The Hijab controversy took an ugly turn in Assam when in a shocking incident in Silchar, a Muslim family was attacked in full public view, allegedly by members of Bajrang Dal on February 23.
Robijul Ali Barbhuiyan, a retired school teacher, was out with his wife, daughter and granddaughter, when the goons surrounded their vehicle on Trunk Road, near the All India Radio station and pelted stones at them. According to Barak Bulletin, the attackers pulled Barbhuiyan’s beard. This clearly indicates that he was targeted and attacked due to his Muslim identity. He used to teach at the Arkatipur Government school and now lives with his family in Rongpur.
“We were on our way back from Ramnagar when a mob of nearly 100 people attacked us near the AIR station at around 5 in the evening,” Barbhuiyan told Jago Digital. “The called me a ‘Baangaal’ (a slur used for people of alleged Bangladeshi descent) and pulled my beard. They said they will not let ‘Baangaals’ live here. Some boys claimed they belonged to the Bajrang Dal,” recalled Barbhuiyan.
Videos shared by Jago Digital show that his wife suffered injuries to her chin and wrist. Barbhuiyan’s daughter recalled, “They pelted stones at us. My mother was injured. I got hit on the head. I shudder at the thought of how we managed to protect my daughter!”
Five of the attackers, all allegedly members of Bajrang Dal, have been arrested by the police. They have been identified as Hitesh Ghosh, Chiranjit Kumar Sinha, Sunny Dev, Susan Das and Nibash Paul, as per The Sentinel. The Bajrang Dal had been holding anti-Hijab protests in the area.
According to Cachar Superintendent of Police, Ramandeep Kaur, “Some youths allegedly attack a Muslim family near All India Radio. Two ladies and one male person sustained injuries and their car was also damaged.”
The kindling and the matchstick
The hijab controversy was merely the latest matchstick that lit the kindling provided by the growing communalism in the state. The identity of the minority community is being conflated with that of illegal migrants from Bangladesh, a nefarious tactic by right-wing groups, who appear to have the regime’s blessings.
Assam had a rich history of a pluralistic culture where Hindus and Muslims have co-existed peacefully, but the trouble began when the ruling regime started adding a communal colour to the contentious citizenship issue that had until then primary revolved around ethnicity, and not religion.
The current Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has himself made disparaging remarks about “Miya Muslims” in the past, saying he did not need their votes in the run up to elections in 2021. After he became Chief Minister, one of his pet projects has been to evict families of people dubbed “outsiders” and give the land to “indigenous” people for farming, fishing and building cow shelters.
It is noteworthy that a vast majority of families evicted belong to the Muslim minority, who are all now lumped into a common identity of being “outsiders” even if there is no proof of them being illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. In fact, most of them are from within the state itself and victims of erosion of their farmlands in the riverine region. SabrangIndia had reported previously about how the eviction drives are disproportionately targetting members of the Muslim community.
It was during one such eviction drive on September 23, 2021 in Gorukhuti village of Dhalpur in Sipajhar Circle of Darrang District, that two people were shot dead by the Assam Police. The victims were – Sheikh Farid, who was a 12-year-old boy returning home from a nearby Aadhaar Card centre, and 28-year-old Maynal Haque who was a daily wage earner, responsible for feeding his family of elderly parents, a wife and three small children.