Indigenous Muslims feel heat of eviction drive in Assam

Indigenous Muslims in northern Assam’s Darrang district are now feeling the heat of an eviction drive that was ostensibly aimed at migrant Bengali Muslim settlers on the banks of the Brahmaputra.

Between June 7 and September 23, the district authorities evicted more than 1,000 migrant Muslim families from Dhalpur area to make way for the Government-run Garukhuti farm project. The eviction was paused after two persons, including a minor, were killed in police firing.

A month on, the indigenous Gorias — a category of Assamese Muslims who played a part in bringing the ‘encroachment’ issue to the fore six years ago — have found themselves staring down the barrel of the Government’s gun.

They are worried about losing access to the land they had been using through generations for seasonal farming and grazing their livestock.

Hardly anything to subsist on

“We have nothing against the Government’s Garukhuti project and the eviction of the encroachers. We also gave up about 700 bighas for the project but sought to retain about 300 bighas closer to our village. But they took that too, leaving us with hardly anything to subsist on,” Sanowa resident Abed Ali told The Hindu.

Mr. Ali is the son of Kobad Ali, president of the local milk producers’ association and one of four who had filed a case in 2015 under the Assam Land Grabbing (Prohibition) Act, 2010, seeking the eviction of encroachers from village grazing reserve and professional grazing reserve south of Sanowa and the adjoining Rajapukhuri inhabited by Assamese Hindus.

This case was among the reasons the BJP-led Assam government undertook the eviction drive to free 77,420 bighas (25,595 acres). The land is irregularly divided by a channel of the Brahmaputra into the part the Bengali Muslims had settled on and an expansive stretch ‘owned’ by the indigenous Assamese where their cows and buffaloes grazed.

The entire stretch is south of an embankment protecting Rajapukhuri and Sanowa, two villages known for supplying the bulk of milk to the district and beyond.

“We had a discussion with the local authorities and those in charge of the Garukhuti farm project. We were told that our land would be taken temporarily, but now they have ordered us not to till our land because we have no documents though our forefathers have been using this land for farming and grazing our livestock since the 1800s,” said Julhas Ali, a village leader.

He said the villagers had been paying land tax to the Government from 1974 to 2014 when the authorities stopped collecting revenue. “Little did we realise that they had planned to take away the land,” he said, reminding the BJP Government of the promise to grant land allotment certificates to the indigenous people.

Allotment certificates

According to the State Revenue Department’s record, allotment certificates were given to 2,28,160 eligible landless people from 2016 to October 2020, and another 1,00,000 were to be allotted land by March 2021.

District officials pointed out that the land is Government-owned and the onus was on the authorities to decide how it would be used. “We have just started the project. There is a long way to go,” BJP legislator Padma Hazarika said without specifying if the indigenous people would be made stakeholders in the Garukhuti project.

He heads the committee the Government had set up to implement the project.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2022 8:14:57 PM |

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