GUWAHATI: Two civilians were killed and several others injured when a mob of scores of people clashed with the police during an eviction drive in Assam on Thursday.
The incident occurred at Dholpur in the Darrang district. Eleven policemen were among the injured. An injured cop was rushed to Gauhati Medical College and Hospital in Guwahati.
Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said the police had to take action as the mob, protesting the eviction drive, attacked the personnel with sticks, machetes, and spears. He said the drive would continue on Friday.
An estimated 800 families of Bengali-speaking Muslims were illegally occupying about 4,500 bighas of government land and the government recently decided to use the land for agricultural purposes by evicting the settlers.
The eviction drive on Monday passed off peacefully. A lot of families dismantled their houses themselves and moved elsewhere. After a break of two days when the drive was re-launched on Thursday, the others tried to put up a resistance leading to the violence.
The incident drew widespread protests.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “Assam is on state-sponsored fire. I stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the state - no children of India deserve this”.
CPI(ML) politburo member Kavita Krishnan raised questions on the police firing. “What protocol orders firing to the chest of a lone man coming running with a stick @DGPAssamPolice @assampolice? Who is the man in civil clothes with a camera who repeatedly jumps with bloodthirsty hate on the body of the fallen (probably dead) man?” she asked, sharing a video of the incident on Twitter.
The man holding the camera was said to be working with the administration.
Rafiqul Islam, an MLA of minority-based All India United Democratic Front, slammed the CM saying the latter planned the drive to please Nagpur.
“God will give justice. Eviction for cultivation is fine but it should have been done after rehabilitating these landless people,” Islam said.
State Congress president Bhupen Kumar Borah condemned the “barbaric act” of police firing. “The very act of eviction is itself inhuman, especially during the Covid situation. The Supreme Court had also given a directive against eviction during the pandemic, yet the Assam government has remained adamant behaving in an autocratic manner to evict the residents who have been living in the area since the 1970s,” Borah said.
He said the government should have arranged for rehabilitation and alternative housing ahead of the eviction drive.
BJP national general secretary Dilip Saikia said the people were served notices before the drive. “These are Bangladeshi nationals. They settled there a few years ago after grabbing government land,” Saikia said.