BADURIA IN West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district, and adjoining Basirhat, remained under complete lockdown Wednesday as the state government imposed a curfew after communal violence broke out in the area on Sunday evening. Through the day, police used loudspeakers to request people to maintain calm, even as Internet services were withdrawn and rail links on the Barasat-Hasnabad and Barasat-Bongaon sections of Eastern Railways were disrupted by protesters. At least five local trains were detained at different stations. A motorbike was also set on fire in Basirhat, said police.
There was no deployment of police in Baduria itself, the town in which the communal tension first erupted. Instead, 300 personnel from paramilitary forces were deployed along with RAF and local police in Basirhat, 15 km away, where the violence had spread. Tensions first rose on Sunday evening, after a Facebook post showing “objectionable images’’ linked to the Prophet and Kaaba Sharif in Mecca went viral in Baduria, following which a mob vandalised shops and homes, and set fire to vehicles, triggering retaliatory attacks.
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. Police sources said the boy claimed during interrogation that he had lost his SIM card. According to police, the 17-year-old lost his mother seven years ago, after which his uncle took him under his care. He has an elder sister, who is married, they said. The family has told police that the boy’s father, a daily-wage labourer who has been accused of killing his wife, has “no influence” on him. On Wednesday, the student’s single-storey home, its walls blackened by fire, stood opposite the 100-year-old Magurkhali Milan Masjid in the Magurkhali area of Baduria – it was locked from outside.
“Since Sunday morning, everyone knew a message was being circulated in the area and had caused communal tension. Yet, the police did nothing to prevent this. They arrived only after the mob had gathered outside the boy’s house. Later, his house was set on fire,” said Kabirul Islam, a neighbour. Suman Sen, another resident, said, “We have always lived peacefully with our Muslim friends here. We have never faced such a situation. Outsiders with a political agenda have come to create trouble… at the time of the incident, I was in hiding in my Muslim neighbour’s home.’’
Neighbours said the accused had become active on Facebook recently along with his friends from the locality, who have since deleted their accounts out of fear. “He was active on Facebook but we never saw anything communal. This was the first time we saw such a picture on his wall. It was a well-edited graphic. I doubt that he created it on his own. He might have circulated it without the intention of sparking violence. A community was hurt, police arrested him, now the violence should end. I don’t think his family will be able to lead a normal life ever,” said a friend of the accused.
Recalling Sunday’s violence, Ashraf Ali Molla, a local resident, said that a group of people first confronted the boy at his home on Sunday at 7 pm. ”There was an altercation and the group left. At 9 pm, police reached the boy’s house to arrest him but he had fled. Later, police found and arrested him. Later, a large number of people barged into his house with sticks at around 11pm. They vandalised the house and set it on fire. I was performing namaz when I saw the mob set the house on fire,” said Molla. ”There was tension in the area and even police were scared to enter. Later, we heard that the mob had also attacked police vehicles as they wanted police to hand over the boy to them,” said Molla.
Amid the tension, residents alleged that inaction by police and the administration’s failure to maintain law and order gave rise to the communal tension. ”We arrested the boy on the same day. People wanted us to hand him over to them. How could we do that? We were attacked, too. About five vehicles parked inside the police station were damaged. Before central forces were deployed, we were trying to convince people to solve the issue amicably,’’ said a local policeman. In Basirhat, tension continued to prevail in Trinmoni, a Muslim-dominated area, and Boro Kali Bari, the adjoining Hindu-dominated area.
”It wasn’t a fight between two communities. It was political violence. On Sunday, two groups clashed in Basirhat, one led by a strongman of the Muslim community in the area who is known to be close to TMC leaders. Another gang was backed by a former BJP leader from the area,” said a doctor in Basirhat. According to local residents, the different political narratives have worsened the situation in the sensitive area.
“These parties are busy addressing their vote banks. One party is trying to brand itself as the protector of Hindus and another party is safeguarding the minority to secure their vote,” said another local resident, who did not wish to be named. This area has witnessed a political tug-of-war ever since the BJP’s Samik Bhattacharya defeated football player and TMC candidate Dipendu Biswas from Basirhat South during an assembly bypoll in 2014 by 1,742 votes. Renominated by TMC, Biswas defeated Bhattacharya last year.