Assam eviction drive compels evicted women to take drastic steps

Women were compelled to strip as the second round of eviction in a year was attempted to take place at Silsako, Assam.
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An eviction drive by the Guwahati Municipal Development Authority (GMDA) in Assam on September 1, 2023 was conducted leading to a protest as women were forced to strip off their clothes in a desperate bid to save their homes and rights. This harrowing incident unfolded in broad daylight just 4.5 km away from the Assam Assembly.

The GMDA accompanied by approximately 700 police personnel had initiated the eviction drive in the Silsako Beel wetland area. It targeted the alleged encroachment on approximately 130 bighas of land. 

As fears of forcible eviction from their homes escalated, women from the affected areas in an act of defiance and desperation shed their clothes, exposing themselves, in a gut wrenching attempt to protect their hard-earned belongings and homes. Police quickly moved in to provide cover and subsequently even detained these women, along with other protesters.

Over the past three days prior to their eviction, there had been meetings with authorities regarding eviction which ultimately culminated in an agreement. The District Commissioner informed the affected individuals about the compensation they would receive. Chief Minister Sarma, speaking to reporters in Nagaon, had also stated that he will construct flats for those who were landless and evicted, “There was a discussion with the public for the last three days and the eviction was done after reaching an understanding. The district commissioner had informed the people about the compensation to be paid. We will build flats for the landless evicted people.”

Local residents have also stringently claimed they had owned the lands for decades and possessed valid land documents. They have stated that they had been consistently paying taxes to the authorities over the years and many have also claimed they were not given sufficient time to relocate their belongings, as the police pressed for a swift eviction. Furthermore, reports have also arose that the eviction process was selective in targeting. A relatively well-off property, which had a hotel constructed on it at the site was not demolished or called to face eviction.

It is worth mentioning that in the Bodo land Territorial Region an autonomous council within Assam governed by the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, eviction notices were issued selectively a month ago. These notices predominantly affected Muslim communities across various districts, impacting around 17,000 families. However, the Gauhati High Court later imposed a stay on these eviction notices and GMDA Chairman Narayan Deka promised proper compensation for those affected by the eviction. 

This is not there first time Silsako has faced eviction drives. In February, earlier this year a major eviction drive was taken out, according to India Today NE. The drive had led to the eviction of 300 people and also the demolition of two temples. Furthermore, in July 2023 too there was news of demolitions, there were huge protests in the area. However, in the case of Silako Beel many remained steadfast in their determination not to leave the area until justice is served for those previously evicted. Silsako has notably seen recurrent eviction drives over the years. According to NewsClick, these drives can be tracked back as far to 2008.

Why do people settle in these regions?

According to Outlook India, the Government of Assam’s Land Policy from 1989 and the 2019 Land Policy both highlight the primary causes of decreasing land in the state and these policies specifically point to flood and erosion as significant factors contributing to this issue. Furthermore, the 2019 Land Policy acknowledges the increasing lack of availability of agricultural land for cultivation.  It identifies multiple reasons behind this decline, including floods, soil erosion, and rapid urbanisation, industrialisation, and land degradation. However the crucial question remains largely unaddressed by the state’s political parties: why did people choose to settle in these vulnerable locations?

Similarly, according to an analysis by Sabrangindia, about 51 % of the total land of Assam consists of forest land, and about, 15 % is under water. This has left only about 35% of the total land open for either agricultural or for living. 

The lack of available land has compelled many displaced families to establish settlements near forested areas, grazing lands, embankments, the fringes of wetlands, or even on hillsides in Assam. This situation is a common occurrence in a flood and erosion-prone state like Assam. There is no official data available to quantify how many people have become landless due to natural disasters and how many have undergone rehabilitation efforts.

Furthermore with an abject increase in the construction of flyovers, toll gates, four-lane highways, and bridges in the state, the poor find no place to live. The rights of landless communities to secure land have not progressed in tandem with these developments, highlighting a significant disparity at all.


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