On 20 October, the administration of Assam’s Sonitpur district demolished the houses of 64 Muslim families in Bharasingri village, rendering more than 500 people homeless amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Residents of Bharasingri said that Assam police, as well as various paramilitaries and the administration entered the village, evicted them from their homes and used JCBs to level their houses. The demolition was preceded by a campaign by the Bharatiya Janata Party accusing the villagers of being “illegal Bangladeshis,” despite all of them featuring in the National Register of Citizens. Many locals said that the district administration was working at the behest of BJP leaders in demonising Muslims and carrying out demolitions on their behalf. Government representatives told us this was a legal eviction of those who were squatting on government land, but The Caravan is in possession of multiple land deeds that show that the land legally belonged to Muslim locals. Locals also said that the administration did not follow any of the legal processes that have to be undertaken before a demolition.
On 5 August, in Uttar Pradesh’s Ayodhya, prime minister Narendra Modi and Ajay Singh Bisht—the chief minister of the state, commonly called Yogi Adityanath—laid the foundation stone for a temple to the Hindu deity Ram. It was laid atop the remains of the Babri Masjid, a 16-century mosque, that had been destroyed by Hindu nationalists. On the same day Hindu nationalists in several parts of the country organised celebrations of the event, some of which led to confrontations with Muslim communities. In Sonitpur district, the Ram Sena and Bajrang Dal, two Hindu-nationalist militias, carried out a motorcycle procession to the Hara-Gouri temple near Bharasingri. The route to the temple passes through a Muslim locality and that the approach road to the temple is built on land owned by Muslims. “At least for the last twenty years a large portion of the road to the mandir from here goes through my patta land,” Sikandar Ali, a ward member of Pachim Borgaon panchayat, where Bharasingri is located, told me. Pattas are land deeds.
Local residents of Bharasingri told me that the Hindu mob were unruly and confrontational as they passed through the Muslim locality. “Bajrang Dal and Ram Sena members came in anger and instigated people from our village,” Sikandar said. “They came with some plan to orchestrate some incident here and they did so. They hurled fire crackers in the mosque premises and into people’s houses. They played loud music in front of people’s houses.” A brief melee broke out between residents of the village and the right-wing Hindu group, though, Sikandar said, nobody on either side was seriously injured.