Deliberate over-reaction of Assam Police

Deliberate over-reaction of Assam Police: Brutality in the name of evicting encroachers

Eviction operations in Assam have turned out to be communal drives targeted at the Muslim population

Students activists display placards to protest against a government eviction drive, which turned violent with killing two people in Assam, during a demonstration outside the Assam Bhawan in New Delhi on September 24, 2021. Credit: AFP Photo

The over-reaction of the Assam police during an operation to evict alleged encroachers has attracted national attention and widespread condemnation. The operation was conducted last week in Darrang district of the state where government land was said to have been encroached by people who mostly belong to the Bengali Muslim community. Two people, including a 12-year-old boy, were killed in police firing which, considering the circumstances, was a deliberate over-reaction.

There was no warning or lathi-charge before the firing. The firing was also allegedly done with an intention to kill, as both the victims were shot in the chest from the front. What has invited much revulsion and condemnation is that the photographer accompanying the police stomped many times on the body of the dying man. He has been charged after the footage came to light. The footage also showed a policeman hitting the fallen man on his head and others beating him.

Eviction operations in Assam have turned out to be communal drives targeted at the Muslim population. The words of the leaders of the state’s ruling party and the government, including Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, have framed such actions in communal terms. The situation is such that all Bengali Muslims, including those who have lived in the state for generations, are called outsiders. Muslims and Hindus of Bengali origin have settled in Assam since the 19th century. To consider them, especially the Muslims, as aliens is to feed divisive politics and thrive on it.

Also read: Courts must take suo motu cognisance of Assam 'brutality': Sibal

The CAA and NRC narratives aggravated this. Sarma had termed the last Assembly elections in the state as a contest between “65% and 35%’’, clearly alluding to the religious composition of the population. Such attitudes are seen to have influenced government policies and actions like freeing government land or forest areas of encroachments. 

Encroachment of public land and its illegal occupation is a serious issue in Assam. The government has the right to deal with it. But it is wrong to use it for communal polarisation of society. In many of the areas that are considered illegally occupied, residents have enjoyed facilities provided by the government. It is also known that all communities have encroached on public land because of the state’s specific socio-economic and environmental circumstances, but only one community is targeted for action.

There are also instances where evicted people settle down at another place or return to the same place after some time. Matters relating to land and home should be handled with care and understanding, not with vengeance and hatred. The brutality and the inhuman conduct seen last week as part of the police action was shocking even in a culture where atrocities are routine.

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