A campaign to evict residents living on government land in northeastern Assam state has increased insecurity among the state’s Muslim population, activists say. rights.
Ongoing deportations in the remote state gained national attention after two people were killed in September during one of the campaigns to expel 800 families, mostly Muslim, from Dhalpur, Darrang district , in Assam.
The violence sparked outrage after a video that went viral on social media showed a policeman shooting a young man running towards him with a stick – he was among residents protesting the evictions and demanding rehabilitation. Seconds later, the video shows him lying motionless on the ground and a government-appointed photographer kicking the victim’s body. The young man, Moninul Haque, and a 12-year-old boy who was caught in the violence were killed.
Many displaced people have told local media that they have cultivated the land for decades since arriving in the area after losing their own land to river erosion.
The eviction campaign resumed this month as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party, who heads the state, pledged to continue their campaign to eliminate people from government land.
More than 500 families, who cultivated crops like ginger and turmeric, were evicted last week from Lumding. Officials said the campaign, for which hundreds of police and paramilitary troops have been deployed, proceeded peacefully.
Critics and activists alike claim that the government’s land clearing campaigns are carried out in areas populated mostly by Muslims.
The government denies this and says the campaign is not targeting any community but the people who squat the forest and government land. He says the land will be used for agricultural projects that will create jobs for “native” people.
Suhas Chakma, director of the rights and risk analysis group, told VOA that the evictions are aimed at satisfying the sentiment of Assamese-speaking people in the state.
âIt is very clear that the action is selective. Otherwise, the state government should investigate such encroachments statewide, and not just carry out evictions in areas where most Muslims have settled, âChakma points out. âIf this is done, they will find thousands of people from all communities who have farmed government land for decades. ”
Assam’s population of 33 million includes Hindus, Muslims and several indigenous tribes. Among the residents are people speaking Bengali, who have come over the decades from Bangladesh with which the state shares a border.
A spokesman for the Bharatiya Janata party in Assam state, Rupam Goswami, told VOA that the majority of those expelled are Bengali-speaking Muslims, as they represent most of the people in government land.
âThe campaign does not target any section, but only the invaders, the majority of whom happen to be Muslims. Some Hindus settled on forest land have also been evicted, âGoswami explains. âWe cannot allow people to destroy forests and settle there. The eviction was an ongoing process since 2016. This is nothing new.
However, analysts point out that the deportation campaign has been accelerated by the BJP since winning a second term in Assam earlier this year. As the elections approached, he had promised to free government land from the âinvadersâ and distribute it among the landless ânativesâ.
Critics say the BJP draws on the state’s history of tensions between Assamese who have long complained of losing land and jobs to Bengali-speaking people.
âA rift has existed for many decades between the local Assamese and all who come from outside, regardless of their religion. But with expulsion campaigns like this, the BJP is driving a wedge especially between Bengali Muslims and the indigenous population, âsaid Niranjan Sahoo, policy analyst at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. âNow it comes down to religion. ”
The deportations have rekindled concerns among Muslims in Assam, particularly those who were part of an estimated 1.9 million people left a controversial citizenship register established in the state in 2019 when people were asked to show documentary evidence that they or their ancestors had resided in India. prior to 1971. The exercise aimed to identify illegal immigrants in Assam.
Those not in the register are believed to include both Hindus and Muslims. But Muslims in Assam are more fearful because a controversial citizenship law passed in December 2019 will allow citizenship for migrants from neighboring countries who are either Hindus or one of the other five religions, but not for Muslims.
Analysts like Sahoo say the Assam expulsions are another example of the breakdown in community relations seen in India since the BJP came to power. âIf you connect the dots, it is part of the BJP agenda to rally the Hindu base and create a wedge between the majority community and Muslims not only in Assam but in other places as well. ”
For now, those evicted from Assam live in cramped slums with no basic amenities. An organization that represents minority communities, the All Assam Minorities Students Union, said the displaced face shortages of food, clean water and medicine and demanded appropriate rehabilitation for them.
The state government has said it will provide compensation and relocation for families if they are citizens. “The government will give land to those who do not have it,” said Goswami, a spokesperson for the BJP.
Activist Chakma responds by saying, âYou cannot say that I deported you and now you come to prove your citizenship. Many of them have valid identity papers. How many times will they have to prove that they are citizens?