At least two people were killed in police firing during an eviction drive in Assam's Darrang district on September 23.

Cameraman Bijoy Bonia stomping on the body of a protester after police firing in Sipajhar in Assam
news Crime Friday, September 24, 2021 - 12:03

The Assam police on Thursday, September 23, announced that they have arrested the photographer seen in a viral video attacking a protester lying collapsed, after police firing amid an eviction drive in Sipajhar in Assam's Darrang district earlier the same day. Assam Director General Of Police (DGP) Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta said in a tweet that the man, identified as a cameraperson named Bijoy Bonia, has been arrested and taken into custody by the Assam CID. 

The viral video depicted events from an eviction drive that was being carried out by Assam police. This was amid protests that had erupted over the demand for rehabilitating nearly 800 families that were being evicted from the land they were living on for decades, according to PTI. In the video, as policemen are seen firing at unseen targets, one of the protesters -- a man in a vest -- is seen running towards them with a stick. The police are seen opening fire at the protester, and as he lies unconscious, continue to hit him with their batons. The photographer, later identified as Bijoy Bonia, is seen jumping on the body of the protester and assaulting him, even as he lays unconscious, presumably dead, bleeding from a wound in the chest. 

The photographer was seen being led out by a policeman but soon returned, and jumped over the protester’s body, and hit him with an object. The protester’s left arm is seen lifted in the air momentarily, before he lay still, with a circle of blood from a bullet wound on his chest. Bijoy Shankar Bonia was identified as a professional photographer hired by the Darrang district administration to document the situation. 

Police claimed that they initially fired in the air to disperse the protesters, but this failed. The officers then went on to fire at people, killing two and injuring at least ten others. The deceased have been identified as Saddam Hussain and Sheikh Forid. 

The Assam government announced a judicial inquiry into the circumstances leading to the incident amid mounting public anger. An order issued by the Home and Political Department's Secretary Debaparasad Misra said the government has decided the inquiry will be conducted by a retired judge of the Gauhati High Court.

The incident has drawn widespread condemnation. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi called the police action "state-sponsored fire". "Assam is on state-sponsored fire. I stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the state- no children of India deserve this," Rahul Gandhi tweeted.  

Congress Lok Sabha MP Gaurav Gogoi tweeted: “The Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s own brother is the Superintendent Police of the Darrang district where the barbaric violence took place. It is clear that this CM-SP duo did not want a peaceful resolution to the eviction drive. The CM continues to bring shame to Assam.”

All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) MLA Ashraful Hussain tweeted: ‘“Terror Force’ of fascist, communal & bigoted Govt. shooting at its own citizens ... The appeal of these villagers, against eviction, is pending in the High Court. Couldn’t the Govt wait till court order?”

Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) President Lurinjyoti Gogoi and General Secretary Jagadish Bhuyan said the eviction drive was carried out in an "inhuman manner" and that the government should have given prior notice, provided the families with alternative land or housing facilities and a comprehensive rehabilitation package.

Speaking about the police action on protesters, Assam Special DGP GP Singh told Indian Express that action will be taken “wherever there were violations of SOPs and protocols.” “The only thing I can say is that having seen the video, we will take action against him (Bonia) …no questions asked,” GP Singh told Indian Express. 

Darrang Superintendent of Police Sushanta Biswa Sarma, younger brother of Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, claimed the protesters, armed with sharp weapons, pelted the police personnel and others present with stones. The protesters have been dispersed and the eviction drive continues, the SP said. 

Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said in Guwahati that the eviction drive will not be stopped. "The police has been entrusted with the responsibility of clearing the land from encroachers and they will continue to do it till the job is done. Eviction will stop once it is dark and resume again tomorrow," he said on Thursday.

The Darrang district administration has reportedly cleared 602.40 hectares of land and evicted 800 families since Monday, and demolished four “illegally” constructed religious structures at Sipajhar. The Chief Minister had visited the place on June 7 and inspected the riverine areas allegedly encroached by "illegal settlers" near Dholpur Shiva temple. He then directed the district administration to clear the area for the government to start a community farming project.

With PTI inputs

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