It was in the broad daylight of September 3, 2020 that the Ganakkuchi Sattra (a Vaishnavite monastery) in Barpeta district of Lower Assam was ransacked and the Guru-Aaxon (the seven-tiered main wooden throne where the Bhagavata Purana is kept) reduced to ashes by one Rafikul Ali, a resident of Santipur near a place called Bhella in the same district. Later, when the locals of the area started noticing smoke and flame arising from the Sattra premises and went to see what was happening, they were shocked beyond words to see that the pious Guru-Aaxon was burning. The precious belongings of the Sattra including the religious texts were found to be scattered here and there (The Assam Tribune, September 05, 2020). The culprit had also thrown away the prashad that was kept in front of the Aaxon.

Ganakkuchi Sattra, Barpeta. Picture Credits:

Luckily, the people were able to get hold of Rafikul Ali red-handed and informed the police immediately. A team of police from Barpeta PS arrived on the spot and arrested the culprit. Several devotees and local residents of the area asserted that these acts of vandalism have happened earlier too, and are planned with a sinister intent by a shadowy circle which has been responsible for inciting and radicalising youths like Rafikul Ali. It needs to be mentioned here that last year in the month of October, Rafikul Ali had also burnt some ancient religious relics of the Keotkuchi Lakshmi Mandir in Barpeta, including the idol of Goddess Lakshmi. He had also looted the temple and caused infrastructural damage to the main temple building, besides tearing apart banners and posters that had been put up at the temple for celebrating Lakshmi Puja in a few days.

Unfortunately, not a single local news channel in the state bothered to telecast this dastardly act of radical Islamic violence at Ganakkuchi in their daily prime-time! The leading dailies of the state also failed to include this news in their front pages! But, the undying love of these same media houses for Muhammad Akhlaq/Dadri/beef still continues. Not only that, several organisations in Assam which claim to work for the “Assamese cause” are maintaining a suspicious silence over the issue. A section of minority appeasers have even gone to the extent of terming Rafikul as a “mentally disturbed” person. “Secularism” has to keep its head high of course!    

The Vaishnavite institution of the Sattra is a part of the living cultural heritage of Assam, carrying forward the religious and cultural traditions initiated by Srimanta Sankardeva in the 14th-15th centuries within the broader umbrella of Sanatan Dharma. It is the spiritual nerve-center of the Assamese Hindu society that has functioned as a place of religious congregation, preaching and meditation. In the recent years, several demographic changes have taken place in and around the lands of the Sattras situated in different places of Assam. This is chiefly attributed to the problem of illegal influx of immigrants from across the porous land border with Bangladesh. Its worst impact has been borne by the districts of Lower Assam such as Dhubri and Barpeta situated in the western Brahmaputra Valley.

It is better that we shed our romance with political correctness sooner, and accept the ugly reality of the never-ending migration of Bangladeshis into Assam, assisted by the blessings of political leaders. The economic survival of these illegal immigrants over the years has been facilitated by their political capture of power with the help of dubious documents such as forged Voter ID cards, ration cards, etc. through a corrupt bureaucrat-politician nexus. Besides the huge demographic shift that it has created in several districts of the state,  the twin menaces of illegal immigration and land encroachment have now become an existential threat for the culture and civilisation of Assam. The recent attack on the Ganakkuchi Sattra is just a case in point. 

Today, a demographic and socio-cultural crisis engulfs most of the Sattras of Assam. As per a newspaper report published way back in September 2010, more than 7,000 bighas of land belonging to 39 Sattras of Assam are in the grip of illegal encroachers of suspicious nationality. This was the opinion that was put forward by the then advisor of the Axom Sattra Mahasabha (parent organisation of all the Sattras of Assam) Sri Sri Bhadkrakrishna Goswami. It was during this time that the Gauhati High Court had also directed the state government to free Sattra lands from illegal encroachment. In this respect, the Deputy Commissioners and Superintendents of Police of the districts under which these Sattras fell, had been asked to evict the encroachers at the earliest (Deccan Herald, september 17, 2010).

Among the worst-affected ones are the Ram-Rai Kuti Sattrasal Sattra in Dhubri, Rampur Sattra in Nagaon, Adi-Alengi Sattra, Barpeta Sattra, Kobaikata and Alipukhuri Sattras in Morigaon district, and a few more. For instance, the Ram-Rai Kuti Sattra in Dhubri has almost 1,000 bighas of its land occupied by illegal encroachers of which around 500 bighas are located in the ‘No Man’s Land’ along the Indo-Bangladesh border. Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal, while visiting the Bardowa Sattra in Nagaon district of central Assam after it was cleared of encroachers in September 2016, had clearly said that the eviction process will continue till all the 700 Sattras across the state are made free from illegal occupants. In fact, it has now been quite a long time that the Axom Sattra Mahasabha has been demanding a separate directorate to be established for the Sattras in order to ensure their proper management, preservation and functioining.

In July 2019, the state government had decided to amend the Assam Land and Revenue Regulation, 1886 in order to empower the Deputy Commissioners of the respective districts to free the lands of the Sattras from illegal encroachment. The existing law, i.e. the Assam Land and Revenue Regulation, 1886 empowers the Deputy Commissioners of the districts to remove unauthorised encroachments only from government land and lands falling within the protected belts and blocks. However, the newly introduced Bill had proposed to extend similar powers to the Deputy Commissioners to remove illegal encroachments of lands belonging to the Sattras and other historical monuments across the state of Assam.

However, much remains to be accomplished and implemented on this front. Immediately after assuming office, the CM himself was quite vociferous on this issue. Quite a number of surveys were carried out subsequently and raids were also conducted at certain specific locations of the Sattra lands spread across different districts of the state. However, due to unknown reasons, the entire exercise lost its steam soon after.

A proposed joint survey to be carried out by the representatives of the Axom Sattra Mahasabha together with the officials of the Revenue Department, Government of Assam, in order to ascertain teh exact area of Sattra lands under illegal occupation, has still remained a pipe dream. Although the Mahasabha has always stood firm in its claim that thousands of bighas of Sattra lands are under illegal occupation, the Government Survey Report has contradicted this stand and it cites just a meagre area of 76 bighas of Sattra lands under illegal occupation!

The problem is that whatever happened at Ganakkuchi is just another inhuman act of Islamic vandalism that has manifested itself time and again in numerous such incidents across the country at frequent intervals. One of the most pertinent questions that arise here is that – Is this ever going to stop, considering the rapid demographic change and mushrooming of mosques, especially in the border districts of Lower Assam such as Barpeta ? Is this just the beginning of a more serious and real danger awaiting at the doorsteps of the Assamese Hindus ? As per Census data of 2011, Barpeta district showed the highest growth rate of Muslim population between two Census years – around 12%. The NRC has left behind several loopholes, which was one of the primary reasons behind people vehemently taking to the streets during the anti-CAA protests in the state, because they were expecting the figures of dubious citizens/illegal migrants to be quite high than what the final NRC had projected. The NRC actually dashed the hopes of several genuinely concerned Assamese citizens who want a Bangladeshi-free Assam.

Leaving aside its achievements on the infrastrustural and development fronts, the current BJP-led dispensation, both at the Centre and the state, needs to work upon delievering honestly on this front of tackling a problem that has now metastasised, becoming more and more cancerous with each passing day. Those inert Hindus who still economically support these migrants in whatever way need to think back. Moreover, increasing assistance to the people by the government in the form of doles and freebies has somehow been responsible for providing further fuel to the laahe-laahe (go slow) mentality of the native Assamese folks, by making them more apathetic to physical labour. This has actually paved the way for the extremely hard-working Muslim migrants to occupy the spaces even in many places of Upper Assam, where they had almost no presence till just a few years ago. All these factors, along with many more, have reduced the anti-foreigner narrative in Assam to a mere political gimmick in which political parties of all shades have been able to reap their maximum advantage!

References :

  3. The Assam Tribune (September 05, 2020). Sattra ransacked, one held.

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