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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 44 New Delhi October 22, 2016

The Kaziranga Killing

Sunday 23 October 2016

by Mohammad Nurul Hassan

The gunning down of two persons by the Assam Police in the protest march against the eviction drive in Kaziranga is a serious matter for marginal communities across the globe. Being one of the marginalised groups, Muslims in Assam have been facing different levels of humiliation as well as atrocities at regular intervals. It started with the killing and harass-ment in the post-partition riots, during the Assam Movement and even in the post-Assam Movement era, for example, Nagabandha (1983), Nellie Massacre (1983), Chaolkhuwa Chapori (1983), Kokrajhar (1993-94), Bahbari (1994), again Kokrajhar (2012), Darrang (2008), Chirrang (2012), Barpeta (2010), Narshingbari (2014) and the very recent one in Kaziranga (2016). The nature of humiliation and atrocity may be different (that is, political, ethnic, institutional etc.), but everywhere the most targeted community is the East Bengal-origin Muslim. In most of the cases, they are labelled as “Bangladeshi” (illegal migrants from Bangladesh) but nowhere is possible to prove them as illegal migrants.

It is pertinent to mention here that the anti-Miya wave was developed before the indepen-dence and continues even today and will be there in future also. Actually, partition sharpened the Muslim identity across India with the formation of Pakistan and subsequently the formation of Bangladesh has had a similar impact in North-East India. In the later period, the derogatory term ‘Bangladeshi’ is used very cheaply against the Muslims in Assam. The chauvinist group of Assamese people considers the Bangladeshis have a single destination to migrate and that is nowhere other than Assam. Accordingly, it is alleged that the “land-hungry” Muslim community has already captured the barren land and reserved area throughout Assam. Even they do not spare the land of the world heritage sites, that is, Kaziranga, Orang, Manas and many more.

Furthermore, it is also alleged that the land of different Satras (Vaishnavite monasteries), Than have also been encroached upon by the illegal migrants and instant eviction is demanded everywhere. Thus, the Bangladeshi issue gets multifaceted credentials for the sake of jati, mati and bheti (nationality, land and home) in Assamese nationalism.

Vandalising Democracy

On one hand the marginal communities have no right to protest and on the other hand killing the innocent marginal people is not a serious matter in Assam. The incident at Kaziranga proves that to control a mob, the State administration failed almost miserably. As soon as the BJP Government came to power in the State, like the former governments, that is, of the Congress as well as AGP, it deployed the police force against the common citizen. Mintu Deuri was the first State-sponsored victim in police firing after the Sonowal Government came to power. The victim was in a demons-tration demanding shifting the site of the AIIMS to Raha instead of Changshari.

The second line of victims were Anjuma Khatun and Fakaruddin in Kaziranga. Here, in Kaziranga, as per the Gauhati High Court order, Guwahati dated October 9, 2015, the present State Government initiated a massive eviction drive to drive out the encroachers. The then Congress Government did not give attention towards this problem. The faulty and dubious policy of the former government in the settlement as well as eviction process was basically responsible for creating the recent panic. The fringe villages of Kaziranga, that is, Deochur Chang, Banderdubi are inhabitated by different communities including Miyas (East Bengal origin Muslims), Asomiyas (so-called Assamese), Adibashis, Karbis, Bengali Hindus, Nepalis etc. (as per the voter list of 2016). However, a total 160 and 198 families have been evicted from Deochur Chang and Banderdubi gaon respectively. Accordingly, from the Palkhowa village 12 families have been evicted.

The notable print is that the local people did not oppose the order of the High Court, but just demanded resettlement and adequate compen-sation. As a citizen, it is their democratic right to protest, demonstrate for availing their rights. At the same time, if they are doubtful as illegal migrants, judicial action is inevitable before declaring ex gratia to them. The Rs five lakhs of ex-gratia for each casualty and Rs fifty thousand for the injured person is just for temporary consolation of a community but the trend of state-sponsored atrocity over the marginal community is a never-ending problem.

The protest march in Kaziranga made it amply clear that they were pleading for compen-sation and their resettlement. Actually, just before eviction, the Assam Government was very categorical about providing compensation to all the indigenous people of Kaziranga. So, it spread a fear psychosis and a sense of depri-vation among the Muslims and subsequently the massive mobilisation occurred. The All Assam Minority Students Union (AAMSU) and the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samity (KMSS) led the protest march on September 19, 2016 and in the people-police confrontation, two young protesters were killed in police firing while more than two dozen, including a policeman, were injured. The police used teargas first and within a very short span of time (just 15 minutes) used bullets targeting the mob and the whole situation deteriorated. The incident had some similarity with the police firing in Barpeta targeting the agitators for refuting the moda-lities of the then NRC (National Registration of Citizen) in the year 2010. Every movement develops with some hidden factors, but at the same time it is the state’s responsibility to control them amicably. But, everywhere, the marginal communities are softly targeted; hence the democratic ethos is crumbling down. The chauvinist stance even of the police as well as administrators is the hidden force for such a dreadful situation. Such fascist attitude of the state institutions is a challenge to democracy across the world.

The eviction process is one of the major initiatives of the present government to achieve the popular support of the common people. It is a legally sanctioned case and at the same time has close relations with the sentiments of the Assamese. So, the government initiated action without fail. A large number of people, civil society groups have extended their support to the government initiatives for the sake of the community’s interest. Organisations like the All Assam Lawyers Association (AALA), AASU, AJYCP, Loka Jagaran Mancha, Kaziranga Wildlife Society, and so on had welcomed the government’s initiative. However, the AAMSU, KMSS, Jamiat Ulema Hind, Char Chapori Xahitya Parishad etc. are worried over the situation wherein hundreds of families are displaced including the families of the deceased. The hasty decision of the State Government to execute the Court order defying the ground reality is nothing but cruelty against humanity. Moreover, with eviction in the month of September (water is everywhere) without advance compensation, it will be very difficult to resettle them.

The Advocate General of Assam acknow-ledged that Banderdubi and Deochur Chang villages had been declared revenue villages in the year 1961 and therefore these are not part of the Kaziranga National Park. (GHC Order pp. 21) However, the Gauhati High Court ordered the fast eviction of the inhabitants in the second, third, fifth and sixth additions of the Kaziranga National Park. (Ibid., pp. 36-37) In the eviction drive, the village school and mosque were not demolished. The village school was established in the year 1966 and similarly the village mosque in the beginning of the 1960s. The people settled here a couple of years before Kaziranga was declared a world heritage. However, the matter being under adjudication, people are bound to act in accordance with the legal procedure. The Kaziranga killing is acutely related to the law and order situation, but tackling all these in a harsh manner is really unfortunate. If we see through the prism of communalism, most of the institutions, that is, the police, military, media, bureaucrats etc.— the engaged people—are individually communal and act harshly or in a biased manner in their respective fields. In this regard, the marginalised communities are relentlessly becoming victim everywhere. This helps to create structural marginalisation, subjugation of a community by others.

It is very sensitive to assert here that the eviction drive has a link with the failure to protect the rhino in Kaziranga. With the severe criticism against the former government and at the same time the call to restore the pride of Kaziranga, through the recent attempt, the whole issue is being sought to be deviated. So, the present eviction drive is nothing but an attempt to malign the Forest Ministry for its failure. These are the tactics of the present government that negotiates every issue with a sense of ‘nationalism’. At present, the sense of patriotism is structurally under the custody of the Rightist group. Hence, it is very advanta-geous for the BJP to cherish the sentiments of the Assamese through protection of the jati, mati and bheti.

References

1. Azad, Abdul Kalam (2016), “Dehumanising Muslims in Assam”, Media in Practice, September 23, 2016.

2. Hussain, Monirul (1993), The Assam Movement: Class Ideology and Identity, Manak Publication, New Delhi.

3. Kaziranga National Park vs. Union of India and others, PIL (suo motu) 66/2012, 67/2012, and WP(C) 648/ 2013 and 4860/2013 (Gauhati High Court, August 9, 2015).

4. The Assam Tribune, July 21-25, 2016.

The author is a Ph.D Researcher, Department of Political Science, Gauhati University.

ISSN : 0542-1462 / RNI No. : 7064/62