In the 15th century, reformer Guru Srimanta Sankardev, father of Assamese culture, and his closest disciple Guru Madhabdev established a number of Vaishnavite monasteries across Assam. These were known as Satras. The Satras were like Takshashila and Nalanda of Assam as through them the greater Assamese society was educated, uplifted and introduced to Vaishnavite heritage and culture. Gradually, Satras became the heart and soul of Assamese culture, heritage and social spirituality. Several other Vaishnavite saints including Damudar Dev, Badala Ata, Murari Dev also established hundreds of Satras across the Brahmaputra Valley.
Threat To Assamese Culture
Satras are not only the common prayer place of Bhagwan Krishna and Bishnu for its disciples, but also the hub of Satriya culture like Srikrishna Raas Leela, Ankiya Nrity, Ankia Bhaona (mythological drama), Borgeet and other activities. But after 700 years, hundreds of Satras, established by Sankardev, his disciples and Vaishnavite reformers are facing a tremendous existential crisis, mostly because of aggression and encroachment by the migrant Muslim population in the State.
Inquiry Commission’s Shocking Revelation
The systematic encroachment on the land belonging to the Satras started even before Independence. For the first time in 2021, Himanta Biswa Sarma-led BJP Government in the State constituted a Commission to assess and review the encroachment problem on the land belonging to the Vaishnavite monasteries. The commission was headed by senior Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) MLA Pradip Hazarika along with BJP MLAs Mrinal Saikia and Rupak Sarma as its members. The committee submitted its interim report to Assam Chief Minister on December 3, 2022.
The report, prepared after visiting 62 Satras and taking firsthand information of 303 Satras by the commission, shocked the entire nation. Over 7,000 bighas or 1900 hectares of land belonging to 303 Satras of lower, middle and north Assam are under encroachment, mostly by migrant Muslims. Commission Chairman MLA Pradip Hazarika revealed that the migrant Muslims have encroached on the Satra land in a systematic manner. In fact, Assamese people are now a minority in these Satra areas. Of 1200 Satras in Assam, almost 250 have completely disappeared. Since all their land was grabbed by the encroachers, the Satras vanished. The Satradhikar (head of a Satra) of Balisatra had to sell his property and move out to Guwahati because of threat to his life from the encroachers. His daughter was raped and killed by the illegal settlers. Migrant Muslims sell beef on the road connecting to Batadrava, birthplace of Sankardev. There are only a handful of Assamese families near the Patikabari Satra and this Satra too is on the verge of vanishing. Solguri Satra in Nagaon district was robbed 45 times. Of 920 Satras functional in the State currently, most reel under constant aggression from the migrant Muslim community.
Chairman Pradip Hazarika further said that a group of people led by Muslim League leader Sayed Sadullah, who believed in two nation theory, systematically allowed encroachment of Satras and Government land in Assam prior to India’s Independence. When the Muslim League was in power in 1930s, it systematically brought migrant Muslims from East Bengal, now Bangladesh, to Assam under a bogus scheme called ‘Grow More Food”. The migration was intentionally carried out to increase the Muslim population in Assam in order to club Assam with Pakistan at the time of Partition. Those migrated Muslims systematically grabbed the lands belonging to the Satras.
A total of 7504.2 bighas or roughly 1898.04 hectares of land belonging to the Satras are currently under encroachment. Of which, maximum encroachment has been reported from the minority-dominated lower Assam district of Barpeta. As per the interim report, 74 per cent of encroachment on Satra lands (5,545 Bighas) takes place in the district. Migrant Muslims have encroached 4,000 bighas of age-old Byashkuchi Bhattadev Satra, 859 bighas of Barpeta Satra, 282 bighas of Sundaridiya Satra, 140 bighas of Moinbori Satra,101 bighas of Pirala Satra, 65 bighas of the Gomura Satra and 63 bighas of the Basudev Deul Satra in the district. On the other hand, 309 bighas of Raghunath Satra in Bongaigaon district have been encroached by the migrant Muslims. In the Dhubri district bordering Bangladesh, illegal settlers have encroached 200 bighas of the Purnia Satra. In Lakhimpur district, 550 bigha land of three age-old Satras have been encroached by illegal settlers.
The Commission found that the situation in Nagaon district, the birthplace of the great reformer Mahapurush Sankardev, is more alarming. Four hundred bighas of land of three very significant Satras have been encroached by migrant settlers. Many age-old Satras don’t exist in the district due to heavy encroachment. The Commission also noted that almost 9,000 bighas of Government land, forest land and wetland are under encroachment of migrant Muslims. This is posing a major threat to the historic Batadrava Satra (Than). Moreover, Kusumbor Bori (parental home of Guru Sankardev), Salguri Satra, Narowa Bali Satra, Patekibari Satra, Kobaikata Satra in Nagaon and Morigaon district are under heavy encroachment by the Bangladesh origin Muslims.
After 700 years, hundreds of Satras, established by Sankardev and host of his disciples, and Vaishnavite reformers are facing a tremendous existence crisis. Mostly because of aggression and encroachment by the migrant Muslim population in the State
Receiving the interim report of the Satra Commission, Assam Chief Minister Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma said that the Government will notify District Deputy Commissioners to verify the data collected by the Committee on its interim report. Based on the data furnished by the DCs, Assam Government will take appropriate action to evict the encroached land belonging to the Satras. He further mentioned that the Government will continue its eviction drive to clear encroachment on a case-to-case basis. Terming it the first-of-its-kind scientific data collection on Satra land, Dr. Sarma said that indigenous people, who are residing in Satra land as ‘Rayoti’, will get their rights according to the land and revenue act of the State.
Decisive action against encroachers
Not only the Satras, entire Assam is under heavy encroachment by the migrant Muslim encroachers. Ever since the BJP Government has come to power in Dispur, a series of eviction drives have been carried out to clear the encroached government land. The Kaziranga National Park was under heavy encroachment of illegal migrant Muslims. In September 2016, the BJP Government carried out a massive eviction drive in part one of the parks. While a few Assamese families had shifted ahead of the drive, others tried to prevent the eviction team from entering their area. One hundred and ninety migrant Muslim families were evicted from the park and the land was added to the wildlife of the Kaziranga National Park. On September 23, 2016, Assam Government had evicted 160 bighas of land belonging to the Batadrava Satra (birthplace of Mahapurush Srimant Shankardev) in Nagaon district. More than 100 illegal settler families were evicted from the Satra land. The State Government has started construction of the International convention and Vaishnavite Cultural Centre on the evicted land. Union Home Minister Amit Shah laid the foundation stone of the project on February 25, 2021, which will be constructed at a cost of Rs 180 crores. Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma said that once the project is completed, Batadrava Satra will have a world-class infrastructure and facilities to study the great creation of Sankardev.
The Gorukhti Integrated Farm Project
On September 26, 2021, Assam Government carried out a major eviction drive in Dhalpur area in Darrang district. Thousands of migrant Muslims encroached almost 77,000 acres of riverine land on the banks of mighty Brahmaputra. Hundreds of encroachers backed by radical Islamist organisation PFI attacked security forces to prevent the eviction. But the administration cleared the land in Dhalpur-Gorukhuti. Immediately after the eviction, the State Government converted the land to an integrated agri project.
Receiving the interim report of the Satra Commission, Assam Chief Minister Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma said that the Government will notify District Deputy Commissioners to verify the data collected by the Committee on its interim report. Based on the data furnished by the DCs, Assam Government will take appropriate action to evict the encroached land belonging to the Satras
On November 8, 2021, the State Government evicted a huge area inside the Lumding Reserve Forest in the middle Assam district of Hojai. The district administration demolished around 555 houses and illegal structures.
According to the report, the Lumding Reserve Forest has covered an area of over 22,403 hectares and of this 1,410 hectares have been encroached upon by people. Land Mafia Nazrul Islam and Anowar Hussain brought these families from India-Bangladesh border area in Dhubri district and engaged them in turmeric cultivation inside the forest land. Both were later arrested by police. The encroached land was once an elephant corridor and encroachment badly affected the wildlife of the reserve forest.
The Assam Government in September 2022 carried out a massive eviction drive in the State’s Sonitpur to clear encroachment from 1,000 bighas of land. On September 3, State Government conducted eviction at Chitalmari Char area under Barchala Assembly constituency in Sonitpur district in North Assam. The administration evicted 299 families of encroachers illegally occupying nearly 900 bighas of government land.