Women staged a semi-nude protest in Assam’s largest city Guwahati against an eviction drive in Silsako Beel (lake) area on Friday, as excavators ravaged to the ground several houses to clear alleged encroached land of the wetland.
Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said the administration went for the eviction drive after consulting with locals and compensation would be paid to the eligible people.
As police and civil administration reached the area to carry out the eviction, local people came out in protest.
Initially raising slogans against the government and trying to prevent the police personnel from entering the area, two women protestors disrobed themselves.
As the two stripped down to their undergarments, policewomen rushed to cover them and were taken away from the site, along with several other protestors.
The eviction drive was carried out with several excavators pressed into action to demolish the houses in the area.
A couple whose house was demolished claimed that they had bought the land for Rs 4 lakh in 2007 from a local ‘committee’, which had assured them that no eviction would happen in the area.
“The government has thrown us out so that they can sell this land to the rich for crores of rupees. Where will we go now? Our lives are over,” they said.
Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma claimed that the exercise was carried out after due consultation with the residents and compensation would be paid to those eligible for it.
“There was a discussion with the public for the last three days and the eviction was done after reaching an understanding. The district commissioner had informed the people about the compensation to be paid. We will build flats for the landless evicted people,” Sarma said, talking to reporters on the sidelines of a programme in Nagaon.
He maintained that those protesting are from a specific organisation, though he did not name any group.
“They will protest against anything we do. We will take strict action against them,” the chief minister added.
Criticising the government over the eviction drive, opposition party Assam Jatiya Parishad chief Lurinjyoti Gogoi alleged that women are no longer safe under BJP rule.
“We are shocked and distressed at such a protest. For the first time, women had to strip and protest in our state,” he said.
President of the youth wing of state Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Rudrangkur Hazarika, maintained that the women had to take such a step to register their protest as the government has turned a deaf ear to their problems.
“The government has not been able to solve any problem of the people. The women were left with no option to get the government’s attention,” he said.
Condemning the incident, Assam Trinamool Congress spokesperson Dilip Sarma said, “The BJP had talked about protecting the land of the indigenous people. And now, Assamese women are being forced to disrobe and protest against the government.”
An eviction drive in Silkalo lake was carried out earlier this year also, with the government initiating the process to procure back land in the wetland area that was allotted to various government and private bodies many decades ago.
Initially, the Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) had planned to target only around 450 buildings within 100 metres on both sides of the lake, which was around 400 bighas (over 132 acres), but the government later expanded the exercise to make the entire water body encroachment free.
The government in 2008 had declared Silsako Beel, surrounded by Chachal, Hengerabari, Pathar Quarry and Satgaon areas, a protected water body in Guwahati through an act and prohibited any construction or settlement in around 1,800 bighas (over 595 acres) of lake area.
A GMDA official had said that less than 300 bighas of the lake remained free from encroachment and the waterbody was reduced to a small pit, which is believed to be a major reason for water logging in the eastern part of the city.
Most of the people affected are from Assamese communities like Bodo, Mising, Karbi, Ahom and Bishnupriya Manipuri.