Field Notes: ‘Why Do You Want To Go To Dhalpur?’


Each time I mentioned Dhalpur—and the violent 2021 eviction that killed Moinul Haque and 12-year-old Sheikh Farid—to people in Mangaldai, the district headquarters of Darrang in Assam, there was this eerie silence, an uncomfortable disquiet.

Their tone changed, and this tacit hesitancy would force the conversation short.

“Why do you want to go to Dhalpur?” an Assamese Muslim hotel staffer asked me, his face visibly stressed.

As a riverine village on the bank of the river Brahmaputra and laced with many rivulets, Dhalpur is challenging to reach.

The one way I could reach the riverine village was to go to Gorabhanda, a village about half an hour's drive from Mangaldai, and from then, an arduous journey on a peel peeli (an e-rickshaw) to reach a ferry wharf to Dhalpur, a woman in Mangaldai told me.

When I reached Gorabhand, occupied by mostly Assamese Hindus, I could sense the prevailing bigotry and bitterness towards the Bengali Muslim community lingering in people’s conversations even two years after their eviction.

Eibur sob mati miya’e dokhol kori asil (Miyas were occupying all this land),” my peel peeli driver P*, an Assamese Hindu, told me.

Miya is a pejorative term used State’sm for Muslims of Bengali ancestry in the State’s five-decade-long history of Assamese nationalistic agitation against their alleged influx from Bangladesh.

His voice soon hushed when I told him my name. My surname, Ahmed, must have also made him realise I am a Bengali Muslim.

The more common surnames for Assamese Muslims are Hazarika, Chaudhuri, Laskar, Bhuyan, and Saika.

When I reached the ferry point to Dhalpur, I met Taij Uddin. When I asked him about Sheikh Farid, Uddin, standing by the river, sat down rather unexpectedly.

A long pause ensued, but he gathered his words.

Allah’e jane tar [Farid’s] poriyale kila soijjo korey (Only god knows how his family is coping with his killing,” he said, lighting a bidi and looking at the sky.

Farid and Haque were allegedly shot dead by the Darrang police on the second leg of the eviction drive on 23 September 2021, which was first carried out two days earlier, on 20 September 20.

The 23 September 2021 eviction drive turned violent when the Darrang police, under the then superintendent of police Sushanta Biswa Sarma, brother to the State’s right-wing Assamese Nationalist chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, opened fire at people who protested the eviction.

According to the State government, the total number of evictees from those two days was 800 families from 8,000 bighas (nearly 2600 acres) of land.

But on that September morning, wherever I looked in the sandbar village, I could only see a sea of tin sheds loosely erected. The figure, just by the look of it, appeared way more to the naked eye.

These are some 1300 families evicted from those two days and now living in temporary tin sheds on a vast swath encircled by the river in the riverine village.

Most are yet to recover from the trauma of eviction and the overnight changes in their lives, even after two years in its aftermath.

These people I met are some of the friendliest and warmest people I have ever met despite their constant vilification in Assam. Seeing that I came looking for them, they couldn’t hold back their tears.

“For us, our lives ended in that eviction,” said someone who served me his (special) tea.

One among them gave me a long, bumpy ride along the Brahmaputra to Sheikh Farid’s house.

“You see this dhanob (Monster) river? Our blood spilt into it, and our homes were swallowed by it,” he said, referring first to the bloody eviction and then to the soil erosion. 

In Farid’s house, the scenes that unfolded before me were traumatic.

Farid’s mother, Hasina Bano, was inconsolable while revisiting her trauma of losing her dearest son. Later, Hasina showed me Farid’s new books and clothes, which she had clung onto, trying to smell his presence.

“My boy was innocent,” she said, weeping.

I felt so helpless, almost like a parasite, knowing that my story about them wouldn’t help them much to get justice.

On my way back, I met Moinul’s widow, Mumtaz Begum, who now lives across a shallow stream, a de facto border between the evictees and an agricultural project used to justify their eviction.

As I was somehow getting a trauma-induced Mumtaz to open up about the incident, her son, Mukasdis, unaware of what happened to his father, was imitating the killing of his father.

That scene was emotionally disturbing for me. Gave me sleepless nights.

“It is inhumane to be us,” Ainuddin, Haque’s brother, told me. 

Riding back with the same peel peeli rider P*, I thought, “Even though I am one from this Bengali-speaking Muslim community, there is a vast gulf between our worlds.”

Read Arshad Ahmed’s full story here

Also read:

Write a comment ...