A man who was shot and thrashed by the police lies unconscious on the ground while a photographer, who had been engaged by the district administration, can be seen kicking and punching him. (Screen Grab)
A shocking video of policemen, including a government-appointed photographer, ganging up to mercilessly beat an unidentified individual in Assam has stirred a national outrage across social media platforms.
In the video, which was shot on September 20, during an eviction drive by the state government against illegal encroachers, a man, allegedly an illegal settler, is seen charging with a stick in hand towards a group of policemen. They shoot him in the chest and then brutally thrash him. What was more shocking in the video was that a photographer, who had been engaged by the district administration, was kicking and punching the unconscious man on his chest.
Watch video here (Viewer discretion advised):
Though the police team was attacked by the “encroachers” the disproportionate use of force has been widely condemned. In the video, the man with bamboo stick was overpowered by the policemen, yet he was shot on his chest. The photographer involved in the incident has been identified as Bijay Shankar Bania, who has been engaged by the district commissioner’s office in Darrang. Baniya was arrested on Thursday evening.
“The moment I saw the video, I ordered the immediate arrest of the photographer. There is zero tolerance to such actions,” Assam DGP Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta told India Today.
At least 800 families, occupying about 4,500 bighas of land, in Assam’s Darrang district were evicted as part of the state government’s drive against “illegal encroachments”.
Four religious structures and one private institution were also demolished, claimed Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. The drive was carried out between 9 am and 4 pm in Dholpur 1 and Dholpur 3 villages in Sipajhar area. While the status of the injured person could not be ascertained, the police reported two casualties and maintained that 11 police personnel, including one DSP were injured in the eviction drive at Dholpur.
On being asked about the Dholpur incident, Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told India Today that he had ordered a judicial inquiry into the incident. “I condemn the episode. It was unfortunate. We will take strict action if any violation is found in the inquiry,” he said.
One of the BJP government’s major poll promises before Assembly elections in 2016 and 2021 was to free government lands and lands belonging to temples and monasteries from “encroachers” and allot them to “indigenous landless people” of the state.
Similar drives evicted 70 families in Hojai’s Lanka and 25 families in Sonitpur’s Jamugurihat in June. In Sipajhar, the government plans to implement a multi-crore ‘Garukhuti Project’—announced in the state budget 2021-22—which aims to use the freed-up land for afforestation and agriculture activities, involving indigenous youth. Such drives have often drawn criticism from Opposition parties and human rights activists for evicting people without a proper rehabilitation plan.
It’s widely believed in Assam that most of these “encroachers” are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. In 2017, the interim report of a six-member committee for the protection of land rights of indigenous people of Assam, headed by former chief election commissioner HS Brahma, said that illegal Bangladeshis dominated in as many as 15 of the 33 districts of Assam.
“Illegal Bangladeshis descend on the land like an army of marauding invaders armed with dangerous weapons, set up illegal villages, mostly on the char lands overnight, in the full view and with the tacit, if not active, connivance and encouragement of the corrupt government officers as also with abetment of communal political leaders,” read the report.
The Brahma committee report also says that the identity of as many as 18 Xatras in Assam — a Vaishnavite monastery, which are cultural hubs in Assam — is under threat, following large-scale encroachment by illegal Bangladeshi migrants. In July 2012, a study by the Northeast Policy Institute found 5,548 bighas of land belonging to 26 Xatras encroached on by illegal settlers. A Right to Information (RTI) application revealed encroachment of close to 4 lakh hectares of forestland adding up to 22 per cent of the state’s forest cover.
However, the incident of September 20 has earned the administration massive flak from public.