Being evicted from their land is nothing new for the people of Chanderdinga in Dhubri district. However, the recent eviction has plunged more than 50 families into an uncertain future.
Being rendered homeless all of a sudden is not a new phenomenon in the life of Abdur Razzaq. Razzaq, who is a resident of Chanderdinga pahar, a small hamlet in Dhubri district has been evicted from their land time and again. The place is surrounded by a small hillock called Chanderdinga pahar on one side and on the other side is the char (sandbar) area which falls in Golaghat district. The residents who have been living here since 1978 have been evicted thrice. The latest surge of eviction fell on them on 28th December 2016 when 56 families in the village were uprooted overnight from their home and pushed towards an uncertain future.
With the help of peasant group Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti and some activists, the 56 families have settled in relief camps on the banks of the river. The cramped tents are a makeshift and inadequate arrangement. These makeshift camps house 25 infants below the age of one, 42 children aged between one and five and 12 pregnant women. The settlers who were evicted for encroaching on forest land hold government documents like voter ID cards but do not have any land documents. Not only do they have no hope of receiving compensation, rehabilitation, too, seems out of their reach.
The population here mainly comprise of Rajbongshis, Muslims, Biharis etc. Though their ancestors practiced agriculture, they couldn’t do so because of a lack of cultivable land. Most of them catch fish in the river or work as daily wage labourers in Chapor or Dhubri. Some even work in brick kilns in Guwahati.
Bhabani Devi, a 44-year-old Koch Rajbongshi woman lives in one of the cramped tents with her husband, who is a pujari (priest) by profession. She says, ‘We have been living here for more than 30 years now. If the administration destroys our houses, where do we go? We have nothing left.’ The woman whose son works as a driver in Tezpur rues that the villagers have been treated as petty criminals by the administration. ‘One day they came and said that we have encroached on forest land and so we will be evicted. They didn’t even give us a day’s time. We were rendered homeless overnight. Even criminals get basic amenities, we are worse off,’ she rued.
A Hung-up Situation
Like in many other recent cases of eviction, the administration in this case too has left the fate of the evicted people uncertain. ‘We are now somehow managing on the chars but in the monsoon, when the Brahmaputra will start rising, they will be submerged. Also, building houses will take two-three months’ time. So, if the government does not rehabilitate us before that, we will climb back up the hills,’ Niru Barman, a 40-year-old mother of a son and two daughters, said.
Dhubri Deputy Commissioner Dhiraj Chowdhury said, ‘Since they had encroached upon the land, the government will not compensate them. However, if they can prove that they are landless, the administration will arrange for rehabilitation within the district.’
There is also a lack of clarity within the district administration. While the DC said that Jeevan Basabaraj, SDO, Civil, Bilasipara will be in a better position to comment on the proceedings, the latter passed the onus to the forest department. He said that the eviction took place because people had settled on reserved forest land and now the post eviction measures will be taken by the forest department. While there is a murmur whether some of the evicted people are illegal migrants from Bangladesh, Basabaraj says that it can be ascertained only after National Register of Citizens (NRC) is updated.
Presently, 228 people from Chanderdinga are fighting a lonely battle with the help of some committed activists who have gone out of their way to arrange basic amenities for the evicted people. Ashraful Hussain, an activist from Assam’s Barpeta district, says, ‘We had visited everyone from the DC and SDO to the local MLA Ashok Singhal but nobody showed any interest. These people are rattling in the winter cold and the government is not even interested in sending doctors and medicines.’
Hussain says that the ruthless bulldozers of the government have not even spared a school in the locality which was providing education to 120 children. In fact, there is another government school in the area which has refused to accommodate these students.
While it is true that our forest land needs to be protected from encroachment, there should be a clear-cut government policy on the matter. Every time, an eviction drive take place, some landless families are left behind whose responsibility is taken by nobody. If these people are the citizens of India, then they deserve rehabilitation and compensation and if they are not, then adequate measures should be taken to send them back to their country of origin. Because if proper measures are not put in place, more lives will be plunged into darkness like that of the people of Chanderdinga in the coming days.
History of Chanderdinga
The non-decrepit valley of Chanderdinga lies around 240 km from Guwahati. Chanderdinga pahar falls under Chapor revenue circle in Bilasipara subdivision in Dhubri district adjoining Bangladesh. The population mainly comprises tribals and Bengali Muslims. The tribals used to live in the nearby areas but due to food scarcity, they settled here around fifty years back. The Muslim population was originally from Krishtimoni char and Roukhowa char in Goalpara district, which is hardly 3-4 km from Chanderdinga district. After losing their land due to erosion in 1978-80, they came to settle in Chanderdinga. In 1997-98, the government had evicted 30-35 households, but the resilient lot again built their homes.
Words- Nabarun Guha