NAGAON(ASSAM): Nearly a century before William Shakespeare’s works Richard III and Henry VI were written in early 1590s, a saint-reformer in India, Sankardeva, had produced a dance-drama “Cihna Yatra”, believed to be the world’s first drama written in the Indo-Aryan language.
Sankardeva, revered as “Gurujana’, altered the cultural paradigm of Assam from his seat at Nagaon, which today is threatened by encroachment. As Assam braces for Parliamentary elections, Sankardeva is finding a mention during campaigns.
Indra Mohan Baruah, general secretary of the managing committee of Bardowa “Thaan” that Sankardeva founded at Batadrava, his birthplace in Nagaon district, says the Thaans, now called Satras (Vaishnavite places of worship), have become a major issue in this election. Large swathes of their land have been grabbed allegedly by “Bangladeshi Muslims”.
In every rally in Nagaon and Kaliabor, the two Parliamentary constituencies in Central Assam, the BJP has been unleashing blistering attacks on the Congress for not recovering Satra land from the possession of the Bangladeshis.
“Around 15 years ago, two Muslim families started living on the (Bardowa) Satra land. Their numbers grew as others belonging to the community joined them. The BJP evicted them three years ago after forming the government in Assam. The government is now building a boundary wall and other infrastructure at a cost of `155 crore at Bardowa Satra,” Baruah said.
His colleague, Prasanta Bharali said, “They (encroachers) were given land elsewhere by the then Congress government in 2008 but they did not move out. They had to be evicted.”
They said the migrants had grabbed land measuring 140 bighas of Bardowa Satra, seven bighas at Shantijan Beel, which is a Bardowa Satra property, 193 bighas belonging to Rampur Satra and 100 bighas each of Bali Satra and Kubaikota Satra. The last named, today, stands on a piece of land measuring just 1.5 cottahs. In Assam, one bigha is equivalent to one third of an acre, while five cottahs make one bigha.
“The land of Rampur Satra was encroached upon some 50 years ago. It is a huge village now with settlements of hundreds of people,” Bharali said, adding, “We are grateful to the BJP for recovering the land of Bardowa Satra.”
The land of Kubaikota Satra was encroached upon during the Assam Agitation (anti-immigrants’ movement) of early 1980s. The Satra was founded by “Aai Kanaklata”, who was a granddaughter-in-law of Sankardeva.
“It was founded in 1570s by Aai Kanaklata by clearing the forest. In 1636, during the Ahom rule, some Assamese families had migrated here from Upper Assam and the Satra authorities allowed them to live on its land. During Assam agitation, the Assamese settlers, except for one family, fled the area and never returned. Their land, which originally belonged to the Kubaikota Satra, was subsequently occupied by migrant Muslims,” said Jugal Chandra Deva Goswami, who is the Satradhikar (head of a Satra) of Jakhalabandha Satra.
Khalilur Rahman, a local of Kubaikota village, claimed that it was over 100 years ago that the Muslims started settling here.“We learnt from our elders that the father of a centenarian, Shanu, had first settled down in the village,” Rahman said.
Kubaikota has all Muslim settlers, except the lone Assamese family of Krishna Kanta Saikia. Neighbouring Dhaniabhati, Amlakhi and Borbheti villages have 100 per cent Muslim settlements.
Saikia said only four bighas of land of Kubaikota Satra was grabbed and the Muslims started living in the area before 1980s. A lot of Muslims, affected during the agitation, had migrated to the village in 1983, he said.
“When the Assamese families left the village, they had sold off their land to the Muslims at minimal prices. We stayed back as we owned a large plot of land. Some Muslim families had urged us not to leave, assuring us that they would protect us,” 54-year-old Saikia said.
Gunamoni, a youth from Batadrava, said it was the BJP’s “lie” that huge chunks of Satra land in Nagaon had been encroached upon. Only six bighas of Bardowa Satra land was grabbed and it was retrieved by the state government, he said.
However, a report of a committee, headed by former EC chief HS Brahma, says otherwise. It says the land of Satras across Central and Lower Assam had been encroached upon by “Bangladeshi Muslims” over a period of time.