Assam Eviction Drive Displaces Over 800 Muslim Families
On Monday, the Assam government carried out a mass eviction drive in the Darrang district, leaving 800 families homeless. The families were predominantly of East Bengal origin. According to a fact-finding team, comprising activists and human rights organizations, they had settled in the village since the 1980s.
The eviction drive is reportedly the second one to happen in the area this year. The first one, carried out in June, drove out 50 families, of which 49 were Muslim, and 1 was Hindu. The basis for the first eviction was that the land belonged to a “pre-historic” Shiva temple. However, the fact-finding report traced the temple’s origins to the 1980s.
Further, the government deployed more than 1,200 police personnel and army jawans to evict the “encroachers,” residents told The Wire. Assam’s chief minister called the residents “illegal settlers.” His cabinet formed a committee solely for this purpose, titled ‘Project Gorukhuti,’ and allotted more than 9 crore rupees.
But the eviction drive also carried deep-seated undertones of ethnic prejudice.
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“The land belonging to the indigenous people has been encroached upon on a large-scale with a well-designed conspiracy by a group of well-organized encroachers who have always been posing as a threat to the identity and existence of the indigenous people,” a government official said.
The minister’s argument echoes the rationale behind the insidious National Registry of Citizens (NRC). The NRC is a government exercise that disenfranchises millions by declaring them, non-citizens. Its motivation is to “root out” foreigners who allegedly threaten Assam’s indigenous communities and thereby test the validity of people’s citizenship claims. In Assam, the government recently declared a “final” list of citizens, predominantly excluding Bengali Muslims.
The prejudice against Bengali Muslims in Assam, however, goes a long way back. In 1983, right-wing student outfits massacred over 3,000 Muslims, claiming they were “illegal foreigners” in Assam. Following this, many anti-Muslim massacres took place, culminating in the NRC — a decades-long effort to declare Bengali Muslims non-citizens officially. As a result, the government routinely asks people to “prove” their citizenship without explaining why their citizenship was ever in doubt.
Bengali Muslims whose names do appear in the NRC, however, are not spared either. In the present eviction drive, the fact-finding team reported that residents showed their names on the final list. The government carried out a similar eviction in 2020 against residents who did appear in the NRC. Contrary to the claim that the residents were squatting “illegally” on government land, The Caravan reported that many Muslim families did possess title deeds in their names.
Further, the eviction drive involved members of the same student union responsible for a violent history of anti-Muslim massacres, including in 1983.
The eviction committee stated that government will use the land for “agricultural” purposes. However, the eviction drives are part of a more significant endeavor to disenfranchise Bengali Muslims in Assam. The government went forward with the demolishment without a proper rehabilitation plan. Social media visuals show the former residents building makeshift shelters to live in in the meantime.