“They Are Heartless or What?”: Assam Govt Bulldozes Dhalpur Settlement in Another Eviction Drive

Over 395 houses people were evicted in Dhalpur in what was a relocation drive. This was the second time these people --- all Bengali Muslims --- faced eviction. Photo_ Special arrangement

Arshad Ahmed, Twocircles.net

Guwahati: A cloud of anxiety had been looming over Sahjahan Ali because of an impending eviction drive. The Darrang district administration in northern Assam had warned him and his fellow villagers that they would be forcefully evicted if they did not relocate to the land allotted to them.

Support TwoCircles

For Shahjahan and many others living in Dhalpur, a Char or Chapori crisscrossed by the Brahmaputra River and its tributary, this anxiety always precedes the arrival of security forces with earthmovers to uproot their homes.

Chars or Chaporis are over 2,000 riverine and floating sandbars dotting the Brahmaputra River in Assam, home to 2.9 million people — most of them Bengal-origin Muslims.

On May 20, as the villagers had feared, the district administration arrived with earthmovers and security forces to carry out the eviction drive.

“We were left helpless. They came and started bulldozing our houses even when we asked the district administration for some time,” Sahjahan, in his 20s, recounted.

According to the district administration, over 395 houses were demolished in this drive, which was part of a “periodic” campaign to clear government land allegedly encroached upon by people.

The families evicted in Dhalpur village, said Sipajhar Circle Officer Ritamani Das, are among the 620 families previously asked to relocate to Dalgaon. These families allegedly encroached on land earmarked for the agricultural Garukhuti project, India Today NE reported.

Locals told TwoCircles.net a plot measuring 1,000-bigha plot was allotted to them for the Garukhuti project for temporary settlement following an earlier eviction drive in September 2021.

Termed the “dream project” by Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, the Garukhuti multi-purpose farm was flagged in 2021 to provide livelihood options to indigenous youth by engaging them in agriculture.

A total of 1,300 affected families protested when the district authorities carried out the second leg of the eviction drive on September 23, 2021.


Additionally, 800 families were evicted to free 4,500 bighas of land from “illegal encroachment” in Dhalpur Chapori on September 20, 2021, according to Sarma. This was the first leg of the eviction drive after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in Assam ordered to clear 77,420 bighas of land from alleged encroachers in Darrang’s Sipajhar block, under which the riverine Dhalpur village falls.

However, unofficial numbers indicate that over 7,000 people were affected by the September 20 and 23 eviction drives in 2021, with a government survey later tallying the evictees at 2,051 families.

‘They are heartless or what?’

The scenes that unfolded before the villagers on May 20 conjured up memories of the eviction drive from September 23, 2021.
“It was the same way they came to displace us that year,” said 45-year-old Aynal Haque, whose 12-member family is now sheltering under a tin shed after their house was demolished. “I cannot help but cry at what they did to us.”

Most people TwoCircles.net spoke to have yet to recover from the trauma of the violence-hit eviction in Dhalpur in 2021. Houses were bulldozed and torched in the eviction drive on September 23, which turned violent after the Darrang police opened fire on protesting residents. Two people — Moinul Haque and a 12-year-old Sheikh Farid — were shot dead and over 20 suffered injuries, including policemen.

Mumtaz Begum, Moinul’s widowed wife, 33, said, “Even though my house was not bulldozed, everything flashed through my mind. They are heartless or what?”

The justification for the 2021 Dhalpur eviction was the Garukhuti Prokolpo (project). Spread over 8,700 bighas of land, the project has faced severe criticism from the Opposition for turning out to be a “failed model”. The state government has invested over Rs 17 crores into the project to date. However, reports indicate that the investment has not yielded desired results.

“The Garukhuti Prokolpo was a natok (drama). The government was looking for an excuse to displace the poor Muslims from Dhalpur,” said Rejaul Karim Sarkar, president of the All Assam Minority Students’ Union (AAMSU).

“The project was an agenda by the state government to appease the Assamese majority. It was a move to polarize people. Or else, why would they (the government) make an agri-project in Garukhuti when there are large swaths of land available in upper Assam?” he asked.

‘…the AK-47 that killed my husband’

The eviction in Dhalpur serves as a disturbing memory for Mumtaz Begum. When Moinul was shot dead by the police, a photographer named Bijoy Bonia — associated with the district administration — stomped on his body.

“I cannot forget that scene,” Begum told TwoCircles.net over phone. “My youngest child still mimics the gunshot from the AK-47 that killed my husband.”

Following the violent eviction and subsequent protests from civil society and minority rights organizations, the state government ordered an inquiry to determine what led the police to fire gun shots and other aspects of the incident. However, the commission has yet to file its report.
Meanwhile, Begum questioned, “Who killed my husband? And when will I get justice?”

Mumtaz Begum, wife of Moinul Haq

Land not habitable?

Forty-five-year-old Safer Ali, like Shahjahan and his fellow villagers, said he does not want to relocate to Magurmari. “The land at Magurmari is not conducive for living,” he said, adding that the land is “flood-prone and shrinking”.

Magurmari is a riverine village in the Dalgaon constituency, over 50 km from Dhalpur. Their relocation to the village came after a rehabilitation agreement proposed by the state government in a meeting held between district authorities and minority rights groups in February 2022.

It was decided in the meeting that 2,051 families displaced after the September 2021 eviction drive would be allotted land. However, over 1,400 families were previously relocated to other areas in Dalgaon, leaving the rest, who are camping in Dhalpur in make-shift shanties, awaiting permanent rehabilitation.

The new relocation drive also comes after a Gauhati High Court judgment in January 2023 that said the rehabilitation should happen within the next six months of the order.

“But where are they taking us now?” asked Safer. “It is a barren land. We will not be able to grow anything.”

Shahjahan Ali whose house was demolished

He was a skilled peasant before the eviction. But the eviction has turned most of them into laborers.

When asked about their concern, Das told reporters, “Since Dalgaon is a different administrative circle, she will not be able to comment.”

When reached for comments, Darrang Deputy Commissioner Munindra Nath Ngatey refused to acknowledge the demolitions as an eviction. “Only the houses of the middlemen were razed to the ground,” he told TwoCircles.net.

“Do we look like middlemen here?” Sahjahan asked, smirking. “They should at least stop dehumanizing us.”

On the question of their resistance to relocation, Ngatey said, “How can you say that it (Magurmari) is not habitable? People are already living there.”

“The chief minister is also building a road very close to the Magurmari area. They will also get land deeds after the Char area is surveyed,” he claimed.

Eviction politics in Assam

The BJP-led government came to power in Assam in 2016 with a major poll plank to make the state encroachment-free from “illegal immigrants”.

Terms like “illegal immigrants” and “Bangladeshis” in the state are synonymous with Bangla-speaking Muslims, also called Miyas, though pejoratively.

Since the saffron party’s rise in 2016, evictions have allegedly been weaponized to target the community. Over 10,000 families have been evicted in Assam since 2016, a majority of them are Bengali-speaking Muslims.

The BJP has, however, denied these charges.

The community, one of the most marginalized ethnic groups in Assam, has also faced persecution from Assamese nationalist groups arising from a sub-nationalistic movement in the state, where “Miyas are a threat to Assamese culture and identity”.

Abdul Mannan, a former professor of economics at Gauhati University, said targeting Bengali Muslims through the design of eviction dates back to pre-independence.

“But the way the BJP is carrying out evictions against this community is inhumane,” he said, adding, “What is more worrying is the support they receive from Assamese groups.”