The Indian state has been a cauldron of ethnic tensions for decades and the latest round of forced expulsions of hundreds of Muslims is only making the matters worse.

ASSAM -- On September 24, dawn broke to an eerie silence in the riverine char villages of Dhalpur 1 and 3 deep inside Assam’s Darrang district, a lush green hinterland in the northeastern part of India. On the days prior, the shifting sands in the river island had soaked in the tears and blood of 800 families - Muslims of Bengal origin - displaced from their tin roofs and walls in a forced eviction drive carried out on September 20 and 23. The residents say they received the eviction notice only the night before it began. 

Panic and chaos ensued as residents were forcibly driven out of their homes, shortly after which the excavators razed them to the ground. By the second instance, the evictors - Assam Police and district administration - persisted with more aggression burning down homes this time around. The authorities say the land these families were displaced from belonged to the government.

A piece of clothing laid at the site where 12 year old Sheikh Farid was shot dead in a police firing during a protest staged by the evicted residents on September 23. His Aadhaar card was found in his pockets.
A piece of clothing laid at the site where 12 year old Sheikh Farid was shot dead in a police firing during a protest staged by the evicted residents on September 23. His Aadhaar card was found in his pockets. (Prakash Bhuyan / TRTWorld)

On the day before reporters descended, the evicted locals along with close neighbours (fearing they might be next in line) gathered in a human chain to protest the forceful eviction drive. Residents said that their representatives were in discussion with the district administration to negotiate a proper relocation site for them apart from the 1000 bighas (133 hectares) that had been allotted close by. 

What followed next was a gruesome display of State firepower along with a heavy cocktail of ethnic and communal contempt. 

Residents of Dhalpur 3 village alleged that the Assam State Police burnt down their houses during the eviction drive, reducing their belongings to ashes.
Residents of Dhalpur 3 village alleged that the Assam State Police burnt down their houses during the eviction drive, reducing their belongings to ashes. (Prakash Bhuyan / TRTWorld)

"He knew he was going to die"

In a video that went viral on Thursday evening, thirty-three-year-old Moinul Haque is seen chasing police constables and a photographer wielding a cane to the reception of police forces, who gunned him down with bullets and dealt heavy baton blows to his body. Whilst still warm, the photographer - a Bijoy Bania employed by the district administration who has since been arrested - trampled on Haque’s body that lay deathly still. 

At least eight people were heavily injured in police firing that the residents alleged commenced without any warning, either blank shots in the air or the use of lighter force like baton charge. Three cops were also injured in the mayhem and they are all being treated in the Guwahati Medical College and Hospital. 

The locals said that many family members were still missing but no one had any clue or account of just how many and where they may have been lost. Twelve-year-old Sheikh Farid, who was caught in the milieu of the day’s mayhem, shortly after he collected his Aadhaar (biometric identification) card from the local post office fell dead to live bullets.

A man breaks down in a tearful wail while offering Friday prayers in the afternoon at the site of the demolished mosque in Dhalpur 3, Sipajhar, Darrang district. Despite their requests, the mosque was razed to the ground by excavators along with the homes of 800 families starting from September 20.
A man breaks down in a tearful wail while offering Friday prayers in the afternoon at the site of the demolished mosque in Dhalpur 3, Sipajhar, Darrang district. Despite their requests, the mosque was razed to the ground by excavators along with the homes of 800 families starting from September 20. (Prakash Bhuyan / TRTWorld)

All the residents we spoke to said their names were in the NRC, ready to produce their documents whether voter lists, Aadhaar or even land tax records that a few were in possession of. Their voices quivered as they recalled the events of the previous day, eventually turning into a soft then loud wail. 

“Another team of police came out of nowhere when the deputy commissioner said the eviction will go ahead at any cost, which is when I heard the sound of gunshots,” said Ahmed Ali, who broke down in tears saying his child went missing the day before. “I went looking for my kid along with my brother, who was shot with a rubber bullet on the side of his torso". 

Maqbool Ali, father of 33 year old Moinul Haque, saw the viral video of his son dying in police firing with a photographer trampling on his body, late at night. “When I heard the photographer was arrested, I was a little relieved but the pain will not go away,” he said. Moinul was the sole breadwinner for his parents, wife and three kids.
Maqbool Ali, father of 33 year old Moinul Haque, saw the viral video of his son dying in police firing with a photographer trampling on his body, late at night. “When I heard the photographer was arrested, I was a little relieved but the pain will not go away,” he said. Moinul was the sole breadwinner for his parents, wife and three kids. (Prakash Bhuyan / TRTWorld)

Ali said that the police set fire to a table in which he had kept 26,000 INR and 800 kilograms of jute stored inside his house. “I’ve lost everything. How will poor people like us survive? Is this happening because we’re Muslims? Even our mosques and Qurans were not spared”.

The Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party government in the state are calling these residents ‘illegal encroachers’ occupying 4500 bighas (602 hectares) of land that would be now repurposed as agricultural land for the older Assamese (Hindu and Muslim) residents living nearby. Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma tweeted earlier last week that he was ‘happy’ the way the district administration had cleared the land of 800 households along with four ‘illegal religious structures’ and a private institution. He defended the police firing saying thousands had attacked the forces 

The evicted residents of Dhalpur 3 village have temporarily taken shelter by the river, drawing from it directly for all their domestic needs and consumption. With no idea about where they will finally be relocated by the government, they fear that the rains will swell the river and drown their makeshift homes in it.
The evicted residents of Dhalpur 3 village have temporarily taken shelter by the river, drawing from it directly for all their domestic needs and consumption. With no idea about where they will finally be relocated by the government, they fear that the rains will swell the river and drown their makeshift homes in it. (Prakash Bhuyan / TRTWorld)
The last remnants of a razed tin house deep inside the char where any signs of their life here for decades had been erased by fire or crushed under earth excavators.
The last remnants of a razed tin house deep inside the char where any signs of their life here for decades had been erased by fire or crushed under earth excavators. (Prakash Bhuyan / TRTWorld)

The day Haque and Farid were brutally killed transforming the farmland into a killing field, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi in his address at the United Nations General Assembly said that those using extremism as a political tool with regressive thinking must understand that terrorism is equally a threat to them. He was alluding to the self-elected Taliban rulers in Afghanistan.

A woman sits under a tin roof, the only remnant left of her house, with her children. A heavy downpour on Tuesday followed their eviction a day before with many children coming down with fever and diarrhoea.
A woman sits under a tin roof, the only remnant left of her house, with her children. A heavy downpour on Tuesday followed their eviction a day before with many children coming down with fever and diarrhoea. (Prakash Bhuyan / TRTWorld)
The char fields - where they once grew jute, peanuts and vegetables -  were strewn all over with a variety of belongings from boxes, chairs, almirahs (cloth hanger) and bicycles that appeared displaced like its owners.
The char fields - where they once grew jute, peanuts and vegetables - were strewn all over with a variety of belongings from boxes, chairs, almirahs (cloth hanger) and bicycles that appeared displaced like its owners. (Prakash Bhuyan / TRTWorld)

Assam CM Sarma posted the video in a tweet saying, “PM Shri @narendramodi ji takes a strong stand against state-sponsored terrorism that has paralysed several nations across the globe #PMModiAtUNGA”.

“The police and CRP (army) were already firing shots at Haque and the other residents,” said Mohammad Ibramul, a resident we met outside Haque’s family's new makeshift home. Enraged by the high handedness of the police, Ibramul said that his neighbour didn’t care for a reason anymore when he charged at them with a mere cane in hand. 

“He knew he was going to die”. 

Source: TRT World