India’s new citizenship law takes toll on Muslims in Assam

India’s new citizenship law takes toll on Muslims in Assam
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Mukua Shapori camp in Sonitpur district, Assam, is one of three camps internally displaced persons have moved to following a recent series of evictions. The local administration denies its existence. (AN Photo)
India’s new citizenship law takes toll on Muslims in Assam
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Evicted people show their land ownership documents at the Mukua Shapori camp, Sonitpur district, Assam. (AN Photo)
India’s new citizenship law takes toll on Muslims in Assam
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A man shows his documents at the Shirwani camp, Sonitpur district, Assam. (AN Photo)
India’s new citizenship law takes toll on Muslims in Assam
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Akkas Ali stands in the ruins of his house in Bhuttamari Vairobi village, Sonitpur district, Assam. (AN Photo)
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Updated 07 January 2020

India’s new citizenship law takes toll on Muslims in Assam

India’s new citizenship law takes toll on Muslims in Assam
  • BJP administration evicted hundreds of Muslim households in Assam following the enactment of CAA
  • Members of the Muslim minority in Sonitpur district have become refugees in their own homeland

TEZPUR, ASSAM: The moment Akkas Ali saw his destroyed home, he burst in tears. The 65-year-old farmer from Bhuttamari Vairabi, Sonitpur district in India’s northeastern Assam state, has spent all his life savings on building the three-bedroom house in the village.

Last month, the district’s administration and a local legislator entered 10 villages in the area with bulldozers and paramilitary personnel. They razed 450 houses and displaced more than 3,000 people.

Ali is now a refugee in his own village and stays at a nearby makeshift camp, without any clue what the future holds for him. 

“My fault is that I am not registered as a voter in the Sootea Assembly constituency where my village falls. I have my vote in the neighboring constituency. Local Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator Padma Hazarika, with support from the administration, threw me and more than 450 families out from the area just because we don’t vote for him,” he said.

“I am a genuine citizen of Assam and my name figures in the NRC. I am a registered voter of the neighboring Tezpur constituency and I've been living here for more than 15 years, after moving from my native village which was washed away by a flood,” Ali told Arab News, referring to the National Register of Citizens, a citizenship list issued by the Assam government in August last year.

“The government says we are encroachers and Bangladeshis, and they evicted us from our own land despite having all the documents. The larger goal, I feel, is that the BJP wants to settle down Hindu Bengalis in this area who will act as a permanent vote bank for the party,” Ali said.

Ever since New Delhi passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in mid-December, tensions have been running high in Assam with the Assamese fearing to lose their ethnic identity if immigrant Hindu Bengalis are allowed to become Indian citizens. 

Under the CAA, Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi and Christian minorities from neighboring Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan are eligible to become citizens, if they have come to India before Dec. 31, 2014. Muslims are not included.

Meanwhile, Assam’s NRC has provisions for declaring all migrants – regardless of their religion – as stateless if they have entered Assam after March 24, 1971. More than 1.9 million people, mostly Hindus, could not find their place on the NRC list. The CAA  will now accommodate Hindus, leaving out Muslims.

Members of the Muslim minority in the state fear they would be the real target of the BJP’s majoritarian politics.

Abdul Quddus faces a similar fate as Ali.

“First they evicted us saying we are not their voters, and soon they are going to throw out the remaining Muslim families,” said the teacher who has been living in at the Mukua Chapori camp, some two kilometers from his house, also as a refugee.

Arab News asked Hazrika, the local BJP legislator behind the evictions, about their grounds.

“They are encroachers, that’s why they have been evicted,” was his reply.

“I don’t care whether they are Hindu or Muslims, they are encroachers and they have been thrown out of the government land,” Hazrika said, adding that the evictions followed a court order.

He denied, however, the presence of refugee camps in the area.

Manvendra Pratap Singh, deputy commissioner of Sonitpur district and a man at the forefront of the evictions, also defended the move by citing encroachment.

“We have a plan to evict more people from that area, as the whole land belongs to the government and those who claim they are owners of the land bought the land from encroachers,” he said, adding that an industrial park and Tezpur University facilities were going to be built in the area.

He also denied the existence of camps and said that eligible to own land would be resettled. “There exists no refugee camp in the area,” he claimed.

But people in the camps say that no one from the government side has visited them.

“We are being treated as foreigners in our own land. The situation is so bad that local schools are refusing (our) kids entry to school premises. The future of hundreds of students is bleak,” said Ali. 

According to local social worker Isfaqul Hussain, “there is a larger game at play in Assam now. Wherever Muslim communities are vulnerable, there is an attempt to displace them internally and make them refugees in their own homeland.”

Tezpur-based political analyst Abdul Qadir explained that following the enactment of CAA, the BJP seeks to settle Hindu Bengalis in Muslim-dominated areas.

“The situation was very sad in the beginning when more than 10,000 people suddenly became homeless. Some of them spent nights in the open in this severe winter. Concerned citizens mobilized funds and erected tents,” he said.

“We are living in a difficult time, when human suffering is measured by the parameters of religion.”


China rescuers drill new ‘lifelines’ to trapped gold miners

China rescuers drill new ‘lifelines’ to trapped gold miners
Updated 19 January 2021

China rescuers drill new ‘lifelines’ to trapped gold miners

China rescuers drill new ‘lifelines’ to trapped gold miners
  • Twenty-two workers have been stuck 540 meters underground near Yantai in east China’s Shandong province

BEIJING: Chinese rescuers drilled several fresh holes Tuesday to reach at least 12 gold miners trapped underground for nine days, as dwindling food supplies and rising waters threatened their survival.
Twenty-two workers have been stuck 540 meters (1,750 feet) underground at the Hushan mine near Yantai in east China’s Shandong province after an explosion damaged the entrance.
After days without any signs of life, some of the trapped miners managed to send up a note attached to a metal wire which rescuers had dropped into the mine on Sunday.
Pleading for help, the handwritten message said a dozen of them were alive but surrounded by water and in need of urgent medical supplies.
Several of the miners were injured, the note said.
A subsequent phone call with the miners revealed 11 were in one location 540 meters below the surface with another – apparently alone – trapped a further 100 meters down.
The whereabouts and condition of the other 10 miners is still unknown.
Rescuers have already dug three channels and sent food, medicine, paper and pencils down thin shafts – lifelines to the miners cut into the earth.
But progress was slow, according to Chen Fei, a top city official.
“The surrounding rock near the ore body is mostly granite... that is very hard, resulting in slow progress of rescue,” Chen told reporters on Monday evening.
“There is a lot of water in the shaft that may flow into the manway and pose a danger to the trapped workers.”
Chen said the current food supply was only enough for two days.
Rescuers drilled three more channels on Tuesday, according to a rescue map published on the Yantai government’s official twitter-like Weibo account.
A telephone connection has also been set up.
Footage from state broadcaster CCTV showed dozens of rescuers clearing the main return shaft, while cranes and a massive bore-hole drill was used to dig new rescue channels to reach the trapped miners.
Rescue teams lost precious time since it took more than a day for the accident to be reported, China Youth daily reported citing provincial authorities.
Both the local Communist Party secretary and mayor have been sacked over the 30-hour delay and an official investigation is under way to determine the cause of the explosion.
Mining accidents are common in China, where the industry has a poor safety record and regulations are often weakly enforced.
In December, 23 workers died after being stuck underground in the southwestern city of Chongqing, just months after 16 others died from carbon monoxide poisoning after being trapped underground at another coal mine in the city.