Two villagers were killed and about 40 injured (plus 18 police) during an eviction this week from India’s Kaziranga National Park in Assam. The Gauhati High Court ordered the eviction of 300 families who were living in three villages in the buffer zone of the national park.
The order from the High Court stated that,
There has been persistent and repeated reporting of poaching of rhinoceros, elephants and other wild animals. The habitants in Kaziranga National Park would be well acquainted with the areas and animal movements, therefore they alone would be in a position to do poaching successfully or abet poaching by others. The concept of national park in the Wild Life Act contemplates that there should be no human habitation.
After the eviction, Rafiq Ali, a community leader in Banderdubi, one of the villages that was evicted, told Reuters that,
“We have been residing in this area for decades, and all of a sudden the government told us to vacate. The security forces fired at us.”
About 1,000 security personnel took part in the evictions. They used bulldozers and elephants to demolish people’s homes.
Villagers protested against the demolition of their homes and the fact that they received no compensation.
In October 2015, Akhil Gogoi, the founder of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti peasant rights organisation, led 200 people in a protest in front of Kaliabor sub-divisional office in Nagaon district. Gogoi said,
“These villagers have not encroached upon Kaziranga land. Instead, the park authorities have decided to extend the park area to these villages and acquire the villagers’ land. If the authorities want the land for the park, those living in the area have to be rehabilitated before they are evicted. So we have decided to challenge the high court order.”
Musamot Honsa Khatun from Banderdubi said,
“We have been staying in this place for over 60 years… I was born here… They suddenly cannot ask us to leave… where will we go?”
Gogoi argued that compensation should be paid before any evictions. The government is proposing to provide compensation, but only after the evictions. 30 to 40 days after the evictions. Gogoi pointed out that without alternative land and compensation, there was nowhere for people to go.
Gogoi proposed that the government should allow the people to remain in their villages for three months. Then, they the government should provide alternative land and compensation money. Gogoi said that the people would have gone willingly after three months without any confrontation.
Instead, before the evictions the Nagaon district administration imposed Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which prohibits an assembly of more than ten people.
Racism from India’s Prime Minister
India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, is head of the right-wing, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. In 2014, addressing an election rally, he accused the Indian National Congress party (which was then in government) of wanting to get rid of the rhinos to make way for Bangladesh settlers:
“Aren’t rhinos the pride of Assam? These days there is a conspiracy to kill it. I am making the allegation very seriously. People sitting in the government… to save Bangladeshis… they are doing this conspiracy to kill rhinos so that the area becomes empty and Bangladeshis can be settled there.”
Modi’s racist conspiracy theory makes no sense. So far this year, poachers have killed 14 rhinos. But while poaching is certainly a problem, the number of rhinos in Kaziranga is increasing. According to census carried out in 2015 there are 2,401 rhinos in the national park. The number had increased by about 110 since the previous census in 2012.
Meanwhile, the villagers have records proving ownership of the land. And in the 1960s, the state built schools in the area.
Modi promised that his government would take action. “Those who are conspiring to finish off rhinos, they should listen to this carefully,” he said. After the elections, “they will be taken to task one by one.”
The India Times reported Modi as saying that, “local people are getting unemployed as people migrating from Bangladesh are taking up jobs”.
Ram Madhav, General Secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party, boasted about the evictions on his Facebook page and made no mention of the fact that two people were killed:
Upholding its poll promise the Assam government has today evicted 1800 families of illegal settlers from Kaziranga National Park area. Initially the state government had information about less number of occupiers. But when the actual eviction operation began it turned out that colonies have been put up by infiltrators occupying vast tracts of the National Park. Some 100 odd families have voluntarily left the occupied land while the government was compelled to use force for the eviction of others.
Government’s bold move to protect the world heritage site of Kaziranga National Park has been widely appreciated by the people of Assam.
A gross breach of human rights
The evictions come one week after the arrest of Sabar Ingleng, who is reported to have killed 20 rhinos in the past four years. He was arrested in the Karbi Anglong hill district, an area of thick forest bordering the national park.
Ingleng is suspected of being the head of a large poaching network. The police are hoping that during interrogation he will give the names of other poachers active in Kazirangar.
Arresting a poaching kingpin makes sense. Killing two people while evicting villagers without compensation or alternative land is a gross breach of human rights that does nothing to conserve the rhinos.