Two unmarked graves lie on the banks of Doloncha river in Daribhit, around 95 km from Raigunj town in Uttar Dinajpur. Villagers are vigilant. They don’t want the police to dig them up and cremate the bodies. The graves belong to Tapas Burman and Rajesh Sarkar, who were shot dead near Daribhit high school when protests over the appointment of two teachers led to clashes in September 2018.
Villagers alleged that police killed the youths, therefore, instead of cremating them, they buried the bodies so that when their demand for a CBI investigation is granted, they can be exhumed. The school, which was shut down for two months after the incident, was later opened.
In Raigunj, Daribhit incident becomes poll plank for BJP is the house of Tapas, which is now a BJP party office. The building bears a hoarding – Islampur 6 No. Mondol Daribhit Karyalay – and huge cutouts demanding CBI probe and justice for the two deaths. Just opposite the house is Daribhit high school, which became a battleground on September 20, 2018.
As Raigunj goes to polls on April 18, the Daribhit school incident has become a major poll issue in the district.
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In Raigunj, Deepa Dasmunshi, wife of late Union minister and Congress leader Priyaranjan Dasmunshi, is taking on CPI(M) bigwig and standing MP Md Salim. The BJP has fielded Deboshree Choudhury as its candidate and Kanaialal Agarwal, Islampur MLA, is fighting on TMC ticket.
In 2014, Md Salim won by a slender margin of 1,643 votes against Deepa. While Salim got 29% vote share, Deepa got 28.5% vote share. BJP came third with 18.32% vote share. Priyaranjan won from the seat in 1999 and 2004. Deepa won from the seat in 2009.
In the Congress-CPM bid to forge a tie-up in the parliamentary elections in West Bengal, the Raiganj seat proved to be the biggest hurdle. The bastion of Priyaranjan, it has been won by the Congress in 11 of 16 general elections. However, what was bolstering the CPM’s claim on the constituency was its win from here in 2014, plus the Trinamool Congress gaining in Raiganj at the cost of the Congress. Eventually the talks failed.
Meanwhile, the BJP, which finished third in 2014 behind the CPM and Congress, has made inroads after the incident in September. It had also called a strike in Islampur over the issue, which received a positive response. The party hopes consolidation of Hindu votes will also help it in the district where almost 49 per cent of the population is Muslim.
“The BJP said they will give justice to us. Amit Shah, Dilip Ghosh and others said they will ensure we get justice. So many months have passed but nothing happened. Students in high school agitated against the recruitment of Urdu and Sanskrit teachers when there was need for teachers in subjects like Maths, History, Geography and others. Police attacked them. When the police were chased out of the school, cops started firing on the people. My brother (Tapas) like many others was just an onlooker. He was standing at the entrance of our sweet shop when he was shot dead. Rajesh, too, got killed,” said Dolly, Tapas’s sister sitting at their home in Darbhit.
“The BJP stood by us. We met Amit Shah is Delhi and then the Prime Minister and the President of India. They have assured us a CBI probe. It is not only us, but everyone here is with the BJP,” said Manju, Tapas’s mother.
Two kilometers from Tapas’s home is Rajesh’s. His mother Jharna said Rajesh, a former student with Daribhit high school, went there on the fateful day after getting calls from his cousin who is a student.
“He had applied for a railway job. Now, we have lost our elder son. We will not rest until those who killed him gets justice. The state government handed over the probe to CID. It is the policemen who killed our boys. Do you think the same state police will conduct a proper investigation?” said Jharna.
Both families have also filed a case in the Calcutta High Court appealing for a CBI investigation into the killings. The state government has handed over the probe to CID.
Following the deaths, protest marches, backed by BJP, were taken out across Uttar Dinajpur. In the recent public meetings in North Bengal, BJP’s national president Amit Shah urged people to vote for them so that the two deaths could be avenged.
While the BJP has made the issue one of its major poll planks, Md Salim said BJP’s “divisive politics” will not hold ground in Bengal. From motor bike rallies, road shows to door to door visits, Salim, one of the most vocal MPs in the Lok Sabha, has his hands full.
“On scale of importance, Deepa is fourth and Trinamool Congress third. It is a fight between the Left and the BJP, which is unique in the country. The BJP is spreading communal hatred and playing divisive politics here by either using the Daribhit incident or Ram Navami processions. What I am doing is building bridges between the communities. People are appreciating this. Divisive politics was never in Bengal’s culture. BJP fails to understand it has no place here. Some youths are being misled by the BJP, which is celebrating Ram Navami, but is ignoring Bengali New Year (Poila Baishak),” said Salim.
“BJP is orchestrating communal violence and spouting hate against minorities. They are also trying to reap political dividends out of the tragic death of the two boys. This is a plan by the RSS. The day it happened I spent time with the family. But later BJP-RSS took it up in their own way. They misguided the people. The families did not get justice despite BJP being at the Centre. Raigunj has always been a secular place. The people here will resist their designs,” Deepa told The Indian Express during a road show in Islampur.
According to sources, both CPI(M) and Congress are trying to consolidate the Muslim vote share and expecting Hindu votes to win from here.
BJP, meanwhile, took out huge rallies in the district on the occasion of Ram Navami. In Islampur, about 10 km from Daribhit, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) organised a huge Ram Navami rally where BJP candidate Deboshree Chowdhury was present.
When asked if the BJP was using religion as a political tool as alleged by other political parties, Deboshree said, “Ram is a symbol of valour in the country. We also get political education from the life of Lord Ram. At least we are not doing politics in the name of corruption and hooliganism. People are with us and we will win.”
“After the Daribhit incident, where two Hindu boys died, BJP not only got the family on their side but also started to portray that they died because they wanted to stop placement of only Urdu teachers which is not the fact. It is to be seen whether the Hindu and Muslim votes get divided. If Muslim votes get divided between the Left, TMC and Congress, it will benefit BJP. If Hindu votes are divided, it will benefit Md Salim,” said Pratim Biswas, a shop keeper in Raigunj, said.
TMC, which has good grassroots level organisation, is keen to give a fight to the three other parties. “People are with Mamata Banerjee and her development initiatives. She stands for communal harmony,” said Agarwal.