Amid Flames and Gunfire, They Were Evicted From Where They Called Home

Critics say an Indian state’s campaign to expel longtime residents on government landmarks the ruling party’s latest campaign against Muslims.

DHOLPUR, India — Ahmad Ali watched helplessly as the police set his home on fire.

They swarmed into his village, wielding sticks, to beat up participants in what local residents described as a peaceful protest against forced evictions. When the protesters fought back, they opened fire, killing two people, including a 12-year-old boy. Then the police began burning local homes and the possessions inside: a bed, a quilt, hay for feeding their cattle.

“Please see!” said Mr. Ali in a video of the incident, speaking to a national and world audience. “Are we lying?”

Videos and descriptions of the violence shocked much of India after they went viral last month and drew world attention to a government campaign of forced evictions in a far northeastern corner of the country. Local government officials said they were targeting an exploding population of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh squatting on land needed for vital agricultural projects. But interviews and a review of documents by The New York Times showed that many of the evicted residents were legal citizens of India with a right to live on the government-owned land. Instead, critics of the government say, the evictions appear to be part of a broader campaign by India’s ruling party against the country’s Muslim population.

“They want Muslims to live suppressed, under the mercy of the Hindus,” said Swapan Kumar Ghosh, vice president of a nonprofit working for the state’s displaced people.

Narendra Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have rallied their Hindu nationalist base in part by pressing initiatives that put the country’s more than 200 million Muslims at a disadvantage.

In December 2019, India passed an immigration law that fast-tracked citizenship for undocumented migrants from nearby countries as long as they were Hindu or one of five other religions, but not Muslim. Party leaders in a number of Indian states have pushed laws to ban religious conversion through marriage, using a term — “love jihad” — that leaves little doubt whom the measures are aimed at.

 

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