Two rounds of massive eviction drives by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in Assam’s Dhalpur area have left thousands of students in the midst of uncertainty.
Along with expelling over 800 families in a second round of eviction drive in September, the government also closed all four schools and eight of nine Anganwadi centres in the Dhalpur area of Assam’s Darrang district, the EastMojo reported. Students, living in the campsite, have not been able to access education, effectively being deprived of their right to education due to the eviction.
Three lower primary schools and one middle English school, all having government recognition, were closed down after the eviction, according to the report. Each school has a capacity of 150-250 students. The teachers of these schools were also appointed through the Teachers’ Eligibility Test (TET).
The closed schools and Anganwadi centres are part of the area where the Assam government carried out eviction drives to start an agricultural project over a stretch of 77000 bighas (25,600 acres). The Garukhuti Project aims to remove “encroachers” from 77,420 ‘bighas’ (25,595 acres) of land, comprising six villages, located on a massive sandbar close to the Brahmaputra river and start agricultural and other allied activities for indigenous youth there. Notably, most of the victims of the evictions are Bengali muslims, locally known as “Miyan muslims”.
The Assam government carried out a massive eviction drive in Dhalpur village on a sandbar in the Darrang district on September 20, rendering at least 800 families homeless. Dhalpur, which is populated mostly by Muslims of East Bengal origin, saw over 1500 security personnel descending to evict the poor villagers who have been cultivating the the land for decades despite annual floods and devastating conditions.
Interestingly, Anganwadi workers distributed eviction notices to the residents of Dhalpur No 1 and No 2 villages only on the evening of September 18, even though the notice was issued on September 10. This left people to ready themselves to be uprooted from their homes and land in just two days.
The eviction drive on September 20 saw protests by the villagers, which was crushed strong-handedly by the security forces, who resorted to firing upon the residents. Apart from three confirmed deaths, many people from the village went missing after the security forces cracked down on the protesting villagers, according to reports. However, the number of total deaths and missing persons could not be confirmed.
A fact-finding committee had visited the village soon after the district administration carried out the first eviction drive in June. According to the committee, 49 Muslim families and one Hindu family had been uprooted in the drive. However, the eviction drive on September 20 was much larger, which the local newspapers reported to have cleared around 8000 bighas of land leading to the eviction of about 800 families.
The people who first settled in the area are presently in their late 70s and 80s. The land was once a parched sand dune that hosted climate refugees and victims of the violent Assam movement from various districts. These communities cultivated the land for decades, which the government has now taken away without rehabilitating them.
While the Assam government evicted these people from the Dholpur villages in the name of an agriculture project, at other times, the government uprooted Muslim families, calling them “encroachers”.
The Assam government on Monday began another round of evicting “encroachers” and “illegal settlers” from a reserve forest in Hojai district’s Lumding. About 1,410 hectares of the forest are under encroachment, according to officials said. Some 1,500 families, settled there to primarily cultivate ginger and turmeric, had built a school, a church and a mosque. However, About 1,410 hectares of the forest are under encroachment, officials said. Some 1,500 families, settled there to primarily cultivate ginger and turmeric, had built a school, a church and a mosque. Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said a few businessmen had encroached the forest and settled the people from Barpeta and Dhubri districts for commercial farming in a forest.
The All Assam Minority Students’ Union (AAMSU) has slammed the “selective” eviction drives. In a memorandum to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the students’ body said the Assam government had a political agenda behind the “arbitrary, selective and illegal eviction” of genuine Indians without verifying historical reality. They said the government was forcing those people to live a “beastly nomadic life”. “A large section of the religious minority community settled on the banks of the Brahmaputra and its tributaries, ushering an era of an agricultural revolution. However, they also face the wrath of the rivers as hundreds of hectares of land get submerged due to devastating floods and erosion leading to frequent migration,” the AAMSU said, demanding rehabilitation of the uprooted people.
Earlier, on June 6, the Hojai district administration had removed at least 70 houses of Muslims from the Kaki area. Prior to that, on May 17, 25 families, all from the same community were evicted from Jamugurihat in north Assam's Sonitpur district. These are only the recent examples of such evictions.
The series of evictions is part of the BJP’s poll promise of clearing forest and government land from the so-called encroachers and in place of them, settling “indigenous” landless people on these lands.