“My only fault was that I am a Muslim and I entered a Hindu-dominated area,” Abul Bashar, 67, who is blind and begs for a living, told The Indian Express Sunday. Bashar and his wife Bedana Bibi, 61, also blind, were forced to chant “Jai Shri Ram” and “Jai Maa Tara” — and allegedly assaulted — by a group at Chitadanga area of Andal in West Bengal’s West Burdwan district. A video of Bashar being forced to chant the words has gone viral. It was not immediately clear whether anyone in the group belonged to any Hindu outfit.
Bashar said this happened Tuesday. The day before, communal clashes broke out in Raniganj and Asansol, in the same district. Andal is 32 km from Asansol and 18 km from Raniganj. Bashar says he did not know of the clashes when he went out to beg.
“We go to various places in Birbhum and Burdwan. In Andal, some people came and snatched my cap. They said they will kill us because we are Muslims and had entered a Hindu-dominated area. Then they started beating me and my wife. My wife begged for my life and pleaded that we will never come to this area if they let us go. But they did not listen,” Bashar said.
He added: “I told them that we are blind and we had gone there to beg and not to cause any trouble. Rather than let us go, they asked us to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and ‘Jai Maa Tara’. I told them that Bhagwan and Allah are the same and people have the right to freedom of religion. I asked them why they were forcing us to chant Jai Shri Ram. As we feared for our lives, I agreed to do what they wanted,” Bashar told The Indian Express over the phone.
In the video, voices are heard asking Bashar to chant the words. He is seen holding a saffron flag with “Om” written on it as he chants. “I had no idea of the previous day’s communal violence. Had I known, I would have avoided that area. I have earned my living through begging all my life but never faced such a situation before,” he said.
Officer-in-charge of Andal police station Sanjay Chakraborty said he was not aware of the incident. “We have not received any complaint,” he said. Bedana Bibi said they were too scared to go to police and returned home, at Budhigram in Tarapith, a Hindu pilgrimage site. “No one should be made to do such things. We were so scared we could not go to the police,” she said. The couple have a son, who is married, and a daughter, who is in school.