Villagers say they gathered to demand rehabilitation of nearly 800 families evicted from the land they claimed to have been living in for decades
At least two civilians -- both Muslims -- were killed in police firing on Thursday during a controversial drive to evict whom the authorities term “illegal settlers” in the Indian state of Assam, where a mega temple complex is reportedly planned.
The deceased are Saddam Hussain and Sheikh Farid, EastMojo reported, citing a police official.
According to BBC Bangla, the incident in the Sipajhar area of the state’s Darrang district occurred when “Bengali Muslims” staged a demonstration over the eviction of their homesteads, where a temple of Hindu God Shiva would be expanded.
This happens as the BJP-led government ordered a series of evictions across the state to remove allegedly illegal settlers occupying land belonging to Vasihnavite satras, ancient temples and the government.
Meanwhile, the Assam government ordered an inquiry by a retired judge of the Gauhati High Court into the killings and the circumstances leading to the incident.
Earlier in the day, locals told Scroll.in that at least three people were feared dead in the incident in which police opened fire on those protesting against an eviction drive.
Darrang Superintendent of Police Sushanta Biswa Sarma said that nine policemen had also been injured in the incident, NDTV reported.
After the incident, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told journalists that the eviction drive will continue.
“Police are doing their duty... As per my information, people attacked the police with machetes, spears and other things,” Sarma said. “Eviction has restarted [after the violence] and will continue tomorrow as well.”
Late on Wednesday night, the administration served an eviction notice to residents of Kirakota Char, many locals claimed.
Villagers said they had gathered to demand rehabilitation of nearly 800 families evicted from the land they claimed to have been living in for decades.
Last Monday, the district administration evicted 800 households in the first phase of eviction without any untoward incident being reported. Thursday’s drive was meant to evict the remaining 500 households who had been served notices the previous day.
Protests erupted on Thursday morning. After that, the administration reportedly promised that the villagers will be rehabilitated before the eviction.
However, once activists left the area, the police opened fire on the protestors, residents alleged.
A video widely circulated after the incident shows policemen opening fire and then falling upon a protestor who was running towards them with a stick. A few seconds later, he lies motionless on the ground, apparently shot in the chest. A photographer accompanying the police repeatedly assaults the man as he lies on the ground.
Wednesday’s notice was the latest installment of the Assam government’s eviction drive against what it terms “illegal encroachments” in Sipajhar area.
Assam Special Director General of Police GP Singh defended police firing, but assured action against the photographer.
“Wherever there were violations of SOPs [standard operating procedures] and protocols, police will take action,” Singh told The Indian Express. “The only thing I can say is that having seen the video, we will take action against him [Bijoy Bonia]… no questions asked.”
Chief Minister Sarma had said on Monday that the authorities cleared 1,487 acres of land. But some reports said that 2645 acres of land were cleared.
Monday’s eviction drive was carried out in Dholpur 1 and Dholpur 3 of Sipajhar area from 9am to 4pm, Darrang Superintendent of Police Sushanta Biswa Sarma had told The Indian Express. Most residents are Muslims of Bengali origin.
The eviction drives are being undertaken more than three months after Sarma promised to clear encroachments from over 25,455 acres of government land to make space for organic farming by unemployed young people.
As Scroll.in reported in June, the Assam government proceeded with its eviction drives, despite a court order, amid the devastating second wave of the coronavirus. Most of those displaced in the process were also Muslims of Bengali origin.