Ashraful Hussain and Parvin Sultana report on the eviction at Dhubri’s Chandordinga in #Assam
Chileshwari Devi laments that they could not salvage even a single thing from their house which was ravaged to ground. Despite repeated requests, the forest officials and guards did not give them any time to shift their furniture and other things. A same story is shared by Ludhia Malla’s family whose children were made to leave their ready food as they witnessed their house being bulldozed. Around 56 families had to undergo such an ordeal in Chandordingha. Situated at a distance of around 240 km from the capital of Assam, Chandordinga Pahar (hill) is a part of the border District Dhubri. It is situated in Ward No 5 of Hatipota village of Chapor. On 28th December, 2016 the District Administration and Forest Department carried out an eviction on forest land and 56 families were evicted while 117 homes were destroyed.
Living just two kilometers away from the river Brahmaputra, these people were mostly Rajbongshis or Assamese Muslims of East Bengal origin. The ethnic tribal people lived in nearby areas and scarcity of land and food pushed them to this hill where they have been living for the last fifty years. The Assamese Muslims of East Bengal origin were inhabitants of nearby Krishtimoni Char and Cholakura Char of Goalpara district. Land erosion rendered these people homeless and they moved to Chandordinga hill which is at most 4 to 5 km away from these two river islands. These river islands were submerged in the Brahmaputra during the floods of 1978-80. A similar eviction drive was carried out in 1997 and around 30-35 families were displaced. However the people had no other place to go and they resettled again in the same place.
Forest Minister Pramila Rani Brahma visited this place twice and hinted on an impending eviction. Such declarations also saw the local people come together and start a movement against such forced eviction without any proper rehabilitation. While political parties fell short of rising to the occasion and stand by these homeless displaced people, the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti raised a voice for the rights of these people. A mass movement grew up under the leadership of KMSS. The local people raised demands against forced eviction and no eviction without proper rehabilitation of these landless people. However the government and administration evicted these people without providing them any alternative.
Every evicted family of Chandordinga is landless. Lack of land forced them to move away from their ancestral activity of agriculture. Most of these people are fishermen and work as daily labourers in neighbouring areas of Dhubri and Chapor. Apart from these, many of them work in brick kilns and as carpenters in different parts of Assam. Left with no land, these families don’t have the option of going back to agriculture.
There was a primary school by the name of Poschim Chanderdinga Prathamik Bidyalay. Around 120 students were enrolled in the school. The school was not yet provincialised because of land related issues. On 28th December, 2016 the school was razed to ground and despite repeated requests from the local people, the school was not spared. 120 students are left with a bleak possibility of continuing their education. The people requested the administration to give them 24 hours to shift the school, however in the end it met the same fate like other bulldozed homes. Many students who go to nearby schools in Tilapara are also in a daze. Kodorbhan who will write her tenth board exams has no place to study and is living in a makeshift tent.
According to some news papers, there was a confrontation between the local people and the forest guards during eviction. 8 people were left wounded and the forest guards had to open fire. The immediate cause for this confrontation was a specific incident. According to local people, a family wanted some time to shift their house. While they were discussing this, the forest guards started lathicharging and they hit two women. This led to the violent outburst and army was deployed to control the situation. A local resident, Zakir Hussain was also arrested in connection with the incident.
Almost all the families living in Chandordinga Pahar have moved there after losing everything to the mighty Brahmaputra. Left with no option they tried to rebuild their lives amidst utmost hardship. While politicians and many news outlets have already expressed doubts about the citizenship of these people, the fact that aborigines like Koch Rajbongshis have also faced similar fate needs to be brought forth. The evicted families are living in makeshift tents in this extreme weather. The Rajbongshi families have put up temporary houses in an extremely low flood prone area. Access to clean drinking water is difficult. Use of river water and lack of sanitation facilities have created diseases and health hazards to the people. Their pleas continue to fall on deaf ears of Administration. Banes Ali who has a land patta and claims to have one katha eighteen lasas of land laments that going to court to challenge the eviction will be a costly affair for these poverty stricken people. Chileshwari Devi who also claims to have land patta says that the response of the local BJP MLA to solve the pathetic condition of these people have been lukewarm.
KMSS has been raising the issue that in the name of evicting illegal encroachers, forest department has been harassing common people for quite sometime. The eviction notice issued on 11 November, 2016 by the Salkocha Forest Department giving a maximum of 15 days to the people to leave their homes gave a momentum to the movement started by KMSS. A memorandum was submitted to the Chief Minister of the State demanding an end to the forced eviction and a demand for resettlement. The local people have been approaching the officials for quite sometime with requests to not carry out the eviction. On 28th November, 2016 a heavily attended public meeting with Joydev Barua as the President was held and a memorandum was submitted to the Deputy Commissioner’s office. However the displaced landless people were evicted without any rehabilitation.