As many as 450 houses were razed and over 3,000 people were evicted in Sootea in Assam’s Sonitpur district on 5-6 December 2019 after “a local legislator entered 10 villages in the area with bulldozers and paramilitary personnel,” Arab News reported.
A press release issued by Jamaat-e-Islami-Hind (JIH) on 26 December 2019 claimed that 426 Muslim families were evicted because “they belonged to the minority community and did not vote for BJP MLA Padma Hazarika.”
The release added that a JIH team led by its secretary Mohammed Ahmed had visited the location to take a stock of the situation.
A family whose house was demolished in Sootea on 5-6 December 2019.
(Photo Courtesy: Afroz Alam Sahil)
WHAT IS THE ADMINISTRATION SAYING?
District Commissioner Manvinder Pratap Singh told The Quint that as many as 426 families were evicted because the families had encroached upon government land.
“It is a government land. We are planning to have an industrial estate on it and a part of the land will be given to Tezpur University for opening post graduate college of medical sciences.”District Commissioner Manvender Pratap Singh
He further claimed that the people who have encroached have houses in other districts as well and have entered the government land only for the purpose of “cultivation”.
BJP MLA Padma Hazarika told Afroz Alam Sahil, a freelance journalist who did a ground report on this, that they are “encroachers, and are Bangladeshis, so we wouldn’t let them stay.”
Afroz told The Quint that all the families that have been evicted are Muslim families and are living in three different camps.
However, Singh denied that they are living in any camps. According to Arab News, people living in the camps mentioned that no government official has visited them.
The evicted families have settled in three different camps.
(Photo Courtesy: Afroz Alam Sahil)
WHAT ARE THE LOCALS SAYING?
People who have been evicted claim that Hazarika did so because they are not voters of that area.
According to Arab News, 65-year-old Akkas Ali, a farmer who is staying at a nearby makeshift camp, said, “My fault is that I am not registered as a voter in the Sootea Assembly constituency where my village falls. I have my vote in the neighboring constituency. Local Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator Padma Hazarika, with support from the administration, threw me and more than 450 families out from the area just because we don’t vote for him.”
Ali further told Arab News, “The government says we are encroachers and Bangladeshis, and they evicted us from our own land despite having all the documents. The larger goal, I feel, is that the BJP wants to settle down Hindu Bengalis in this area who will act as a permanent vote bank for the party.”
Now, why are these people not the voters of that area?
Afroz, while narrating their account, told The Quint, “There is Brahmaputra river and it keeps changing its course. Due to which, they were displaced. In the flood, their houses and everything that belonged to them got submerged. So they had bought the current land 10-12 years back, and have the relevant documents too.”
They didn’t get their voter IDs changed because in Assam, the chances of them becoming a ‘D’ Voter’ increase, he added. If you are a D (Doubtful) voter in Assam, it means your citizenship is doubtful or under dispute.
“In the recent process of NRC, they didn’t get the time to get their voter IDs changed,” he said quoting the locals.
WHAT ABOUT THE CITIZENSHIP OF THE LOCALS?
Afroz said that people who have been evicted have the relevant NRC documents. “Their names are there in 1951 NRC, 1971 NRC, even the latest NRC,” he said.
Regarding the same, District Commissioner Singh said, “It doesn’t matter whether they are Indian citizens or not. It was never the point. They were evicted because they encroached upon a government land.”
While the JIH press release mentioned that the incident happened despite having a stay order from the Guwahati High Court, Singh stated that the high court has “dismissed the petitions of the locals twice.”
The Citizenship Amendment Act, passed by Parliament, seeks to provide citizenship to non-Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The cut-off date to qualify for citizenship under CAA is 31 December 2014.
(With inputs from Arab News)