Communal clashes at Hazinagar and Halisahar in North 24 Parganas district since Wednesday have left several people injured while an estimated 30 homes and several shops, apart from four vehicles, have been ransacked or set on fire. Police said the situation is under control now but many people have fled their homes. “We are ascertaining how many people were injured in the violence,” an official said. “But it is spread over a large area, which is very densely populated. The figure will not be less than 20. At least 30 homes and shops have been damaged, while at least four vehicles have been gutted.”
The trigger was a low-intensity bomb allegedly thrown at a Muharram procession Wednesday, police said. While no one was injured then, it resulted in violence with a number of Hindu homes being allegedly attacked by mobs, and Muslim mobs allegedly retaliating.
The initial violence was localised around Hazinagar’s Naihati Jute Mill area where the Jama Masjid is situated, and the neighbourhood around Nelson Road that has homes of both Muslims and Hindus. By Thursday, the violence had spread to nearby Patterson Road, a Hindu-majority area adjoining the Muslim-dominated colony around Hazinagar Chhoti Masjid.
Hazinagar has been particularly tense for the past few months. “There has always been an issue with the Jama Masjid. Durga idol processions have traditionally avoided a route that directly crosses the mosque but since last year they have been insistent on using that route,” said Anwar Ali, 72, a tailor who lives in the area.
Four days later, Muslim homes stood empty in Hindu-majority areas, as did Hindu homes in Muslim-dominated areas. Many of these houses bore signs of having been ransacked. With shops shut, food and medicine were beginning to become scarce.
Anwar Ali’s shop, now gutted, was surrounded by shops owned by Hindus; these were left untouched. In contrast, BJP councilor of ward 23 at Halishahar Ravishankar Singh alleged, “I was conducting the tazia along with Muslim elders to ensure there was no violence. It was at this point that the mob turned up and started loot and arson. Even my office was not spared and they burnt everything but all Muslim homes and shops in the area were spared.”
Rishikesh Meena, CO, Eastern Frontier Rifles, 1st Battalion who is stationed in the area, said, “The situation is under control now. We’re questioning everyone who is coming and going, all two-wheelers and four-wheelers are being checked to ensure that outsiders can’t enter.”
Anuj Sharma, IG (law and order), who told The Indian Express Saturday that “no injuries” had been reported, declined to comment Sunday. Superintendent of Police (Barasat) Tanmoy Roy Choudhury too declined to comment in spite of repeated attempts. So did officials of the district administration.
The Opposition has alleged that Bengal has witnessed communal incidents on account of the government’s order to prohibit immersion of Durga idols on the day after Vijaya Dashami as it coincided with Muharram. The order was partly struck down by Calcutta High Court, which deemed it an “endeavour” to “appease the minority section”.
Leader of the Opposition Abdul Mannan, who attempted to visit the riot-affected area along with Left leader Sujan Chakroborty prior to being stopped by the police, told The Indian Express that the entire incident was a complete “administrative failure” and urged the government to ensure that people return home. “There should be a peace march, an all-party meeting. Right now with people fleeing their homes, the violence is just spreading. This has to be stopped.”
Mannan alleged that TMC’s policies regarding the immersion had played into the hands of the BJP and the RSS. “This is exactly what the BJP wants, to create further unrest in the state wherein they can make gains in a state that has traditionally rejected their communal politics,” he said.
The BJP has said it will “compile a report” on communal violence in Bengal during Muharram to be sent to the Union Home Ministry. State BJP secretary Sayantan Basu said the BJP will “hold a protest against communalism in Bengal” Monday.