Amidst the violent evictions of Assamese Muslim farmers being conducted by the state government there, a team of six people travelled to Dhalpur to speak to people from a cross-section of communities.

Their findings have been released by the Association for Protection of Civil Rights in a fact finding report called Eviction, State Violence and Hate.

In Garukhuti in the district of Darrang, land is being cleared for the Chief Minister’s Garukhuti Agriculture Project. Farmers long resident in the area have been termed ‘encroachers’ and are being evicted from their land.

The project is a pet scheme of Assam’s freshly re-elected chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. The superintendent of police in Darrang is Sushanta Biswa Sharma, the chief minister’s younger brother.

The state government claims the project is an effort to provide employment opportunities to the ‘indigenous’ peoples of Assam.

In 2017 it stated that 63 lakh bighas of land were ‘illegally occupied by Bangladeshi migrants’. The number is reported differently in different government reports that echo the same claim.

During his recent election campaign, Sarma stated in public that “the BJP doesn’t need Miya Muslim voters” and won 45% of the vote.

He has also gone on record defending the use of ‘extra-judicial methods’ by the police.

“If an accused tries to snatch the service gun and run away, or even simply flee, and on top of it he is say a rapist, law allows shooting at such a person on the leg but not on the chest,” he incorrectly claimed.

According to the report, Sarma’s politics has always involved “a deliberate process of alienating and ‘othering’ the State’s Muslims.”

In Darrang, the report finds, the police lathi-charged, assaulted and fired on peaceful protestors in Sipajhar when the protesting farmers were already in the process of wrapping up their tents and belongings from the site.

The police firing killed two (Moinul Haque and Shaikh Farid) and injured several others.

According to eyewitness accounts the police beat up Moinul Haque, 33 and shot him dead as he was helping wrap up the peaceful protest.

As Haque lay unconscious, a photographer allegedly hired by the darrang District administration to document the eviction assaulted him, and took a running leap and stomped hard on his chest.

The police personnel did nothing to stop him. As video of the violent act went viral, the photographer identified as Bijoy Shekhar Baniya was reportedly arrested the following day.

The report states that Haque’s family had lived in that riverine area for decades. “But we are still called ‘encroachers’ and ‘Bangladeshis’,” residents told the fact finding team.

Haque is survived by his wife, three children and his aged parents.

In Sipajhar in this violent eviction drive, police also shot dead Farid, a minor who was still in school, near Dhalpur 2, and injured another resident of Dhalpur 3.

Farid’s brother Aamir Hussain, 25 told investigators that Farid was on his way back from the local post office after collecting his Aadhar card, and had to pass through Dhalpur 2 where the violence was underway.

He said their family had not been served an eviction notice.

These residents now labelled ‘encroachers’ had gone through the process of proving their citizenship to their government, and had made it to the National Register of Citizens in Assam. Now they face mass evictions from their homes and livelihoods.

The targets are evidently the Bangla speaking Muslims in Assam.

The eviction drives were begun on September 18, and according to the report the first round of evictions was completed without any resistance from the landless farmers who lived there. Their government dispossessed them with no promises of rehabilitation.

On September 20 the government reportedly ‘cleared’ a further 1,488 acres of land, evicting 800 families and demolishing four mosques.

All of these families were Bengali Muslim families. The stated reason for the evictions once again was that they were an attempt to make space and create employment for the ‘indigenous’ population of Assam.

It was the eviction drive on September 23 in Sipajhar that turned violent. The families here say they were served eviction notices on September 19 (the documents being dated September 10) and were asked to clear out by next day.

Understandably angered, they decided to stage a peaceful protest near Dhalpur 2. When their parley with the police officials sent to meet them proved unsuccessful, the farmers decided to end the protest and leave.

It was at this point that the police opened fire, killing Haque and Farid and injuring several others.

The report also records testimonials of those attacked by police.

Among them is Hasna Bano, 15, Haque’s niece who had taken shelter in her uncle’s home which was later attacked. She was injured by a baton when the cops barged in and began assaulting the family.

While the government claims that these residents were given adequate warning before being instructed to vacate, the residents refute this. They say the eviction notices were served less than 24 hours before the government drive began.

Another survivor of the police shooting, Raziya Khatoon, 26, is currently in hospital. Assam police shot her in the waist while she was accompanied by her three young children. Her husband had to carry her as she bled, on his bike to the Gauhati Medical College and Hospital.

She is still there, and has not received any compensation or representation from the government.

Meanwhile, police statements describe a large mob that advanced with violent intent:

“Following negotiations at the eviction site, the residents assured rehabilitation and other alternate measures. Convinced with the assurances, they had started dispersing to collect their belongings before leaving the area.

“Suddenly, over a hundred people attacked the police party with sticks and stones. We first fired tear gas shells and rubber bullets to disperse them. When it didn't deter them, we had to fire live bullets in self-defense,” said a police officer who was on duty at the eviction site.

The police maintain that all the violent incidents were ‘pre-planned’, ‘fabricated’ and ‘instigated’.

They also specify that they used rubber bullets first, and when they opened fire they aimed below the knee.

In an attempt to ‘calm the protestors’ during the evictions, the police promised to ensure that they get all the necessary facilities for the rehabilitation process.

No such step has been taken yet.

These farming families say they have been living on this land for decades or more. They continue to be called ‘encroachers’, ‘infiltrators’ and ‘settlers’.

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Photograph: Mojammil Hoque