IT was another black day for Guwahatians who witnessed street violence killing three people and damaging huge public and private properties.
A protest demonstration by thousands of participants turned ugly and the pre-historic city turned into a battlefield where the police and protesters got engaged in violence.
The anti-eviction demonstration called by the Brihattar Guwahati Mati Pattakaran Daabi Samiti and the Krishak Mukti Sanram Samity on June 22, 2011 resulted in the killing of Ruhul Ali (age 9), Siva Kumar Sarma (42), Biren Kalita (56) and injuring 50 others. Earlier the protesters damaged a number of vehicles owned by both government (police van and Assam State Transport Corporation buses) and individuals. Even a school bus was set on fire by a section of demonstrators.
The police personnel on duty including the city police chief Dipak Choudhury were severely injured in the incident. Later the district magistrate J. Balaji and senior police officials including inspector-general (law and order) BJ Mahanta, inspector-general (central and western range) Pallab Bhattacharya arrived at the spot and the situation was finally brought under control.
Initially the gathering of over 5,000 agitators in the Dispur locality was very much non-violent. After the peaceful demonstration they wanted to handover a memorandum to the forest minister Rockybul Hussain or the chef secretary NK Das, but they did not come out to receive it. Finally the protesters demanded that the Kamrup (Metro) deputy commissioner J Balaji should come to receive the memorandum.
The district magistrate honoured their demand but it was little late and by the time the protesters lost patience.
Suddenly the police started aggressive response to the demonstrators and a young boy was killed when a duty officer fired openly. It was actually the beginning of all rampage and unwanted violence for the day.
People from various parts of the city participated in the protest, which includes Gaurchak, Chachal and Shilsako. These people, residing in the hills of the city, are being subjected for eviction by the authorities from time to time. Nearly 80,000 families are residing in the city hills under the territory of reserve forest for many years and they maintain their demand for mati pattas (settlement rights).
The police firing and the mob violence on June 22 was condemned by socio-political group and parties. The Opposition party Asom Gana Parishad and the Communist Party of India (Assam State unit) condemned the police actions against the protesters. The CPI, Assam came out with the statement that “if Indian citizens are occupying land at forest reserve, the landless Indian citizens should be rehabilitated in some other suitable place instead of evicting them haphazardly”.
Two active student organisations of the State have condemned the police atrocities on the agitators and also criticised the violence adopted by the protesters.
The All Assam Students’ Union, in a statement issued by its advisor Samujjal Bhattacharya, president Sankar Prasad Rai and general secretary Tapan Kumar Gogoi, ASU, condemned the police firing and lathi-charge on agitators. Expressed dismay at the mob violence too, the students body urged the government to ‘adopt a scientific approach to preserve the hills and wetlands of the city’.
Similarly the Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad came out with the statement condemning both the police firing and unruly behaviour of the protesters. The students’ organisation demanded that the indigenous people residing in the hills for years must get the land pattas.
The Sentinel, prominent English daily of North-east India, asserted in a front page column, “There is a doubt among the people that the incident occurred as the KMSS leader failed to control the unruly protesters who went berserk. Do the protesters have the right to damage public property? How could they torch Assam State Transport Corporation buses, private vehicles and police vehicles? The irony is that all these vehicles were seen burning just a few yards from the Dispur Fire Brigade office and the police remaining a mute spectator.”
The authorities have charged Akhil Gogoi, also a Right To Information activist, with as more as ten cases of illegal meeting, rioting, arsoning and damaging public properties, etc under various IPC including 143, 144, 147, 149, 333, 339, 353, 357, 427, 434, 435 and 436. There is suspicion that the Assam government might take the activist under National Security Act to confine his movement for some months.
The intention of the government turned clear when Akhil Gogoi was arrested on June 24 from the campus of Guwahati Press Club, while he was addressing the media. Akhil claimed that no member of KMSS was involved in clash with police and torching vehicles (on June 22). The journalists attending the meet requested the police officials to wait for some time till Akhil Gogoi completes his speech. But they did not bother and whisked away him in full view of reporters and television cameras from the Guwahati Press Club premises. The KMSS immediately called for a 12-hour Assam Bandh next day protesting against the arrest of Akhil Gogoi and it was supported by many organisations. The bandh on June 25 was almost successful, as the busy Guwahati city wore a deserted look. The shops and other business offices remained closed and there was very low traffic on the streets.
National Alliance of People’s Movements, an umbrella organisation of various civil society groups of India, has criticised the arrest of Akhil Gogoi and termed the action as ‘vindictive attitude of Assam government’.
The opposition political parties including the AGP, Bharatiya Janata Party and All India United Democratic Front also condemned the arrest of Akhil Gogoi. The AGP leader and former State chief minister PK Mahanta termed the arrest of Akhil Gogoi as ‘politically motivated’ and he accused the Tarun Gogoi government of having a nexus with land mafia in Assam. The BJP leader and Guwahati MP Bijaya Chakrabarty also condemned the arrest with stronger words. The AIUDF chief Badaruddin Ajmal also echoed the same regret.
Meanwhile, Guwahati Press Club protested the arrest of Akhil Gogoi from inside its premise.
Facing the heat, the chief minister announced that the State government would adopt a land policy taking into consideration the plea of thousands of landless people because of flood, erosion and other natural and man-made disasters. Issuing a statement on June 25, the State government chief Tarun Gogoi assured that the interest of indigenous people, poor and marginalised section of the society would be protected.