The Assam government has evicted 37 families and cleared 40 bighas of land that authorities say belongs to Barpeta Satra, a 16th-century Vaishnavite monastery.

“We are committed to clearing any encroached Satra lands elsewhere in Assam,” Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said in a tweet on February 5. He added that the eviction drive was conducted despite “provocative and highly communal statements” by an MLA.

The chief minister was referring to the statement made last week by suspended Congress leader Sherman Ali Ahmed, who had opposed the Assam government’s eviction drive in his home constituency Baghbor in Barpeta district.

In a video, Ahmed can be heard telling residents of Bordoli village, where the Assam government had carried out an eviction drive, that the Bharatiya Janata Party would rule the state for just five years and then those evicted can reclaim their lands.

“Nobody could evict you till I am alive,” Ahmed could be seen saying in the video. The police have lodged a first information report against the MLA for allegedly instigating the “encroachers” of the land.

The latest eviction drive on February 5 was conducted in Bardalani village in Barpeta district, reported The Indian Express.

“The drive was peaceful and the land under encroachment was cleared, without any resistance from the people,” said Barpeta Superintendent of Police Amitabh Sinha.

The Satras have alleged that almost 40 bighas belonging to the institution in Barpeta had been encroached by the Bengali Muslim population.

Barpeta Deputy Commissioner Tej Pratap Bhusal said the cleared land was handed over to the Satra’s managing committee. He added that all the Satra land in the district has more or less been cleared of the alleged encroachment.

Meanwhile, opposing the drive, All Assam Minority Students’ Union chief Rejaul Karim Sarkar said that the evicted families have been living in the area for over 10 years and were forced to move there after being displaced by floods and erosion.

He said that some families who were evicted have taken refuge under roofs made of tin sheets at a government land.

“They are in a terrible condition, without basic amenities,” Sarkar added. “The fact that it has been raining has made matters worse for them.”

He said that the families “do not want to intentionally encroach Satra land” but had moved there because “they were helpless.”

Eviction drives

The Assam government has been conducting widespread eviction drives to clear land occupied by people it has branded as “encroachers”. Many of those who have been evicted or are being asked to vacate are poor Bengali-origin Muslims. Those displaced are also accused of being “illegal foreigners” from Bangladesh – who had earlier lost land in floods and erosion.

Last week, the All Bodo Students Union had said in a memorandum to the chief minister that 45 Bodo families were evicted from Nalpara in the Gorchuk area of Guwahati and their homes vandalised.

Rohini Ballav Saikia, the divisional forest officer of Kamrup (East), had told that they were “encroaching” on forest land and hence their homes were demolished during a drive on January 31.

The union, however, had said the Bodo families had been living in the area for long and that the land had been donated by an non-governmental organisation. According to the union, different “illegal” migrants have set many new houses in the same area but have not been evicted.

On January 30, about 70 families were evicted from their homes in the Lahorijan area of Assam’s Karbi Anglong district, leading to a protest by the residents. The police had said they used batons, tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protestors but no civilian sustained injuries.

During one of these eviction drives on September 23, two civilians, including a 12-year-old child, were killed in police firing in the Sipajhar area of Assam’s Darrang district. It was the second mass eviction drive that week.

In November, the Assam government had conducted an eviction drive in the Lumding reserve forest in Hojai district.