Two Muslim civilians were killed and several others injured in the Indian state of Assam after police opened fire on people resisting eviction from their homes.
The government had tasked local police to clear more than one hundred square kilometres of government land in the Dholpur Gorukhuti area of Darrang district from alleged “illegal settlers,” who are believed to be Bengali-speaking Muslims.
Sheikh Farid, a 17-year-old, and Maynal Haque, 27, were killed during the firing. The government has initiated a probe into the killings and those injured in the police action.
A video that went viral on social media shows a man being charged by a group of police officials and shot in the chest and subsequently beaten while he lies on the ground unconscious.
A local photographer appointed by the local administration to cover the eviction drive was also seen beating and jumping on the dead person.
The photographer, identified as Bijay Shankar Bania, was later arrested by local police. “The moment I saw the video, I ordered the immediate arrest of the photographer. There is zero tolerance to such actions,” Assam police chief Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta said.
The eviction drive was primarily to expel the Bengali-speaking Muslim population of Sipajhar and later give the land to “landless indigenous communities” and for agricultural purposes. According to the authorities around 1,200-1,300 families were evicted from the area.
Himanta Biswa Sarma, Chief Minister (CM) of the state, said: “The police were given a task to evict the encroachers and were carrying out their work when they were attacked by the people with stones and sharp weapons. There was a firing from the police. The eviction drive will continue.”
According to the CM, four religious structures (thought to be mosques) and one private institution were also demolished.
Aminul Islam, the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) general secretary, said: “We cannot accept it. It shows that the CM is taking sadistic pleasure out of it.”
A senior advocate and member of the upper house of the Indian parliament, Kapil Sibal, said on Twitter: “Assam – barbaric images of brutality seen on social media against those resisting eviction have shaken me. The silence of our government has disheartened me.” Sibal demanded that the courts intervene.
Former president of the Congress Party and current MP Rahul Gandhi termed the incident as “state-sponsored fire.” In a tweet he wrote: “I stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the state – no children of India deserve this.”
The state’s Congress president, Bhupen Kumar Borah said: “The very act of eviction is in itself inhumane, especially during the Covid situation.”
And AIUDF MLA Ashraful Hussain tweeted: “Terror force of fascist, communal and bigoted government, shooting at its own citizens… The appeal of these villagers, against eviction, is pending in the High Court. Couldn’t the government wait till the Court order?”