A series very unfortunate and heartbreaking events occurred in Assam last week. Brutal state violence was unleashed upon the marginalized Muslims of Bengali origin of Assam. They were subjected to sporadic violence, systemic marginalization, constantly stereotyped as foreigners and intruders due to their Bengali and Muslim ethnicity.
Spatially they are located in the Brahmaputra floodplains which floods seasonally, destroying homes and agricultural lands forcing people to relocate themselves to higher barren grounds or infertile lands, incurring huge losses. State authorities were negligent towards this seasonal natural calamity and failed to address this issue systematically. The constant relocation and consequent problems have been the root cause of the xenophobia as the victims have always been Bengali Muslims or Miya community, as they are popularly addressed.
The recent events started when the government evicted around 800 families of Bengali Muslims as part of government relocation program from Brahmaputra floodplains located at Darang district, near to state capital Guwahati.
Evicted families democratically protested against the state. The state sponsored police fired upon the dissenters. Police shooting claimed 2 lives and injured more than 20 people. Moinul Haqq, who rushed to save his family from the police attack was shot in cold blood and was repeatedly stamped on by a cameraman, who was accompanying the police personnel. An horrific video footage of the event went viral depicting the brutality of the police and the xenophobic barbaric act upon the deceased by a cameraman.
Immediately after the occurrence of the unfortunate event, SIO decided to launch nationwide protests against state violence. As part of a delegation of Muslims organization from Delhi, went to Assam.
Initially we went to the Deputy Commissioner Prabhati Thaosen and she responded to the event as an unfortunate occurrence which should not have happened in the first place. She said that they are investigating the matter and cautioned us not to enter the area as Section 144 is imposed. Then we spoke to the SP Sushanta Biswa. He tried to justify the police action and portrayed the event as a mob attack towards the police. He said that they were compelled to open the fire as their initial effort to quell the violence was futile. But the people from the area disagree with his narrative and reiterate that the majority of people who got notice for eviction had already moved from there. The democratic protestors were the only ones who had no means to resettle.
We discussed the matter also with the Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa for almost an hour. He expressed his regrets about the unfortunate incident and renounced the actions of the journalist who was arrested for his act. He further added that a judicial investigation was ordered to investigate the matter and gave special permission to visit the area, despite the prevalence of Section 144.
We visited the house of the martyr, Moinul Haqq and spoke to his wife, brothers and parents. Haqq was an agricultural labor for a long time and his wife works as a helper in the nearby anganwadi and is paid around 2000 monthly. His youngest child goes to anganwadi and two elder children go to primary school. After enquiring in detail, SIO offered full educational assistance to Moinul Haqq’s children.
We then visited the graveyard of the martyr with the assistance of the locals who even showed us the stick that he carried before he was shot.
From thereon, we went to visit Sheikh Fareed’s home. 12 year old Fareed was shot down while returning home after getting his own Aadhar Card. We were helpless in consoling his grieving mother who just lost her youngest child. His grave was very near to his home.
We visited the nearby Madrassa and Mosque and talked to multiple people present. We observed that many people who were evicted haven’t even got the basic amenities to resettle. The delegation also visited two schools in the vicinity and ensured ample food and medicines are available over there.
After having conversations with many people from the area, we concluded that a proper investigation should be carried out about the police firing and state violence unleashed upon its citizens. Strong action must be taken against the culprits who unleashed the violence against the innocents. In almost all prior incidents against Bengali Muslims of Assam, culprits were not convicted and the prime reason behind the recurrence of these Islamophobic incidents are the non conviction of the culprits.
Another major issue faced by the residents of Darang district is the seasonal flooding of Brahmaputra river. Suitable and appropriate measures should be taken by the state administration to mitigate the problem and must ensure proper rehabilitation of the residents who live in the floodplains who engage in agricultural activity. Adequate measures should be taken to ensure rehabilitated lands are fertile and habitable.
We are aware about the xenophobic campaigns against Muslims of Bengali origin or Miya community. Its pretty clear from the series of evictions of the past 5 years that the victims were always the Muslim peasants who speak Bengali. The community is much marginalized, impoverished and live in meagre social conditions. They are mostly peasant and daily wage earners. Out of thousands of Muslims, there is only one advocate and a couple of military and police personnel.
A decision has been made to start active relief programs in co-ordination with other like mined groups and organisations. We will also pursue actions to ensure the victim’s families get justice and adequate compensation from the administration. SIO has decided to be in the forefront of this matter of grave concern and it will not rest until justice has been served to all the victims. The struggle shall continue for Miya community to live an honorable and dignified existence in Assam.
This is a collection of recorded experiences by the author on his visit to darrang district, Assam.