Field Notes: Can You Help?


Over the last five years, I have reported on several State-led eviction-demolition drives in Assam and Delhi. In those cases (here, here, here, here and here), the political alignment of the evictees was predominantly against the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) right-wing politics.

However, in a wetland called Silasko on the outskirts of Guwahati, where at least 900 families were evicted over the last two years, the BJP has received immense support from the people in the locality. The evicted families I spoke with said they supported Himanta Biswa Sarma and voted for the BJP, but the chief minister and his party “betrayed the khilonjiya” (indigenous communities—tribal and Assamese-speaking people.)

Gayatri Bori, an evictee from the Bori tribe, told me that before these eviction drives, she was living the life of a homemaker, but the situation pushed her towards activism advocating the land rights of the indigenous communities living for decades at Silsako. 

“This government came to power with slogans of Jati Mati Bheti. They even introduced the Basundhara scheme, but with it, they checked the amount of land (people hold),” said Gayatri, referring to a scheme that aims to make land revenue services more accessible to citizens. 

“I will say that his (Himanta Biswa Sarma) motive behind becoming a CM is to make Assam tribal free,” Gayatri spoke in anger.

Since the forced evictions, Bori and dozens of others have frequently protested against the state government, opposing demolition and demanding their land back.

Among the two women who protested half-naked opposing the eviction, one was Ribha Deori, an evictee from the Deori tribe.

I told Ribha I was trying to contact her, but she was unavailable. She replied: “Actually, I was tired mentally.” 

“I had to take rest for some days. I was not sure how I would react. My family also suggested that I stay at home for some days.”

Ribha said the eviction drive was a threat to the existence of indigenous groups in Assam. 

“I am a tribal woman. I belong to the Deori tribe. We are the sons of the soil. Assam is ours,” she said.

On 11 and 12 September, as I walked in the Silsako wetland witnessing large tracts of the evicted area, I attempted to speak with the evictees, but many were reluctant to talk.

“Will this be of any help? The houses are already demolished,” said a young man in his thirties as he stood with his father, monitoring the clearing of the rubbles of their demolished house.

Amid the eviction, Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) had already commenced fencing the area. Excavators were making rounds at the wetland, while some were tearing through structures, and some were excavating parts of the wetland in the presence of dozens of police personnel deployed in the vicinity.

Most of the evictees more often mentioned the structures, such as the Ideal Hill View, Ginger Hotel and others that remained untouched by the authorities. They called it a “biased” eviction.

Nearly 100 m from a 17-storied building called Ideal Hill View, I saw Joymoti Chowdhury sitting in despair amidst the rubble.

Joymoti, 53, whose house was partially demolished thrice in two years, could barely speak as tears welled up in her eyes.

I sat for a while before Joymoti started to speak. Her primary source of income was rent from her house in Silsako, and without it, she could not pay the medical bills of her very sick son. 

When I called Joymoti for more details in December 2023, she asked me if I could help her in any way possible. 

As the conversation ended, I remembered my time reporting on eviction drives, and the most common thing in conversations was the evictees asking if I could help. 

I felt that if I had enough authority to deal with the crisis, at least providing a proper rehabilitation and resettlement plan would have helped to ease the lives of the people with broken dreams. Most of the time, I feel helpless. My work is limited to writing. I feel their pain, but I have to kill my emotions.

My most frequent response remained: “I am documenting the plain truth, whatever it may be.”

After completing stories, I often save random thoughts and feelings on my phone’s ‘Notes’.

After this story, I wrote in October 2023: “I know my write-ups are not going to make a bigger change. That's what the reality is. I want the pain to be alive within me so that the truth never dies within.”

Read Mahmodul Hassan’s full story here.

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