Indian state expels Muslims, even those who live there legally

DHOLPUR, India – Ahmad Ali watched helplessly as the police set his house on fire. They invaded his village, brandishing sticks, to bea...

DHOLPUR, India – Ahmad Ali watched helplessly as the police set his house on fire.

They invaded his village, brandishing sticks, to beat participants in what local residents described as a peaceful protest against forced evictions. When the protesters retaliated, they opened fire, killing two people, including one 12 year old boy. Then the police started to burn the local houses and the goods inside: a bed, a quilt, hay to feed their cattle.

“Please watch!” Ali said in a video of the incident, speaking to a national and global audience. “Mention us? “

Videos and descriptions of the violence shocked much of India after going viral last month and drew the world’s attention to a government campaign of forced evictions in a far northeast corner of the country. Local government officials said they were targeting an explosive population of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh squatting land needed for vital agricultural projects.

But interviews and a review of documents by The New York Times showed that many of the evicted residents were legal Indian citizens with the right to live on government land. Instead, say government critics, the evictions appear to be part of a wider campaign by the ruling party in India against the country’s Muslim population.

“They want Muslims to live repressed, at the mercy of Hindus,” said Swapan Kumar Ghosh, vice president of a non-profit organization working for displaced people in the state.

Narendra Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata party rallied their Hindu nationalist base in part by pushing for initiatives that put more 200 million Muslims are at a disadvantage.

In December 2019, India passed an immigration law this accelerated citizenship for undocumented migrants from neighboring countries as long as they were Hindus or one of the five other religions, but not Muslims. Party leaders in a number of Indian states have pushed for laws banning religious conversion through marriage, using a term – “loving jihad” – that leaves little doubt about who is targeted by the measures.

Some of the toughest measures have focused on Assam, where about a third of the population is Muslim. In the summer of 2019, a citizenship test left more than two million of the 33 million inhabitants of Assam, many of them are poor and muslim, stateless.

Now under Himanta Biswa Sarma, Mr. Modi high official in the state, the government forcibly evicted hundreds or possibly thousands of people it calls suspected foreigners – a group that human rights groups and local residents say are predominantly Muslim. His government recently announced its intention to redistribute land to the state’s indigenous peoples. Party leaders are already asking Mr. Sarma to order no more evictions and build more agricultural projects on an inhabited land.

Assam officials and party leaders did not respond to requests for comment. Mr. Sarma has refuse that the evictions are anti-Muslim, claiming they have “public support”.

The campaign is set in a state famous for its verdant hills and tea gardens, and where many people consider themselves Assamese before identifying as Indians. Many local residents, who speak Assamese, have at times been angered under Indian rule, fueling a separatist movement.

Many indigenous Assamese, Hindus and Muslims, have long feared losing their identity to immigrants, often people from largely Muslim Bangladesh who speak Bengali. This has led in the past to forced evictions of people seen as foreigners from government land, which experts say included long-time residents.

Today, the BJP has exploited those complexities in a way that more directly pits Hindus against Muslims, said Santanu Borthakur, an Assam lawyer who advocates for marginalized communities. “They were able to capitalize on people’s apprehensions,” he said.

The forced evictions have been going on for decades, but the September 23 clash gave them a national and global audience.

Security forces used sticks to disperse the protest in Dholpur, western Assam, according to Ali and more than a dozen other villagers. When miners in the group were targeted, they said, protesters responded by throwing bamboo sticks. The police retaliated by shooting at the demonstrators. They also burned houses and razed mosques and madrasas, according to residents.

The death of the adult man, Moinul Haque, provided the picture that much of India saw. A video showed it largely outnumbered and charging a group of officers with a stick in hand. A few seconds later, amid the sound of gunfire, Mr. Haque fell to the ground. The police continue to beat him with sticks. Next, a photographer working for the local government twice tramples Mr. Haque’s body as blood spilled from his chest.

The family showed the Times their government issued ID cards, which showed Mr. Haque to be an Indian national.

Family members described him as a shy 28-year-old. They now live in a makeshift house with a tin shed and a hardwood bed on a sandy island along the banks of the Brahmaputra, one of the world’s largest rivers. On a recent visit, grieving women cried nearby.

“How am I going to live without him?” Mumtaz Begum, his wife, said looking at their 9-year-old daughter. “How am I going to raise the children?

Mr. Haque’s relatives said security personnel threatened to shoot them if they dared to approach or touch his body. They tied his body to a bulldozer, they said, and dragged him before sending him for an autopsy. Police did not respond to requests for comment.

“They just want to torture us because we are Muslims,” said Ainuddin, Mr. Haque’s younger brother, who has only one name.

Local residents interviewed were mostly Muslims who spoke Assamese and Bengali, sometimes mixed, and said they had lived and farmed the land for decades. Mr. Haque’s family and others provided documents showing that they had paid taxes on the land they lived in.

Nevertheless, the government plans to develop land for agriculture and plots for which he considers indigenous – a group of people whom the new landless in Dholpur expect to be largely Hindu.

“BJP means one thing by ‘native’, and everyone accepts it,” said Sanjib Baruah, professor of political studies at Bard College in New York.

On a recent visit, tractors were plowing the land around a Hindu temple, which has remained intact.

“It’s a good thing these people have been kicked out,” said Udhav Das, a Hindu priest at the temple. “The Hindus will get their land back. “

Asked how the authorities demolished mosques and a madrasa, Mr. Das replied, “Hindus don’t need mosques and madrasas.

Lawyers and opposition politicians warn that political divisions in Assam could stoke religious tensions to even more dangerous levels.

“It is a barbaric act of a barbaric government,” said Akhil Gogoi, an opposition figure and activist. Mr. Gogoi was released from prison four months ago after being cleared of charges under India’s strict national security law.

Almost a week after the eviction campaign, grief and fear reigned in Dholpur, amid the charred remains of people’s homes: a motorbike, pieces of warped tin and furniture.

Sahera Khatun, an 18-year-old girl wearing an orange scarf, looked at her house as she stood on a rickety boat crossing the Brahmaputra. Her family had not yet been evicted, she said, but the government recently took over the land they had cultivated for generations. They expect to be fired afterwards.

“It’s only a matter of time,” she said.

Mr Ali, the farmer, said the fire that day consumed his old documents, including papers showing his claims to the land. What the police burned that afternoon was not just people’s homes, he said, it was also their dreams.

“The fire was not just burning outside,” he said. “It was like it was burning inside of me.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Indian state expels Muslims, even those who live there legally
Indian state expels Muslims, even those who live there legally
Newsrust - US Top News
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