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New Delhi: The bullets in the bodies of three people who received bullet injuries after having been shot at by police during the September 21 eviction drive carried out by Assam government in Darrang district had not been removed even on September 27, when a fact-finding team visited them in hospital, the team has alleged.
The team, led by the Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR), say they visited the Gauhati Medical College and Hospital (GMHC) on September 27 and saw that the bullets had not been removed from the injured persons’ bodies.
“We came across an injured woman, a child and a man with bullets in their bodies who were not operated upon till we visited them at the government-run hospital on September 27. We complained about it. This helped because they were operated upon the very next day,” Nadeem Khan, co-founder of United Against Hate and secretary of APCR, told reporters in New Delhi.
Khan and five others visited Dholpur in Darrang district’s Sipajhar revenue circle last week. He said, “Twelve people were injured in the police shootout during the eviction drive, out of whom, nine were admitted at GMHC for treatment.”
He also alleged that out of the nine, three people, including a 17-year-old boy, who had injuries from bullets that bruised his neck and shoulder, were forcibly discharged from the hospital by police and taken into custody.
“When we visited the family of Moinul Hoque, who is one of the two who died in police firing, we also learnt from the family that his young son, Ashraful Hoque, has to report physically every day at 7 pm to the Sipajhar police station. There, he is asked which media person and activist he met during the day,” Khan said.
“I want to ask, ‘What kind of a treatment is this of a young person who has lost his father in a violent incident?’” Khan added.
At the press meet, APCR released a report based on their visit to the areas where the state government had carried out the eviction drive.
The drive, carried out by Darrang district authorities at Dholpur villages No 1, 2 and 3, had hit national headlines on September 21 after a horrific video clip of a team of Assam Police personnel surrounding a lone evictee holding a stick and shooting at him in close range circulated on social media. Civilian Bijay Kumar Bania, hired as a cameraperson by the district administration to document the eviction process, stomped multiple times on the evictee lying on the ground with a bullet injury on his chest, in a scene of extreme brutality.
Senior Supreme Court lawyer Sanjay Hegde, speaking at the press meet, focused on state police using “disproportionate force” on the evictees at Dholpur.
“The law grants a person the right to defend his life and property. May be he (Hoque) was wrong because he is supposed to yield to lawful authority. Even then police’s use of gun on him is much in excess of the right to defence. We will have to call it an act of culpable homicide,” said Hedge.
He also added, “What happened in Assam, or what happened yesterday at Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh or recently in Karnal in Haryana, only shows that we now have a violent society and a violent administration. The rule of law has been replaced by rule or danda (baton) and rule of the gun.”
Hegde said, “We have to now ask questions like whether there was an adequate postmortem conducted on the two persons killed during the eviction (in Assam) and whether they were videographed; whether any particular investigation has commenced.”
‘Muslims called names, labelled encroachers’
Writer Farah Naqvi, speaking on the occasion, termed the Assam Police shooting during the eviction as “state-backed terror”. “We crossed a Rubicon with this incident,” she stated, requesting media persons present at the press conference to also ponder over what it would be like for a poor person to lose one’s home and life’s possessions in one stroke. “I have seen a lot of this, in Gujarat, in Muzaffarnagar. In Muzaffarnagar in 2013, more than killings, I saw the displacement of people.”
She also stated, “Muslims have been called by all kinds of names lately…UPSC jihad, land jihad, love jihad, termites…and now they are called encroachers…in Assam. The National Register of Citizens was conducted and when these people passed that test, they are now being labelled encroachers. The motive was clearly not to create a citizens’ register there, but to go after a community. Today if we keep quiet because it is done on Muslims, the same thing will be applied by the state on others too.”
Salman Ahmad, president of the Student Islamic Organisation of India (SIOI), part of the fact-finding team, said they met not only the Darrang district commissioner and the superintendent of police, Sushanta Biswa Sarma, but also his brother and state chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma during the visit to the north-eastern state.
The delegation of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind & SIO had a detailed meeting with Assam Chief Minister Dr. Himanta Biswa Sharma and raised the issue of police brutality and evictions of Muslims in Darrang district. #WeAreAllMoinulHaque#AssamHorror pic.twitter.com/jN2RwjlAgF
— Mohammad Salman (@writesalman) September 27, 2021
“Two things came out very clearly from our meetings. One, the chief minister categorically stated that those evicted were not Bangladeshis but Indian citizens. That they are not illegal immigrants. He said they will be settled elsewhere. Two, they said what the photographer (Bania) did during the eviction was wrong and has nothing to do with Hindu or Hindutva; so in a way, they acknowledged that radicalisation against Muslims has reached such an extent that the person showed such hatred that day.”
SIOI, he said, would take responsibility for the education of the children of Moinul Hoque.
‘Act against guilty officials’
The APCR report, in its recommendations, sought action against “guilty police officials” involved in firing on unarmed civilians, including the Darrang SP Sushanta Biswa Sarma, the brother of the chief minister.
The team aside from visiting Moinul Haque’s family also met the family of the other deceased, 12-year-old Shaikh Farid, who was shot while crossing the evicted village of Dholpur village No 2 to reach home in the neighbouring settlement.
Farid, a Class 7 student at a local government school, was going home through the village “after collecting his Aadhaar card from local post office”, the APCR team noted in its report.
“There is only one way to come home. He has no option but to go through the area. He was hit on his way back home,” Farid’s elder brother Aamir Hussain told the team.
Aamir recalled that his father, Md. Khaliq Ali, was informed by someone that day that his son had been shot. “Unable to believe his ears, Md. Khaliq Ali, his father, who was not even served the eviction notice (by district administration, as he belonged to a village whose residents were not being evicted yet), rushed to the spot. He fell unconscious as he saw the lifeless body of his youngest child being brought on a horse-drawn cart by villagers, with the Aadhar card peeking out of the pocket,” said the report.
“Farid had a bullet injury on his right chest,” the report stated, adding that his parents are now undergoing treatment as they cope with the shock.
The report has highlighted that encroachment by people from various communities in Assam is not a new phenomenon. However, the Sarma government through such drives has tried to communalise them by targeting Muslims.
The report noted a number of instances where Sarma, in the run-up to the 2021 assembly polls in the state, had uttered publicly to target Muslims. Post elections, Sarma was catapulted to the chief minister’s chair by the central leadership of the BJP, removing sitting chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal. The report said his elevation to the post instead of Sonowal “was seen as a reward for his pro-Hindutva politics.”
The report particularly highlighted the Sarma government’s agricultural initiative to provide employment to “indigenous” youth, the Gorukhuti project, handled by BJP MLA Padma Hazarika (given cabinet rank to carry out the project as part of a committee he is to lead).
“When we visited Dholpur, no way can you make out that there were people living there from 1965 onwards till recently. There were only tractors. Only one structure stood there, that of a government-run school which every year would become the polling booth of the Election Commission of India,” said Nadeem Khan.
The team noted in its report the reason behind the field visit as this: “In an age of fake news, and many distorted versions of the context and these events, a rapid assessment of the ground situation was necessary so that the facts, as they are, can be placed before the people of India, as well as before the government of India and the state government of Assam.”
Khan also said that though the eviction notices served on the evictees were dated September 10, they were served only at 8pm on September 19 and asked that residents vacate their dwellings the next morning.
Among other recommendations, the fact-finding team has sought government compensation for the deceased’s families and those injured, and the eviction drive to be “stayed with immediate effect”. It also suggested that the state government announce a comprehensive rehabilitation plan before any further eviction of a family or person.
The report has also pointed out conflicting data given out by the state government from time to time on how much government land is under encroachment. It said while the H.S. Brahma committee formed by the Sonowal-led BJP government in its interim report in 2017 had said 63 lakh bighas of government land was under ‘illegal occupation”, the then minister of state for revenue Pallab Lochan Das (now a Lok sabha MP from the state) had said in the state assembly that “6652 square kilometer government land was encroached upon.”
Also, state parliamentary affairs minister Chandra Mohan Patowary, in 2020, had said “22 per cent of forest land was under encroachment”.
“The figures have always kept varying, and there is no static number.”