A day after an Assam eviction drive against “encroachers” on government land left two dead and several injured, including policemen, the authorities were yet to officially release details of the deceased.
Darrang Superintendent of Police Sushanta Biswa Sarma confirmed to The Indian Express that the two included a 33-year-old, the video of whose shooting went viral on Thursday, and a 12-year-old child, both of this area in Sipajhar.
Asked how the 12-year-old died, Sarma said he could not comment. “All this will come out in the inquiry.”
Speaking to the local media, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said Friday: “Ten thousand people came out with sticks and spears and attacked police… Yes, I condemn what the cameraman did (stomping on the 33-year-old as he lay injured), but that is just 30 seconds of the entire episode. But what is going on for four months?” he said, adding there was no question of stopping the eviction drive.
A small, nondescript patch of earth at Dholpur 3 village is now enclosed by a bundle of twigs and a crumpled piece of white cloth, put up by villagers to mark the spot where Moinul Hoque went down to bullets. In the video that went viral, he can be seen being beaten by policemen as he lies motionless on the ground, with the cameraman hired by the district administration, who was later arrested, punching him and jumping on him.
“Every time I think of the video, I tear up… To hit a man when he is already dead takes a special kind of hatred,” says Saddam Hussain, 21, gathered with some others at the spot.
Moinul’s family, huddled under a makeshift shelter put together with two tin sheets, a few kilometres away, says they haven’t come across the video, nor have they seen his body so far. None of the family members has a phone, and police have not told them anything, they say.
Moinul’s home, which he shared with his parents, wife and three children (ages 5, 9 and 13), was among the ones razed Thursday.
Patting his sobbing wife Maimona on the back to console her, Moinul’s father Maqbool Ali says they don’t know what happened to the body. “Some people recognised him and brought word to us, so I rushed. But then I heard the sound of bullets and came back.”
According to the family, as their home was being dismantled, Moinul heard that some settlement had been made with the authorities. “He went to find out more… the next thing we heard was that he was dead,” says Maimona.
“Moinul was a labourer, and the only earning member of our family. My husband is old… Now how will we make a living?” she adds.
The family could save only a few things to carry to the shelter: some blankets, a folder of plastic documents and a few packets of moori (puffed rice).
The family of Sheikh Farid, 12, a Class 7 student, says he left home on Thursday afternoon for the post-office to get his Aadhaar card. The Aadhaar eventually made its way to the family; Farid returned home dead on a horse cart.
Where Farid lived, across the Brahmaputra tributary that runs through Dholpur 3, things were calm on Thursday afternoon. The residents had not been served notices, nor had anyone come with JCBs.
Around late afternoon, Farid’s parents heard that their son was dead. “I don’t know what happened… We are at a loss for words,” says Khaleque Ali, Farid’s father. He says he did not believe it at first, until someone showed him a photo of his son, bleeding.
Sitting nearby, his crying wife keeps fainting.
The villagers, too, are unclear about what really transpired. “He was easily identifiable because his Aadhaar was in his pocket,” says Abbas Ali, a neighbour, adding, “He was a good kid.”
A local present at Farid’s home adds that while no eviction notices have reached the part of Dholpur where they live, it does not mean they are not worried. “Even if we were saved this time, what if they come for us next?”
The family says Farid’s body was taken away three hours after it arrived home. They managed to retrieve the Aadhaar card.