Biswajit is a journalist and associated with democratic movements.
Part I: The Social-political Backdrop To The Communal Violence
Part II : The Dynamics Of Communal Polarization In Bengal: A Probe Into Baduria-Basirhat Flare Up
Part III : Facebook Generation: New Pawns Of The Old Game
Part IV : How Divisive Forces Are Gaining Ground In Rural Bengal: Magurkhali, A Micro Example
Part V : The Anatomy Of Muslim Youth Rage
Part VI : The Role Of Feuding Maulanas And Pirjadas In Basirhat Violence
Part VII : Hindu ‘Resistance’ And The Sangh Penetration
Part VIII : Hindu ‘Resistance’ And The Sangh Penetration
On the second and third day of Baduria outbreak, blockades were extended to railway tracks that connect Kolkata to Hasnabad on the gateway to Sundarbans. Suburban trains got stranded at different stations with hundreds of commuters, both Hindus and Muslims, who suffered in silence. Misplaced communal anger notwithstanding, some local Muslims arranged for the lodging and food for the commuters at Dewananti Aminia Madrasa in Haroa. “Around 150 people took the shelter. At Malatipur and other places, passengers were served food at stations. We bought fish from Basirhat-bound vendors on the train and served it cooked to those failed to reach home,” Md. Kamruzzaman said.
Locals from both communities gave shelter and food to poor neighbors in Paschim Dandirhat in Basirhat after they fled home following bombing by miscreants. A doctor refused to make distinction between injured of both faiths. Vandalized shop-owners of both communities in some localities helped each others in post-traumatic days. Hindu neighbors came forward to protect Mazar of Pir Ruhul Amin in Basirhat town after a Hindu mob from Mailakhola area clashed with police and moved towards the city centre. “As the mob was chanting Jai Sri Ram, neighbors like Dipuda, Sourenkaku, Babluda and others formed a human chain asking the advancing group not to come closer to the Darga. They said it belongs to both Hindus and Muslims for generations,” Khobayeb Amin, the young Pirzada recalled.
According to his father, Pirjada Sariful Amin, the communal trouble was against the traditions of Basirhat which includes two major festivals, Isale Sawab or death anniversary of the founder Pir and Durga Puja ‘’celebrated with the support of both communities’’. Both drew thousands of devotees without any tension till recent years. The immersion of Goddess Durga and her family in the river Ichamati at Taki has been a major tourist attraction and a local pride across the faiths. The annual spectacle of boats carrying idols from both Bangladesh and West Bengal coming closer on the river that divides two Bengals is also a reminder of social life before the Partition.
“Our common tradition should not be divided for the sake of future generation,’’ senior Amin said reflecting the syncretic Sufi beliefs that shaped socio-religious life in Sundarbans delta in fusion with local Hindu practices, frowned upon by both orthodox Islam and Hinduism.
In some other localities, sane people from both communities stood guard against vandals who damaged or tried to harm places of worships. In ward number 12, a mix population locality of Basirhat town, locals of both communities kept night vigil at religious shrines like Kali Bari, said Babu Gazi, a fish merchant and husband of local Congress councilor who runs the ward in his wife’s name.
“People at both sides are now repentant. Businessmen from two communities were affected. Those of us deal in perishable goods like fish wanted normalcy to be back fast. After all, you can’t make distinction between a Hindu and a Muslim Macher Arat (store of fish wholesalers),” he added pointing to social and economic logic against communal fissures. Warehouse His party supporter and self-employed Chandan Banerjee at Trimohoni said he had never witnessed such unfortunate situation in his lifetime. “Neither I want to revisit the nightmare again. We can’t afford it,” he said.
The family of Kartik Ghosh
The family of slain Kartik Ghosh did not betray bitterness against Muslims but felt that calls for amity would remain hollow if the killers of the old man remain unpunished.
65-years old Kartik Ghosh, a resident of Basirhat’s Taatra Bazar is the only person who was killed during the communal flare up. The BJP claimed him as the party’s supporter which gained credence in view of TMC initially blaming him for his own death as a senior minister and party leader questioned his presence at a trouble spot. However, the ruling party changed its track quickly, apparently following some local inputs and promised support to the family including jobs. The party’s north 24 leader and food minister Jyotipriyo Mallick gave Rs 2 lakhs on behalf of the government. An ugly political tug of war between BJP and TMC ensued over his dead body at a Kolkata hospital. However, his lower middle class family denied any political association of the deceased to media and showed remarkable calm and sanity in a charged atmosphere.
When we visited their home in Basirhat’s Ghoshpara a day after his last rites, the family—wife Namita, two sons Debasis and Prabhasis, their wives and children– were still in shock. Debasis runs a small shop near home and younger Prabhashis is a lower level employee of a private company. The latter did most of the talking on behalf of family spoke about the circumstances of his father’s killing and demanded arrest of his killers. Prabhasis betrayed no hatred against Muslim community as his father had friends across faiths. Nevertheless, he expected minority leaders to come forward to facilitate the arrest of the killers and rein in the bigoted members of the community.
He said his father eked out a living by collecting dead chickens from poultry firms which abound the area and selling them to Gheris or waterbodies meant for fisheries (for feeding hybrid species) which is part of the traditional economy in bordering areas close to Sundarbans delta. As local Muslims have substantial shares in running both the business, he had friends across communities. He also maintained good relations with local leaders of all political camps as most commoners need to do. “He performed Pujas at home, attended Kirtans or Hari sabhas outside and wore a Konthi around his neck (a garland of dried seeds) as a devoted Vaisnaba. At the same time he used to give EID presents to the children of his Muslim friends and visited some of them at the time of their festivals. They too adored him and called him dada or Kaka,” Prabhasis recalled. “They are now crying. We had not seen any riot in our younger days,” his mother Namita said heaving a sigh.
According to Prabhasis, his father was attacked by some Muslim fanatics at Paikpara following widespread vandalism in Taatra Bazar and surrounding areas. Debasis’ shop was partly damaged. He didn’t mention any clash between rioters of both hues but police and other locals confirmed destruction of both Hindu and Muslim properties in the area.
“We heard about attack on Baba as he was returning home for meal at around 2 PM. We could not rush to the spot immediately as a Muslim mob was attacking Hindus irrespective of whether they were local or outsiders. It was no personal or business enmity but communal hatred killed my father,” He said. Ghosh was taken to Basirhat hospital with multiple sharp cut injuries on his head and hands. As his condition deteriorated, he was shifted to Kolkata’s R G Kar hospital. His sons took an exemplary decision by accommodating an injured Muslim, Fazlur Sardar in the same ambulance. He said to have come for buying tractor parts and was hit by a tear gas shell fired by police during the troubles at the same area. With severe injury in his throat, he too needed better treatment at Kolkata.
“As the authorities could arrange for a single ambulance, they requested me to carry the person along with my father. We agreed. Those who had attacked my father had made hatred their religion. But I did not forget the religion of heart and humanity,” Prabhasis said. A district police official, however, claimed he had prodded Ghosh family to carry both the injured. “I told them the vehicle won’t move unless they agree,’’ the Hindu officer who refused to be named said, apparently to underline the administration’s even-handed role. Sardar survived and his family thanked Ghosh’s through media.
According to the family, many of the assailants were local youth and around 20 of them have been named in the FIR but none was arrested so far. “Police did not take any dying statement from my father. But we gathered information about the circumstances of his murder and killers. Many of them are known in the area. We expect police to arrest them as soon as possible,” the younger Ghosh said.
The police official was ambiguous on the victim’s dying statement and arrest of the assailants. “I don’t remember the details since I had to deal with larger law and order situation. Only investigating officer tell about it. But culprits will not be spared,” he said, either to suppress information about police lacuna or to avoid sensitive information fearing fresh trouble and political fallout.
Acknowledging that some minority community leaders have shared their grief, Prabhasis said: “We don’t ask them to visit us. But we expect them to facilitate the arrest of the killers. Unless they are punished, the calls for amity will remain hollow. We know Islam means peace and condemn those have insulted its holiest symbols with ulterior motives. At the same time, learned and respected men in the community should condemn those insulted the constitution and rule of law. They must also rein in the forces which had used religious and social centres including an orphanage to incite coreligionists.”
Sariful Amin, Baro Hujur or senior Pirzada at Maulanabag hailed Ghosh family for making room for an injured Muslim man in the ambulance. “They did not lose their humanity and sanity even after his death. They refused to add fuel to the community cauldron or fall prey to the political tug-off war. I have urged people of both communities to follow in their footsteps in a newspaper interview. Damaged temples and mosques can be repaired. But can we bring back Kartik Ghosh? Where do you stand before God after killing each other in his name? ”
While many across the religious divide shared his sentiments, some aggrieved local Hindus called it too little too late. Some of Pirzada’s coreligionists had also taken exception. “They accused me of eulogizing Ghosh family as an ideal instead of our prophet and his companions. These people neither care for true spirit of Islam nor universal human values,” Amin said.
According to him, political parties did not begin the communal flare up but later tried to fish in the troubled water. “BJP did not begin the trouble here. But it wanted to gain political score by claiming Kartik Ghosh as their supporter and asking for his dead body. I had called Trinamul MP Idris Ali and former BJP MLA Shamik Bhattacharya alerting them about the ground situation. The latter was busy in politics over Ghosh’s dead body in Kolkata and said that administration did not allow him to visit the area.”
The elderly maulana sounded worried about the impact of social media propaganda among community youth and urged their parents to keep vigil on their wards. But his young son Khobayeb, who keeps better tab on youth as he handles a smartphone, has taken some practical moves in the form of an awareness campaign among school and madrasa students, run by a foundation named after his forefather Pir Ruhul Amin.
“Government posters and festoons appealing for peace and communal amity are not enough. We are asking the administration to help us to spreading the awareness about divisive propaganda and ways to combat it. This includes immediate reports to police about offensive posts and circulation of fake news that instigate violence online,” the young pirzada said.
“Instead of funding para clubs lavishly for recreation, youth of all communities should be involved in such campaigns,” he added in an apparent dig to Mamata Banerjee’s largesse to neighborhood clubs across the state to keep the army of mostly unemployed youth in good humor.
Local civil society groups and individuals who were vastly outnumbered at the height of the frenzy tried to organize voices of reasons and good senses. Since government prohibited rallies in Basirhat, several peace rallies were held at Baduria and district headquarters Barasat which was also affected by hate crimes. Activists from Kolkata and other parts of the state joined them in denouncing communal forces and demanding arrest and punishment of rioters. But the social impact of such well-intentioned moves is evidently far from its desired level following the division of Bengali secular and liberal intelligentsia between pro-TMC and anti-TMC camps. Notwithstanding secularist dilemma over criticizing minoritarian communalism when majoritarian fascism is aggressive in both camps, the latter’s opportunist silence over Mamata’s harboring of Muslim conservatives has also made BJP’s campaign credible to many an urban Hindu bhodroloks.
On the other hand, pathologically fissure-prone and increasingly irrelevant mainstream left and radical lefts have failed to rise up to the occasion despite their common tradition of fighting against communalism from pre-Partition days. While defending some residual left-liberal strongholds like Jadavpur and Presidency universities against Hindutva onslaught and matching the ‘Chaddis’ online in vitriol, they have betrayed little yearning to forge a cohesive campaign against communal forces that will catch imagination of larger sections of youth across faiths. Consequently, post-Basirhat protest and peace marches only underlined their increasing isolation on the ground.
Acknowledgements: Debashis Aich, Pramod Gupta as well as members of Barasat branch of APDR