Monday, May 29, 2023

Howrah violence: Same area, same flare-up last year, police slow to act

Video clips surface of man with pistol in procession, stones from rooftops

Ram Navami violence, Howrah Ram Navami violence, Bengal Ram Navami violence, Bengal Ram Navami clash, Bengal clash, Indian ExpressDuring the clashes at Shibpur in Howrah, Friday. Partha Paul
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Howrah violence: Same area, same flare-up last year, police slow to act
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A procession without permission, a disregard for past communal flare-ups, a lackadaisical approach in not securing the area despite being a stone’s throw from the Shibpur police station, and not imposing curbs swiftly – these appear to be some of the failures of the police in Howrah district which has been rocked by communal violence.

Post 1 pm Friday, Kazipara and PM Basti areas, located adjacent to the Shibpur police station, saw stone-pelting for hours, with police personnel stuck in the middle. This comes a day after two processions were taken out – one by the Vishva Hindu Parishad and another by the Anjani Putra Sena. Last year too, the area was witness to a communal flare-up following such processions, but the lessons appear to have been lost on the local police.

That there was insufficient police deployment during the procession is also evident in videos being highlighted by TMC and BJP.

While TMC national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee, addressing a press conference, showed a purported video clip of a man carrying a pistol during the procession, BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari, Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly, pointed to two videos – one showing stones being pelted from rooftops at the procession, and another of people indulging in arson later. He has submitted both the videos to the Howrah police chief.

Banerjee also claimed that police had not given any letter “granting permission” to the two organisations, but that did not deter them from going ahead with the processions.

The Indian Express has learnt that the  Assistant Commissioner of Police (Howrah Police Commissionerate) wrote separate letters to VHP’s Indra Deo Dubey and Anjani Putra Sena’s Surendra Verma, seeking documents before deciding on permission for the procession. The organisers claimed they submitted the documents and informed police that the procession timing would be from 3 pm to 8 pm.

Police sources said they had barred carrying of any weapons, use of motorcycles and DJ, but not all terms and conditions were followed.

And little appeared to have been done on the ground to ensure these directions were not flouted.

Howrah Ram Navami stone pelting Residents of the PM Basti area step out of their houses after stone pelting was reported on Friday. (Express Photo: Partha Paul)

Guardrails were used at two ends of the procession – near Kazipara and PM Basti – but there wasn’t much else that could prevent people from moving in and out of the dedicated area.

Asked about the deployment, a senior officer said: “More than 100 personnel were present during the procession along with five IPS officers.”

Although the area had been tense since Thursday, several personnel on the ground remained unarmed. In fact, many were seen defending themselves with plastic milk crates instead of riot shields as mobs roamed fearlessly, pelting stones at police and damaging public property.


Officials also pointed to other gaps in the police response – no prohibitory orders were issued until 3 pm Friday, and the internet was not suspended. People could be seen recording videos from the rooftops, which were then widely circulated, further fanning the flames.

“Last year too, stones were pelted, vehicles were torched, but things calmed down in half an hour. This year, it’s worse,” said a sub-inspector ranked official at the Shibpur police station.

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“I have been living here for 18 years. Such tension is common during this time. Things were normal until yesterday, but spiralled out of control today,” said J Rama, a resident.

According to sources, the CID will probe the incident.

First published on: 01-04-2023 at 03:21 IST
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