A violent clash broke out in Sipajhar in Assam's Darrang district on Thursday as police tried to evict "encroachers", leaving two people dead in police firing, with around 20 injured. The Assam government, following the incident, ordered an inquiry under the chairmanship of a retired judge of Gauhati High Court.
The public protest had erupted over the demand for rehabilitation of nearly 800 families evicted from the land they were living on for decades.
Darrang Superintendent of Police Sushanta Biswa Sarma, a younger brother of Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, claimed the protesters, armed with sharp weapons, pelted the police personnel and others present with stones.
Police initially fired in the air to disperse the protesters but failed, forcing the men in uniform to fire at people, killing two and injuring at least ten others. Around 10 more, including policemen, were also injured in clashes.
Meanwhile, a purported video of the incident has gone viral on social media where a photographer is seen kicking a person, presumably dead. The video shows hundreds of policemen firing at unseen targets from behind the trees, and a man in vest and lungi running on a dusty street. A photographer ran behind him until the time the men in uniform surrounded the man as gunshots rang in the background.
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The photographer was seen being led out by a policeman but soon returned, jumped over his body, and hit him with something he had picked up lying close by. The man's left arm lifted momentarily, before he lay still, with a red circle of blood from a bullet wound on his chest, and a 'Gomosa', the traditional stole associated with Assamese pride, lying crumpled beside him.
Bijay Shankar Baniya, a professional photographer, hired by the district administration to document the situation, has been arrested.
The injured included eight policemen. Assistant Sub-Inspector Moniruddin is admitted to the Gauhati Medical College Hospital in critical condition. The dead have been identified as Saddam Hussain and Sheikh Forid.
The protesters have been dispersed and the eviction drive continues, the SP said. The situation has been brought under control but tension prevails. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted, "Assam is on state-sponsored fire. I stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the state- no children of India deserve this."
"Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma who is also the state home minister will take action in the matter as the public has given us the responsibility to protect Assam, and we all are with him," said Assam Minister Ranjit Kumar Dass, reacting to the encroachment drive.
Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said in Guwahati the eviction drive will not be stopped. "The police has been entrusted with the responsibility of clearing the land from encroachers and they will continue to do it till the job is done. Eviction will stop once it is dark and resume again tomorrow," he added.
The Darrang district administration has so far cleared 602.40 hectares of land and evicted 800 families since Monday and demolished four 'illegally' constructed religious structures at Sipajhar.
The chief minister had visited the place on June 7 and inspected the riverine areas allegedly encroached by "illegal settlers" near Dholpur Shiva temple and directed the district administration to clear the area for the government to start a community farming project.
Assam Pradesh Congress President Bhupen Kumar Borah has demanded a judicial inquiry into the "barbaric act" of police firing on protesters. "The very act of eviction is in itself inhuman especially during the Covid situation," he added.
The Supreme Court had also given a directive against eviction during the pandemic situation yet the state government led by Sarma has been behaving in an autocratic manner to evict the residents of Dholpur who have been living in the area since the 1970s, he said.
The people in the area have been subjected to repeated harassment by the BJP government since it came to power in 2016, Bora alleged.
(with inputs from PTI)