spouse, Mamataj Begum, mentioned by means of tears. “They killed him in a brutal manner. The only real breadwinner of our household is murdered by police. How we could stay with out him?”

Haque, a 33-year-old father of three, lived in Dhalpur, a cluster of villages within the north-east Indian state of Assam, making a residing rising greens on the fertile land beside the Brahmaputra river and promoting them available in the market. Like most residents within the villages, residence to about 25,000 individuals, he was a Bengali Muslim – whose ancestry goes again to Bengal and who sometimes converse Bengali – and had lived his complete life on this neighborhood, established within the Seventies.

Most migrated to Dhalpur from different areas of Assam after their land was misplaced to erosion. Over 5 many years, the neighborhood cultivated the land to construct their homes and develop rice and produce subsequent to the riverbank.

However on the morning of 23 September, police descended to clear away the inhabitants of Dhalpur. In keeping with the Assam state authorities, dominated by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata celebration (BJP) that additionally governs India, this Bengali Muslim neighborhood had been “unlawful encroachers” on authorities land and on adjoining land which belonged to an historical Shiva temple.

But many consider that the violent eviction that adopted, that killed each Haque and a 12-year-old boy, Sheikh Farid, in addition to injuring dozens of others together with police, was not merely about reclaiming public land. Residents, activists and students have alleged that it’s a part of a broader marketing campaign in Assam to painting Bengali Muslims as foreigners unworthy of citizenship rights, who ought to go “again to Bangladesh” – regardless of most being born in India.

“These evictions in Dhalpur are a part of the BJP’s drive to politicise and dismantle the citizenship rights of the Bengali Muslims in Assam, and it is a very harmful path,” mentioned Angana Chatterji, an anthropologist at College of California, Berkeley, who not too long ago wrote a examine on the alleged abuses in Assam.

“We see the chilling nationalist fervour that these evictions induce. It reiterates their violent divide-and-conquer coverage: fracturing communities alongside non secular fault strains to in the end set up a Hindu majoritarian state.”

For many years, Assam has been troubled by divisive fears that outsiders, primarily these from neighbouring Bengal and Bangladesh, are settling illegally. However tensions have worsened for the reason that BJP got here to energy within the Assam state authorities in 2016, with Bengali Muslimfinding themselves more and more ostracised and demonised because the “outsiders” and “infiltrators”.

Bengali Muslims have suffered most from the Nationwide Register of Residents (NRC), a citizenship survey carried out by the BJP authorities in 2019, on all residents of Assam to determine these deemed to be unlawful immigrants. Whereas over one million Bengali-origin Hindus and Muslims, many who had been born in Assam, discovered themselves left off the register, an modification to the citizenship regulation by the BJP authorities implies that Hindus not on the NRC will seemingly be capable of apply for citizenship anyway, leaving Muslims going through statelessness, expulsion or detention.

Amit Shah, the house minister, has spoken of creating Assam ‘infiltrator-free’. {Photograph}: Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty Photographs

This yr the BJPhas elevated its rhetoric on driving “infiltrators” from Assam. At an election rally in Assam in January, the house minister, Amit Shah, the closest ally of the prime minister, Narendra Modi, mentioned: “Do you wish to make Assam infiltrator-free or not? … Solely the BJP can do this.” Yogi Adityanath, a hardline Hindu monk and BJP chief minister of the state of Uttar Pradesh, additionally made speeches in March mentioning infiltrators in Assam. That month, the celebration launched its manifesto within the state, pledging to take land again from “unlawful infiltrators” and hand it again to the Assamese indigenous individuals. Assam’s BJP chief minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, has repeatedly referred to Bengali Muslims within the state as Mughals, which means the Muslim invaders of India.

Then in June, consideration turned particularly to Dhalpur. Throughout a go to to the world, Sarma declared that the land had been occupied by “unlawful settlers”. Dhalpur, he introduced, could be reclaimed for an agriculture mission to learn indigenous youth, as a part of the BJP’s pledge to rescue “our land and the Assamese id from encroachers and intruders”. These statements got here regardless of round 80% of the residents of Dhalpur being on the current nationwide register of residents, proving they had been authorized residents of Assam.

Days later, the primary Dhalpur eviction happened, uprooting 48 Bengali Muslim households and one Bengali Hindu household. Some 246 different households from the neighborhood introduced a petition to the excessive court docket demanding safety from eviction. However on 18 September, extra Dhalpur villagers got discover they must go away the world, and two days later the mass eviction started, with 1,100 households pressured to depart their properties.

But it surely was an eviction on 23 September by which the total power of the state got here down on the remaining 250 households, round 2,000 individuals, left in Dhalpur. Regardless of a case nonetheless pending within the courts, residents mentioned police arrived on the night time of twenty-two September and set fireplace to a number of the homes as a warning.

The following day, in line with witness accounts and video footage, greater than 1,200 law enforcement officials descended, some with bulldozers, and started flattening the properties, mosques and madrassas within the village. “Policemen started demolishing and setting fireplace to some shanties, leaving the villagers very offended,” mentioned Noor Hossain, a Dhalpur resident. “We additionally heard sounds of gunfire.”

The two,000 remaining residents of Dhalpur started to protest, with many refusing to adjust to the evictions.

In keeping with Haque’s brother, Ainuddin, Haque had picked up a stick and tried to chase the police away from his residence. They responded by capturing him within the chest, killing him on the spot. Within the ensuing violence, dozens, together with a number of law enforcement officials, had been additionally injured and the 12-year-old boy, Shekh Farid, was killed.

NC Asthana, a social activist and retired senior police officer, mentioned the eviction was in violation of ordinary police protocol, describing the actions as “unjust, unfair and above all unprofessional”.

Rupam Goswami, a senior BJP chief in Assam, denied there was any non secular motivation behind the evictions in Assam. He mentioned the police had solely responded with power after “10,000 individuals” armed with “sticks and swords” had begun attacking the police violently in Dhalpur.

“Those that have been evicted had been encroachers,” mentioned Goswami. “They had been occupying the land illegally. It is a reality. Many are saying that a problem of faith is concerned on this eviction however this isn’t the case. Since BJP got here to energy in Assam in 2016, it has been attempting to take away all encroachers within the state. Even Hindu encroachers have been evicted.”

The police didn’t reply to requests for remark. This week, the excessive court docket in Assam ordered the federal government to submit an affidavit in regards to the evictions.

A few of the households pushed out got land to relocate to by the federal government, however it’s susceptible to flooding. The federal government has additionally not offered them with any official resettlement paperwork, leaving them liable to future eviction with no proof of their rights. Others have been given no land in any respect, and about 2,000 individuals have been left homeless.

The evictions are persevering with. Final week, 500 extra Bengali Muslim households remaining in Dhalpur and surrounding villages have been served notices. In the meantime, contractors have begun work tilling the land the place their neighbours as soon as lived. To Dhalpur’s former inhabitants, it’s a stark reminder of their precarious place in Assam’s society.

“We’re Indian residents like they’re, but they’re evicting us from our land,” mentioned Majed Ali, 58, one other Dhalpur resident. “Will we not have any rights as residents of India?”

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