The Dilemma of Displacement: Hate Dominating Humanity and the Destructive Power of Hate

The whole country is passing through a strange phase. It’s not that violence is new to India, but it has never been so brutal and so brazen!

When the government acts with aggression against its own people, one can expect the orgy of death. This time the act was done by Bijoy Shankar Bania, who showed cruelty to the corpse of Moinul Haque, who succumbed to police bullets. When hatred has paralyzed the mind and the thinking is poisoned, anything is possible.

The scene was heart-wrenching, sends a shiver down your spine. The stopper was none other than a government photographer. He had gone to Dholpur village in Assam on September 23, 2021 with a police team that went to vacate government land. He has been arrested and jumping on a dead body is not a major crime legally. Immorality is not punishable under the law. It is a hate crime in its best or worst form. A professional psychologist would be better placed to understand the mind of a person who cradles a dead body. He hated a community that forced him to commit a cowardly act. This shows the mentality of communal hatred that poisons the minds of the people.

The Assam government with all its so called good intentions is dealing with Love Jihad, the spin off of Land Jihad. Thanks to a nineteenth century archaic law called the ‘Assam Land and Revenue Regulation, 1886’, which worked with brute force but legally.

Dhalpur was a ‘grazing ground’ on government land. The ‘Chars’ community had erected their huts there and had been living there for a long time. A government campaign was launched to clear this encroachment, which according to statistics left about 800 people homeless, while the actual number may be around 20,000. The evicted people were given notice a few hours before the eviction. The violence was a logical consequence in the Darrang district of Assam. However, the government had no idea that this would happen. The police opened fire on their own people in response to the government’s desire to resolve the land issue with its ‘good intentions’.

After winning the election on a manifesto that promised to remove illegal encroachments. Those addressed in the manifesto knew that it would be Bengali Muslims, locally known as Bangladeshis. BJP fulfilled its promise of ‘Land Jihad’ and strengthened its vote bank. Bengali Muslims were depicted as encroachers on the lands of indigenous Assamese.

The government wanted land for the local people for an agricultural project called ‘Garukhuti Project’. Forced eviction drive which led to resistance and firing. It killed Moinul Haque and the twelve-year-old boy was killed in the Garukhuti project of Sheikh Farid. Public good led to public misery. Although legally framed, it was open harassment defying the basic premise of the law.

Land is a far more emotional issue in Assam than it is elsewhere. Assam has been home to a multi-ethnic group who often struggle for land.

Marginalized communities suffer the most in the eviction campaign. Be it the eviction drive for beautification like ‘Turkman Gate’ in Delhi in the seventies or more recently ‘Katputli Colony’ or land acquisition for a project in Singur in Bengal or eviction of forest land encroachers in Kerala or Niyamgiri in Odisha. Marginalized communities are seen as standing in the way of development. It is easily forgotten that they too are citizens of India, who deserve the dignity of a small space so to speak.

The Assam Land and Revenue Regulation, 1886 empowers the commissioner to remove the forcible acquisition but after due notice. But, this was not done. The government could also have the option of going to court, although if time had taken, the person would have been given a fair chance. But, it was not used. The government wanted to take strict action, which should be an example for the people.

Even if individuals are illegally occupying government land, the eviction must be done following the procedure established by law. A fact-finding exercise would be required to ascertain whether a person is illegally encroaching upon the said land, or his claim on that land is genuine.

The government followed the ‘summary eviction’ procedure under Rule 18 of the Settlement Rules framed under the old ‘Assam Land and Revenue Regulation, 1886’. However, a person cannot be directed to vacate the land if he has a genuine claim on the land. Rule 18 also mandates publication of notice to give 15 days time to the illegal encroacher to vacate the land. But, this was not done.

Jumping on the corpse was a ‘George Floyd’ moment for India, but it passed peacefully. It tells a lot about our sensibility as a nation. The whole country is passing through a strange period of history. Take for example the incident of Lakhimpur Kheri. The son of a Union minister allegedly rammed his car over the protesting farmers. Not that violence is new to India, but it has never been so blatant and so brazen.

Opposition leaders were surrounded after this incident, while the national media called the people going there as ‘political tourists’! Seeing this incident, it seems that in today’s environment demonic tendencies are dominating those people and overzealous madmen are getting out of control.

(This article first appeared in The Pioneer. The writer GYANESHWAR DAYAL is a columnist and documentary filmmaker. The views expressed are personal.)