Indian government’s eviction drive in Assam has led to the killing of 2 people while 9 are critically injured. According to the reports, a video is going viral since Sept 23 showing Indian police beating a man to death before a photographer stomped on his dead body. The incident has caused an outcry and raised more questions about the treatment of minorities in India. While on the same day, Kevin Pietersen tweeted to praise Prime Minister Narendra Modi for allegedly saving Rhinos in Assam.
Kevin Pietersen Says Modi is a Hero
PM Modi tweeted about taking care of the one-horned Rhinos in Assam from now on. Assam is home to Kaziranga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with the largest one-horned Rhino population in the world. It was World Rhino Day on Sept 22 and the Indian government burnt 2,479 rare horns in some ritual. The government described that it was a “one-of-its-kind anti-poaching drive”.
Reportedly, India had 2,623 horns stored in the treasuries. The remaining 94 rhino horns will be preserved as a heritage for academic purposes and public viewing. However, it was not clear how the Indian government got ahold of so many rare Rhino horns. Moreover, the PM also failed to explain how burning the horns promoted anti-poaching but it did not stop Kevin Pietersen to assume that Modi was being heroic.
The endangered species have been decreasing in numbers all over the world particularly because of poaching of horns. According to popular myth, these horns are used in traditional medicines to cure several medical issues ranging from hangovers to cancer. These medicines are often used as aphrodisiacs as well. Shaved or powdered horns dipped in boiling water are used in the treatment of many other diseases including fever, rheumatism, and gout. Many consider possessing a rhino horn as a status symbol as well.
Due to all these reasons (and more), poaching of Rhinos was rampant in Assam. Supports of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) led by PM Modi claimed that the Indian government burnt the horns to send a message that horns were not medicines.
Assam Eviction Violence
At one point India claimed to save rhinos by burning their horns stored in state treasuries, and on the other, an Indian photographer was able to mutilate a dead body while police kept watching. From the video, it can be seen that Indian police were firing at the trees in panic before a man came rushing towards them with a stick.
The police in riot gear shot the man and kept on beating him while he was unconscious on the ground. After that the photographer, Bijay Shankar Bania also joined the police in the spineless beatdown. A few seconds later, Bania again came and double-stomped on the man after which the body seemed lifeless. The police intervened after the 5th stomp when there was no chance of survival for the downed man. Indian media reported that the photographer was later arrested.
Probably Kevin Pietersen did not get this news or did not care enough to call out his “hero” for ensuring better safety of minorities before he made assumptions about his treatment of Rhinos. The violence took place during a protest by Bengali Muslims living in Assam against the eviction ordered by BJP.
The ruling party is accused of operating a hate campaign against Muslims and exploiting the religious differences in Assam for political gains. On Sept 20, the government reportedly displaced nearly 800 families from their lands and destroyed their shanties during the heavy monsoon season.
Bulldozed evictions have become common in Assam where usual targets are Muslims. Residents have been protesting and approaching the local court against BJP’s displacement drive. Reportedly, the court is still deciding what to do.
The government on the other hand alleged that these are illegal Bangladeshi Muslims that need to leave. In June, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma promised to clear the 25,455 acres of government-owned land where these protesters were living to make room for hiring youth for agriculture purposes.
Criticism on Modi for Unrest in Assam
The region of Assam has been suffering from sectarian violence for a long time as armed groups fight each other for autonomy and secession from India. In 2012, dozens of people were killed and over 400,000 were evicted during a conflict between the Muslim population of Assam and Bodo tribesmen. Bodo alleged that Muslims were illegal immigrants from Bangladesh who were encroaching on their ancestral land. In 2014, another conflict erupted in which 31 Muslims were killed by Bodo tribal militants, as claimed by Indian police. This violence happened at the end of the marathon election which BJP eventually won and Modi came to power. Police alleged that the Bodo attacked the Muslims because they were opposing Narendra Modi, BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate at that time.
Modi was against the Muslim population in Assam and accused the ruling government of being too soft. He vowed to send the Muslims “bags packed” in case he became PM. Modi is stained with allegations that he promoted such violence. He was also accused of either turning a blind eye or encouraged the violence between Hindus and Muslims in Gujrat, where he was a governor for 13 years. In the 2002 Gujrat conflicts, more than 1000 people died out of which the majority were Muslims.
He has denied all the allegations and the Supreme Court has also been unable to find any evidence to prosecute him. Any protest against the BJP government or Modi has a history of turning violent quickly. Just like in the 2020 Delhi riots, when citizens were protesting against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a riot broke out of nowhere which allowed the police to get involved and 52 people died out of which 36 were Muslims. It is not clear if Kevin Pietersen was aware of these developments when he claimed that Modi was a “hero” because a hero would attempt to decrease violence during his watch rather than increasing it.