Many activist and human rights defenders believe that this eviction and the invocation of the fear of illegal immigrants encroaching the land of the khilonjiya community a last-minute attempt to win over Assamese voters just before the Lok Sabha election.
Assam: Authorities in the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council (KAAC) forcibly evicted more than 600 Muslim families from their land in Hojai, saying the families, had encroached upon government land. Over 2700 were rendered homeless and a woman called Kulsuma Begum was left dead as she had given birth just two hours before the eviction drive began.
"Seven to eight policemen entered the house and started ransacking it. I could take some stuff out. When I came back I saw Kulsuma was lying on the floor and couldn't move," Ramisa Khatun told Al Jazeera.
Newsclick reported that a heavily pregnant Kulsuma was dragged out of her home and physically assaulted by army men and forest officials, some locals alleged. “She was left out in the open bleeding and soon went into labour, giving birth to a son under the open sky. Even as Kulsuma lay writhing in pain, not a single official present took any step to make arrangements to provide any kind of medical help, the local said. It was the local people, along with some web news portal journalists, who raised some money and sent Kulsuma first to the Lanka Primary Health Centre, from where she was shifted to Nagaon’s Bhogeshwari Phukononi Civil Hospital, and then because of her extreme critical condition, she was shifted to Guwahati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH),” the report said.
“On March 11, Kulsuma Begum died. Her new-born son in GMCH was left motherless and homeless, all because of the eviction drive carried out by the Assam government. Kulsum’s death was the result of the denial of medical service and amounts to gross violation of human rights. Till date, no official has been held accountable for such callousness,” the report said.
Following public outrage, a formal police complaint (First Information Report) was filed against several KAAC officials as well as a local police officer.
"A case has been registered and the investigation is going on," Hojai Deputy Commissioner (DC) Tanmoy Borgohain told Al Jazeera.
Tuliram Ronghang, chief executive member of the KAAC and leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Assam, alleged that undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh had encroached upon the land, which belonged to Karbi Anglong.
The eviction process began on March 2 and about 1,200 acres of land was cleared on March 4, which is almost 80 per cent of the occupied land.
According to the evicted people, they had shifted to Lankaijan from Dhubori, Saigon, Mairabari and Nagaon and occupied the land by paying the local village headman. However, they could not produce any document in support of their claim.
The eviction, which began around 7 am on March 4, engaged eight excavators and around 500 forest officials. The operation continued up to Pampi Nala which is the official border between the two districts. With the backing of a strong detachment of 500 police and paramilitary personnel, the district administration could demolish around 600 houses, in addition to 35 constructions on March 2, out of the demarcated 1,016 houses. Thousands of evicted persons who could not produce any legal document alleged that the drive was politically motivated. A section also claimed that they had registered their names in the NRC on the basis of their illegally occupied land.
Ronghang said, “The decision to carry out the eviction drive was taken to protect the land from doubtful citizens and to protect the indigenous population.”
“KAAC plans to resume the eviction drive as soon as possible. I have thanked the Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma for their support,” added KAAC CEM Ronghang. The eviction drive was assisted by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in addition to Assam Police.
However, the evictees refuted Ronghang's allegations, saying they are genuine Indian citizens. Some activists questioned the legality of the entire operation, saying Sarkebasti village fell under Hojai district and not under KAAC jurisdiction.
"The Karbi Anglong district doesn't have any locus standi to evict the people here," Saidur Rahman, president of Hojai district committee of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, a peasant movement, told Al Jazeera.
A court in Guwahati finally put a stop on the evictions asking the administrations in Hojai and Karbi Anglong to settle the border dispute.
“The Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti’s Hojai Committee staged a protest on March 8, demanding that eviction be stayed till the boundary of the two districts is finalised. But even before the protest was over, the police, Army and paramilitary forces reportedly attacked the unarmed protestors. The lathi-charge left more than 30 people injured. Videos of the lathi-charge doing rounds on social media showed women with broken arms, bloodied men, students laying unconscious after being hit. Victims of the eviction claimed that civilians from Karbi Anglong district also took part in the violence and the looting that followed,” Newsclick reported.
Activists have raised concerns at the timings of the evictions as elections are barely a couple of weeks away. But Borgohain assured his administration has taken steps to address the concerns regarding the conduct of the elections (among the displaced people). In Guwahati, Talukdar's CPM party and other civil society groups organised a protest march to seek justice for Kulsuma. Assam's Muslims are more vulnerable as certain political forces treat them as "second class citizens because of their identity", Talukdar said.
Syed Burhanur Rahman, a lawyer at Gauhati High Court, said the eviction could result in the affected Muslims being declared stateless, in a report by Al Jazeera.
Last July, nearly four million people, mostly Muslims, were excluded from a draft citizenship list, effectively stripping them of their citizenship. A Supreme Court-monitored body National Register of Citizens (NRC) is working to publish its final list that aims to identify undocumented Bangladeshi immigrants.
"Despite the warning from the highest authority of the district administration that it will affect the NRC process, how the government could go ahead with the eviction drive?" asked Rahman.
Many activists and human rights defenders believe that this eviction and the invocation of the fear of illegal immigrants encroaching the land of the Khilonjiya community a last-minute attempt to win over Assamese voters just before the Lok Sabha election.