On Tuesday, the VHP had planned Ram Navami rallies from six places to congregate in Asansol, just over 200 km to the north-west of Kolkata and less than an hour’s drive from West Bengal’s boundary with Jharkhand. But unlike other years, the town in the state’s coal belt, already reeling under communal tension that left one person dead in next-door Ranigunj a day earlier, was witness to violence, and one death, this time.
“We are taking out Ram Navami processions in Asansol for the last 40 years but have never seen this — our rallies were attacked and even fired upon, vehicles were burnt and idols damaged,” Om Narayan Prasad, VHP working president of West Burdwan district, said.
“We stopped the rallies but clashes spread. We called police but got no help. On Wednesday afternoon we met the district magistrate and sought help,” Prasad said. Police, he claimed, were deployed only that evening.
While senior officers who have been sent to Asansol remained tight-lipped, sources indicated that the role of local criminals, backed by the coal mafia, cannot be ruled out.
“People who attacked with hand guns and bombs are not common people. Such arms are found only with miscreants ruled by the coal mafia in Asansol,” said a senior officer, stationed in Asansol at present. In its report to the Centre, the state government too is learnt to have mentioned the same possibility.
According to police sources, the first clashes took place in Rail Par, an area dominated by the minority community. According to locals, everything was normal until an “offensive song” was allegedly played and some men standing there protested.
“Clashes broke out a little further away, on Rail Par-D C Roy Road,” said Nasim Ansari, councillor of ward number 25 who was present at the site. “With memories of the clashes in Ranigunj fresh…there was a feeling of revenge — we heard people shouting; they appeared to want to avenge the death (of VHP worker Chhote Yadav in Ranigunj). Later, miscreants took over and the violence spread.”
The worst hit was a 2.5-km stretch comprising DC Roy Road, OK Road, Rail Par, Sagum Par, Chandmari, Chetla danga, where minority community households are concentrated in the middle, surrounded by pockets of majority communities, mainly Hindi-speaking people who have lived in this part for generations.
According to witnesses and police sources, miscreants tried to storm Muslim-dominated areas in DC Roy Road and OK Road after the clashes at the rally. On Wednesday, violence spread to Hindu-dominated areas such as Ram Krishna Dangal, Chandmari, Shreenagar and others — houses and shops were set on fire.
More than 60 people have been arrested and police are going through pictures and videos taken on cellphones by people from both communities to identify miscreants. “Police are probing. We will soon know how and why this happened,” said Jitendra Tiwari, Asansol mayor and TMC leader.