Basirhat Reports/Part IV. How Divisive Forces Are Gaining Ground In Rural Bengal: Magurkhali, A Micro Example

Biswajit Roy

Biswajit is a journalist and associated with democratic movements.

Read Part I: The Social-political Backdrop To The Communal Violence

Read Part II : The Dynamics Of Communal Polarization In Bengal: A Probe Into Baduria-Basirhat Flare Up

Read Part III : Facebook Generation: New Pawns Of The Old Game

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The Magurkhali elders denied any history of sustained communal discord in the Muslim-dominated area which may have poisoned the young minds such as Souvik’s. But the social-political texture in and around the village has been changing fast leading to strong communal undercurrent, they felt. Disputes over land following demographic changes, has been a potent issue for communal tension in bordering areas.

For the village Imam, the once Muslim dominated locality has witnessed ‘some cracks’ in communal amity following migration of some lower caste Hindus, mainly Namashudras and Poundrokhatriyas in ‘last few years’. He found them ‘aggressive and trouble-prone’ over the possession of vested land along the Magurkhali bil and Ichamati khal, a part of River Ichamati that marks Indo-Bangladesh border.  Some sectarian tension took place over the construction of a temple in the adjoining village, allegedly by encroaching land of a school which is dominated by Muslim students few years back, he said.

Hindus we spoke to denied land tension. Choudhury who claimed to be the ‘sole Brahmin family’ of the village also noted the arrival of ‘scheduled castes Hindus’ in droves from East Pakistan which later became Bangladesh over the decades. Some left home on their own for better pasture while others had been forced to leave after periodic persecution of minorities there. Some have settled on land purchased from both Hindus and Muslims as well as on vested government land. But he denied recent major changes in landholding pattern in the village. Mondol, a SC himself too observed the same.

Nevertheless, elders at both sides have noticed breaches in the village social fabric of the village in recent times as the politics of communal consolidation of all hues have been making inroads in the name of religious awakening. “Number of Harisabha and Kirtan sabha(Hindu devotional gathering to worship lord Vishnu)  at our side has increased along with the hike in their Jalsas (congregation for Islamic preaching)in the area. Unlike the earlier days, youths also take interest in organizing these,’’ Choudhury observed. The Imam as well as other local Muslim leaders concurred by admitting increasing number of Waj Mahfils or Jalsas organized by the community youth.

The political scenario in village has changed accordingly. Though the municipal board is controlled by Trinamul Congress while Congress represents Baduria in the state assembly for long, BJP has won three town wards include 17 that included Magurkhali. The saffron party has increasing presence not only in Rudrapur area but also in the entire Basirhat parliamentary constituency which includes Baduria. RSS is also active in this zone as its presence was felt in Magurkhali and neighboring villages including Shimulia and Kalinga.

BJP-RSS presence in the neighborhood

According to local BJP leader Sadhan Roy, the party has an office in Rudrapur while RSS runs number of Shakas in the area since last few years. One such shakha holds its activities at the premises of a temple in scheduled castes-dominated part of Shimulia neighboring Magurkhali as ‘Hindus felt the need to unite after local Muslims had opposed the construction of the temple’. “Some Hindus from Magurkhali also attend Sangh programs. Recently we have started Sangh activities in our village. Local youth including some members of a club named Sonali Sangha in Magurkhali have joined BJP,” Roy said at the sidelines of a Sangh campaign celebrating Rakhsa Bandhan.  He, however, denied Souvik’s Sangh connection. “He is too young for it. We think he was framed by some other people.”

Sushanta Ghosh, the husband of BJP ward councilor Manisha Ghosh, is a veteran Sangh worker as he started liking the ‘RSS culture since last decade’. But he declined to discuss Sangh activities over phone and claimed he did not the boy or his family.  Swarup Aich, a local high up in the RSS hierarchy, said Sangh had been active here for quite some time but not all programs were carried under its banner. It is yet to open any ‘Bal shakha’ for younger boys and girls in the area like many other places. He discouraged further queries since ‘lower-level sangh workers are not allowed to divulge organizational matters’.       

Hardening of Hindu mindset

With the communal divide on the rise, we had a firsthand experience of radicalization of Hindu youth in Souvik’s village. As we entered into the ramshackle room of Sonali Sangha, a local club across Choudhury’s house and adjacent to community Puja mandap, a group of its young members was first reluctant to interact and then turned hostile. Some of them were college-goers. Local RSS men and Hindu villagers had told us about the saffron connection of the club and visits by RSS men to ‘teach physical exercise’ to the boys. But the assembled club members denied, though Sangh tinge in their arguments was unmistakable.

Describing the anti-Islam post as a ‘small thing’’, Sujoy Sarkar, one of three youth who spoke to us referred to MF Hussein’s controversial paintings of Hindu goddesses. “One Muslim artist had painted goddess Swaraswati naked. Intellectuals called it artistic freedom and the artist minted money. Muslim leaders did not condemn it.  Now why the outrage over the small thing ( Souvik’s post)? This time also it should be condoned as an artistic work,” he reasoned. Shifting from national to local rationale, he added: “They do not allow Swaraswati Puja in local schools. Why intellectuals do not protest against that?” He, however, refused to give names of schools where Muslims opposed the Pujas. But RSS online literature named Shimulia School as one such place.

Asked about their relations with local Muslim youth including their neighbors and classmates before and after the violence, the elder one who refused to be named was caustic.  “Earlier two communities had brotherly relation at least overtly. Some people will try to maintain that veneer even after such a big shock (Muslim vandalism). But others will call a spade a spade,” he said. Pressed how they want to react, Sujoy said: “This time we were not organized when they had stormed into the village. Next time, if they become hot we will react appropriately.”

Another youth indicated the collective insecurity of Hindus in the wake of initial police failure to contain the Muslim mob fury. “The state police could not save themselves from their attacks. We felt somehow relieved only when central forces arrived,” he said in reverberating the BJP’s complaint of Mamata Banerjee’s mishandling of the situation at the cost of Hindus. As we tried to probe their mind further, the older one mocked us as ‘intellectuals and belated fire-fighters’, a la state BJP chief and asked us to leave.

But it was not the village Hindu youths alone. Many middle-aged persons have hardened their mind too.  “Earlier, we had guns at home for protection. Now that policemen seeking our refuge, whom should we turn to for our safety,” Choudhury asked reflecting the growing sense of insecurity among Hindus. Even if he had left leaning in his younger days and still stands for communal amity, he said he would not sell his property to Muslims anymore keeping in mind the demographic tension. “Many Hindus who had switched allegiance to the Congress, Lefts and TMC as the parties came to power successively, are now veering to BJP, openly or secretly,’’ he said.

Next: Anatomy of Muslim mob

5 thoughts on “Basirhat Reports/Part IV. How Divisive Forces Are Gaining Ground In Rural Bengal: Magurkhali, A Micro Example

  1. Pingback: Basirhat Reports/Part V. The Anatomy Of Muslim Youth Rage | aainanagar

  2. Pingback: Basirhat Reports/Part V. The Role Of Feuding Maulanas And Pirjadas In Basirhat Violence | aainanagar

  3. Pingback: Basirhat Reports/Part VII. Hindu ‘Resistance’ And The Sangh Penetration | aainanagar

  4. Pingback: Basirhat Reports/Part VIII. Bangladeshis Among Basirhat Troublemakers? | aainanagar

  5. Pingback: Basirhat Reports/Part IX. Voices Of Sanity And Humanity Amid Hate Campaigns | aainanagar

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