Ajiran, who goes by her first name, sat on the bank of the Dhansiri river near the confluence point with the Brahmaputra with her children oblivious about their future.
Her family of eight members uprooted their home from Kasem char in Assam‘s Darrang district as the forest authorities started the removal of “encroachment” from 11 char areas of the district as part of the annexation of 21,000 bighas (A local unit of measurement: I bigha = 0.619 acre) of land into Orang National Park.
“Now that we had to give up our land and home for the forest, I am not sure how long I will be able to have children with me”, said the 42-year-old woman as she fought to hold back her tears under the scorching sun on the river bank.
At the bank of Dhansiri River, authorities have set up a camp for 1200 men-strong force and additional two companies of CRPF personnel standby to carry out the eviction of a total of nine chars which fall under Morigaon district.
30 May 2023, marked the fourth day of removing “encroached squatters” following the three days of eviction drive in Sonitpur district where nine char — riverine area — were “freed from encroachment”, according to forest officials.
Eviction for wildlife protection
The latest eviction drive is being carried out as part of the second addition to Orang National Park to around 1300 acres of land to create wildlife habitat and provide an animal corridor to connect with Kaziranga National Park.
Overseeing the ongoing eviction drive in Darrang district Pradipta Baruah said that from Sonitpur and Darrang districts 11,000 bighas and 10,000 bighas of encroached land would be freed from encroachment.
Despite the fact that around 3,000 families had been living in these char areas, Baruah opined, “There are no revenue villages hence the settlements are actually encroachment into public land”.
Commenting on the situation at the eviction sites, IGP B K Bhuyan said, “After receiving notifications and verbal communication, the char dwellers removed their belongings without any claim to these lands and moved on their own peacefully without any resistance”.
Orang National Park spreads over 89 sq. km area and the second addition to the national park, a major tiger reserve area, was announced in 2022 by the state government.
‘Were able to put food in plates, now we may face starvation’
While authorities claimed that around 3000 families would be affected due to the eviction drive, the locals, who are predominantly Muslim peasants, said that more than 20000 people are being removed from their homes and hearths.
Like Ajiran, 22-year-old Chandra Bhanu appeared disdainful at the Assam government’s decision to remove her home. The mother of twins and pregnant, Bhanu, from Homur Char, was perplexed about her children’s future.
“My family used to cultivate around seven bighas of land and we had enough to feed ourselves through our own produce. I could feed my children three meals on time. But now I don’t what will happen. Without anything left, I may have to go without food in the coming days”, the woman sorrowfully expressed.
Every evicted person who had to demolish their homes has similar stories of losing their livelihood. As the day approached when government officials finally descended at the parched and almost inaccessible char areas to remove the settlers, 33-year-old Mutaleb had to pack his jute stem made and bamboo cane walls of his house and leave Kaurakaki char in a bid to find shelter at nearby Shyampur village…