West Bengal violence: Rage, fear on either side of Basirhat divide

It’s a divide that has opened up since Sunday evening, after a Facebook post showing “objectionable images’’ which was widely circulated, following which a mob vandalised shops and homes, and set fire to vehicles, triggering retaliatory violence.

Written by Esha Roy | Basirhat/baduria | Updated: July 7, 2017 4:04 am
west bengal communal violence, basirhat protests, basirhat violence, baduria protests, curfew, amit shah, baduria clashes, centar Security forces in Basirhat on Thursday. Subham Dutta

Four days after communal violence first broke out in Baduria, in North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal, Inspector General of Police (Law and Order) Anuj Sharma said on Thursday that the “situation was under control’’. But on the streets, there was rage and fear on either side of the divide.

It’s a divide that has opened up since Sunday evening, after a Facebook post showing “objectionable images’’ linked to the Prophet and Kaaba Sharif at Mecca was widely circulated, following which a mob vandalised shops and homes, and set fire to vehicles, triggering retaliatory violence.

According to police, the Facebook post was put up by a Class XI student, who has since been detained and has denied putting it up.

While there were no reports of fresh clashes on Thursday, many Hindu residents hit the streets, after unconfirmed reports of police raids in their neighbourhoods.

The anger was targeted more at Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and the TMC-led state government than at mobs who are alleged to have vandalised shops and set vehicles on fire in a second round of violence on Monday evening.

Women and young girls who had locked themselves inside their homes, fearing more attacks, stormed out, wielding sticks and brooms.

One of them, Sutapa Dey, 54, was weeping. “My daughter just called from Moilakholay where she lives with her in-laws. They have picked up my son-in-law for no apparent reason. No one knows where he is now. What will my daughter do,’’ she cried.

“Our MLA, Dipendu Biswas, accompanied the police, making sure that our boys were picked up. When the Muslims attack us, the police just sit quietly, and if we do anything, they come and arrest us. Mamata was insulted just because the Governor said something that is right… what about us, are we not insulted,’’ she said.

Biswas, the TMC MLA from Basirhat, was unavailable for comment.

The protesters blocked roads with logs, and set tyres on fire. Near Ghari More in Basirhat, a police team was caught between two protesting mobs. Media teams were also attacked.

“For the last three days, we have been enduring attacks by Muslims… Our shops have been looted. My family lost goods worth Rs 2.5 lakh… The police are raiding our homes to look for arms. Let them raid Muslim homes and see the cache of arms they bring from across the border,’’ alleged Piyali Haldar, a resident.

“We have never ever seen anything like this before… If it wasn’t for us, Dipendu Biswas would never have become an MLA. And now he is picking up our boys, siding with the Muslims… I voted for the Trinamool in the last election. But never again,’’ said Sumanto Sarkar, another protester.

Local Muslim leaders said the discontent between the two communities, who have lived together in the area for generations, has been brewing for some time.

“The RSS never had a presence in this area earlier. But now, the presence of the RSS and BJP is increasing. This, along with incidents of violence against Muslims across the state and the rest of the country, has made the Muslim population insecure,” said Abdul Mateen, president of the All India Sunnat Al Jamayat and a local religious leader.

“On the other hand, the RSS and other forces have been instigating the Hindu community. The objectionable post put up by the 17-year-old boy was unacceptable. But he has been arrested. The matter was put to rest on Sunday night. We condemn the mobs who came back on Monday. Most of them are outsiders… we don’t know them,’’ he said.

RSS workers alleged that there were 68 incidents of attacks by Muslims, including arson and vandalism, on Monday evening. “Many of the areas here, such as Baduria, have a Muslim majority. And their numbers are growing because of the unchecked infiltration of Bangladeshis into the area. Yesterday, eight Bangladeshis were caught by residents and handed over to the BSF. They were carrying arms. In another incident, an ambulance was being used to transport bombs and arms,’’ alleged Subhash Chandra Nath, an RSS functionary in Basirhat.

At the Rudranagar main market in Baduria, where the 17-year-old hails from, the BJP opened its office one-and-a-half years ago. There are no other party offices in Rudranagar — either of the TMC or the CPI(M). There was a Congress office, but it was demolished two years ago. The local MLA, Kaji Abdul Rahim, is from the CPI(M)-Congress jote.

“Hindus are scared now. Whenever there is an issue, the Muslims don’t depend on the law, they resort to the strength of sheer numbers — like they did on Monday evening,’’ said Ram Prasad Thakur, 35, who is BJP in-charge in Rudrapur and a member of the Basirhat zilla parishad.

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