In September 2021, when the villagers of Dhalpur Char (Darrang, Assam) protested against the evictions without notice, they were met with lathis and bullets, and the world witnessed the brutal killing of Moinul Haque who was shot dead by the police and thereafter, a photojournalist was seen jumping on the dead body. At this time, a team of CPIML activists made a solidarity visit to Darrang district of Assam and released a report on the incidents that took place. (Click Here to the 2021 Report)
Two years later, CPIML activists returned to the village of Dhalpur Char and spoke to the families there to understand the present plight of the evicted people.
It was seen that most of the people evicted in 2021 have built small huts on the Kirakata char, along a river stream. They live in the ever-present danger of the river rising and submerging their homes, which they experienced over five times in 2022 and three times in 2023, and with hardly any relief or support from the district administration.
The loss of livelihoods of the villagers, post the eviction, are apparent in the settlements. The villagers lamented that migration to cities and other places has been the only opportunity to earn a living. The nearest market where any food essential can be availed is 15 km away from Dhalpur. However, after the evictions, a barbed wire has been installed, thus making the 15 km route longer by another 15 km! While there is one functional primary health centre in the area, the doctors only visit the centre once a week, making it difficult for the people to avail medical attention. ASHA workers visit the village only when the people request them to come. Despite having had four anganwadi centres and two primary schools in Dhalpur, after the eviction the same do not seem to be fully functional. Many of the children had to move away from the area to avail an education. It was visible that there were no civic facilities available in the village. It was shocking to see that the women make a makeshift raft out of banana stumps, and row out into the jute swamp to defecate! Post the eviction, the entire land has been fenced off with barbed wire, which includes a temple within the premises where now the people cannot perform Bihu, thus depriving them of their cultural rights as well.
In the incident in 2021, two persons – Moinul and Sheikh Farid – were killed in police firing and 10 others were seriously injured. Sheikh Farid, who was only 14 years old, and hailing from the nearby Kirakat Char was killed by the police when he was helping his relatives pack their belongings. In fact, four others who were injured in the police violence were not from Dhalpur and had come to help their relatives. Of them, Hamed Ali (aged 60 years) is permanently disabled and has had five toes of his right foot amputated, whereas Banesh Ali (aged 35 years) too is permanently disabled and has a rod inserted in his right leg. Sharifuddin sustained a bullet injury to his right leg and was admitted to the hospital, only to be arrested on the day he was discharged from the hospital. He was released after two months.
Turab Ali, aged about 65 years, has had no education. His daughters are married and two of his sons have migrated to other states in search of livelihood. The names of all his family members appear on the NRC list. Turab Ali is forced to support his family on the income of his two sons who occasionally send home some money. Turab Ali moved to Dhalpur from Nagarbera area of Chenga constituency in 1982 after losing everything in the Brahmaputra floods. He started cultivating 10 bighas of land to support his family, but the 2021 eviction turned his life for the worse. At present, he is building a hut next to a stream in the middle of the Brahmaputra.
Amed Ali is aged about 36 years and has not received any education. His father lost his lands to the Brahmaputra erosion, and came to Dhalpur in 1982 from Nagarbera, Chengar. The family was cultivating 7 bighas of land. Amed's only daughter is in eighth standard, while his two sons are in seventh and second standards, respectively. After the eviction, Amed built a hut near the river bank. Amed’s family has no land for cultivation, but grow some vegetables which they sell in the Tongla market every day, which is a travel of 110 km. He earns about Rs. 600 to Rs. 700 a day on good days.
Anwara Khatun, a 35-year-old widow, lost her husband Mohar Ali a few years ago. She too is not educated. Her father-in-law lost everything in the floods of the Brahmaputra in Khelabandha (Barpeta) and moved to Dhalpur about 22 years ago, where he bought 10 bighas of land for Rs. 1,200/- per bigha. The earnings from their land enabled Mohar to build a nice house in Dhalpur, which came to be destroyed in the violence of September 2021. Anwara has four children, where the eldest son works in Tamil Nadu, two of the children are in ninth and seventh standard, and the youngest of them stays at home. Anwara works as a daily-wage labourer to sustain her family. Before the eviction, she earned up to Rs. 500, and now due to less work, the wages are between Rs. 300 and Rs. 350. Anwara's family members are all in the NRC.
Anwara's brother-in-law, Shahar Ali is 31-years-old and has not received education. On the day of the eviction in September 2021, he was shot in the right ankle by the police causing grievous injury. The government did not provide anything in the name of treatment. It is with the help of family, acquaintances and fellow villagers, that he was able to get medical assistance. The bullet injury has caused permanent disablement and he is still receiving treatment. His family includes his wife, Mallika Khatun, daughter Shaharbhan who is in class eight and son Jahangir Alam who studies in class three. He also has a small child. The family also includes his elderly parents Fazan Ali and Sairun Khatun, who also have to be taken care of. All of their names are in the NRC.
Chakman Ali is another victim of the evictions. He has two sons, of whom the eldest has dropped out of school, while his younger son lives with Chakman’s brother in Kalaigaon for his education. His daughter studies in third grade at Char Primary School. Chakman's widowed sister has been living with for the past nine years along with her three sons. Chakman was born in Gajbari Char on the Brahmaputra near Mayang. The char was washed away by the river forcing his family to move to another char on the Brahmaputra, which was also washed away. In 2020, Chakman bought land at Dhalpur for Rs. 2 lakhs, which they were evicted from in September 2021. After the eviction, his family has been living on a bullock cart and have not been able to build a home for themselves. While his entire family’s names are on the NRC, Chakman finds his name missing on the list.
In 2021, the BJP came back to power for the second time with Himanta Biswa Sharma as its Chief Minister, who began evictions of ‘chars’ – the river islands on the Brahmaputra and its tributaries – without any prior notice. These evictions were allegedly as per Land Policy of 2019. This Land Policy emphatically mandates that the land rights of the indigenous people of Assam shall be protected, and as such provides for the allotment of land to indigenous people after the removal of “non-indigenous encroachers”. In the 2018 Report by the Committee for the Protection of Land Rights of the Indigenous People of Assam, commonly known as the Brahma Committee Report, it was stated that, “… all indigenous people of Assam are citizens of India, but all citizens of India are not indigenous people of Assam”. This report defines an “indigenous person” to be someone having certain basic elements that make a person indigenous, including having lived in the State of Assam for several generations, belonging to an ancient tribe/ethnic clan living in Assam which “originated in Assam and from generation after generation engaged in sustaining the linguistic, cultural and social tradition and vale of the pre-colonial/pre-invasion era,” who believes “his culture, tradition and language to be different from others inhabiting his land due to their exodus”, and also believes that “the ancient people of his clan have become or are poised to become minority in his own land due to migration of invasion by outsiders/foreigners”. Such definition of the indigenous people have been comprehensively rejected by the Left, progressive and democratic forces in Assam. Despite the same, the Brahma Committee Report and the Land Policy, 2019 were used against the people in Dhalpur to aid their eviction, even though 95% of the people find their names in the NRC and have lived in Dhalpur for over 40 to 50 years.
Further, the Land Policy acknowledges that 7,000 sq.km. of land has been eroded by different rivers since 1950 and that the average annual rate of erosion is about 8,000 hectares. It is reported that 252 revenue villages have eroded out of existence since 1947! Further aggravating the situation and over the years, agricultural land has become uncultivable due to sand and silt deposits from the floods. The indiscriminate erosion and loss of lands affect people from all communities and lakhs of people are affected due to river erosion.
However, the land policy was selectively used by the BJP government against the Muslim community, to communally polarise the society. After the Guwahati High Court order directing the Assam government to provide land to the 1,400 evicted families, the same remains unimplemented.