Three days after bulldozers rolled into Assam's Salonabori village and demolished a few houses allegedly belonging to those accused in police station attack, scenes in the village paint a picture of helpless villagers trying to fend for themselves. The villagers claim that the demolition was carried out despite the houses being built legally.
Many adults have fled the villages, leaving behind their children to fend for themselves.
The authorities maintain that the houses were demolished as part of an anti-encroachment drive. The demolition work, they say, was carried out since the houses were illegal as there are allegations that the land was encroached upon or bought with forged documents.
A mob attacked the police station on last Friday and set it on fire, apparently to protest against the alleged custodial death of 39-year-old Safiqul Islam. The protesters alleged that Mr Islam, a fish seller, was killed in custody, after he failed to pay bribe to policemen.
Police has claimed Safiqul was picked up on Friday night in a drunken condition and next day handed over to his wife.
The next day after the attack on the police station, bulldozers demolished homes of at least four people allegedly involved in the violence.
Special DGP GP Singh said, "A demolition drive has taken place. There was an allegation that some of those who attacked the police station yesterday had encroached land. Even if they had documents, they were forged. So today, a few huts were demolished."
Villagers, however, claim that the houses were built on private land.
"It is true that Safiqul used to drink, he died in police custody under mysterious condition. We don't support the subsequent attack on the police station and arson, but what the government did by demolishing the houses of the accused is condemnable. These lands are all miyadi patta land. They had bought it with a proper land deed," said a village elder from Salonabori who did not wanted be identified fearing 'harassment' by police later.
Faizudin and his son Shahjahan Ali pull out a bunch of original certified land documents to show that one of the plots of land where government had carried out demolition was purchased legally. The land was later sold to one of accuse arrested in the police station arson case.
"We sold the land to Mojibur and Iman Ali who have been arrested as key accused in police station attack. We don't support violence and they should be tried as per law but when it comes to the plot of land we want to make it clear that we sold it with a deed, but on papers the land is still in our name , they have yet not transferred it in their name though thry have paid us fully as per deal so they are the owners now, but this is no way a govt land , its a private land"
The officers not only demolished Safiqul's house, but also arrested his wife and daughter in the police station attack case with others. At least 12 others have been detained.
At the receiving end are children of the accused, most of them minors. With parents arrested they are left to fend for themselves.
At the demolished house of Safiqul's younger brother Rafiqul, who is now arrested in the police station attack case, and his wife untraced since the incident, his two minor kids - a 10-year-old son and six-year-old daughter - have left been left to fend for themselves. Since Sunday morning, the children have not had a full meal, and only ate some biscuits and cakes offered by their neighbours.
"We fear police will come and also take us away. We went to neighbours to seek shelter but they decline as they fear the police might come after them as well," said the 10-year-old son.
Preliminary investigation into the arson at Batadrava police station in Nagaon district, which left 3 policemen injured, points to planning and mobilisation by an organised group, Assam police chief Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta said recently.
"We have studied video footage of the incident of arson and found that there is a design in the attack, a preparation and it's not just a reaction to the death of an accused. There was a proper mobilisation," he said.
Mr Mahanta also referred to the busting of a module of Bangladesh-based terror group Ansar ul Islam in Barpeta district last month. "Ansar ul Islam, which is banned in Bangladesh, is a wing of the AQIS (Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent). We have information of its growing influence in Nagaon district," he said.