Fresh tension was reported in West Bengal’s Bashirhat area on Thursday forcing the police to lob teargas shells and resort to baton charge even as life limped back to normal in strife-torn Baduria in North 24 Parganas district.
“Fresh tension brewed up at Basirhat town and station area after the communal clashes in Baduria in the district. Police had to resort to cane charge and teargas shells to disperse unruly crowd,” a senior police officer said.
It was an alarming and chilling repetition of last year’s Kaliachak and Dhulagarh riots in which hundreds of villagers were assaulted and molested, their homes and shops looted and torched and temples desecrated, Islamist mobs are on a rampage at Baduria and Basirhat, about 60 kilometres east of Kolkata, since Monday afternoon.
Section 144 has been imposed in Basirhat areas of North 24-Parganas district in West Bengal following violent clashes between two communities.
Scores of houses and shops belonging to local Hindus have been looted and burnt, vehicles set on fire, roads blocked and a large number of villagers assaulted and molested.
After the state government sought Central government’s help on the issue, the Union Home Ministry had on Tuesday dispatched three companies of paramilitary forces to the area. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) also asked the state government for a detailed report on the incident.
The trigger is an offensive facebook post denigrating a Muslim shrine by a teenager living at Rudrapur, a small hamlet under Baduria police station’s jurisdiction.
The trouble began on Sunday when Muslim protestors, angry about the image that was posted on Facebook from the student’s account on Friday, gathered in Rudrapur, where the boy’s school is located. They demanded that the police arrest the student immediately and asked for him to be given the death sentence.
The teenager was picked up by the police in the wee hours of Monday, but the Islamists are demanding that the police hand him over to them so that he can be stoned to death as per the Sharia which recommends this form of barbaric punishment for blasphemy.
However, the police action did not satisfy the angry Islamists and, egged on by fiery sermons by some local maulanas, they demanded that the boy be dealt with as per the Sharia. They took out a series of processions on Monday demanding that the arrested boy be handed over to them to be stoned to death in public. The boy’s home was also ransacked and torched and his parents, siblings, cousins and relatives reportedly assaulted.
A senior officer at Baduria police station said that the police have not had a chance to question the student. “He is in our custody but we would be able to examine him thoroughly only once the law and order situation improves,” he said. “At the moment we are all running to keep things under control and restore normalcy.”
Under the Juvenile Justice Act, juveniles accused of crimes should be produced by the police in front of the Juvenile Justice Board and placed in an Observation Home. But given the threat of his life, the student is being kept in police custody in a secret location.
In Magurkhali village, the student’s Muslim neighbours do not believe he had created the the Facebook post.
Some Hindu residents of the village alleged that someone had hacked into the student’s Facebook account. “We have to come to know about this from his friends,” said a man named Niranjan Mondal. “It is up to the police now to find out.”
A 65-year-old man died of stab wounds in Kolkata on Thursday as fresh violence erupted in parts of West Bengal’s Basirhat region that has been rocked by communal clashes over a controversial Facebook post.
Kartik Ghosh was attacked by mobs with sharp objects when he was returning home on a motorcycle on Wednesday afternoon. This was the first death in violence that has swept the Basirhat region, barely 12 kilometres from the Bangladesh border, that has injured at least 23 people.
In Kolkata, scuffles broke out at the RG Kar Hospital after Ghosh’s death between Trinamool Congress and BJP workers. Bengal president Dilip Ghosh and BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya faced resistance from Trinamool supporters and had to return without meeting them.
“He was the ward president of the party in Basirhat,” remarked BJP state secretary Dilip Ghosh. However Kartik Ghosh’s sons denied that he was linked to any political party.
The area continues to be under prohibitory orders and internet services remained suspended for the second day in a row. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has asked all political parties to refrain from visiting the riot-affected zone until peace is restored. “Please cooperate with the government,” she said on Thursday evening.
A team of three BJP MPs, Meenakshi Lekhi, Satyapal Singh and Om Prakash Mathur,are scheduled to visit Basirhat on Friday, and submit a report to party president Amit Shah. But accoording to sources ,the local administration was likely to block their entry, setting the stage for fresh confrontation.
However, as in the past (in Kaliachak and Dhulagarh), the state administration has clamped down on the media and issued strict instructions that the riots should not be reported. The police are also keeping a strict watch on social media to prevent news of the perfidy at Baduria and Basirhat from spreading.
At the same time, the police are alert to any attempts by Hindus to organise themselves and resist Islamist mobs, fearing that this would spark full scale communal riots.
Director General of Police Surajit Kar Purakayastha has requested people to refrain from spreading hatred and not to step into any kind of provocation.
Those spreading rumours and indulging in hate posts and false propaganda shall not be spared. Please respect the law of the land. Malicious efforts to create divides and attempts to take law in own hands will be sternly dealt with. Please don’t heed rumours,” Purakayastha said.
The violent clashes led to a war of words between Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi. Day after tripathi called up Banerjee following clashes in North 24 Parganas, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) reminded him of his constitutional limits and asked him not to “instigate people who are trying to create unrest in the state”.
The chief minister had alleged that Tripathi had threatened and insulted her while talking and accused him of speaking like a “BJP block president”.
At the end of three days of communal violence, however, both Muslims and Hindus in Baduria town claimed that the student could have been a tool in the hands of people who wanted to benefit from the polarisation that had resulted from the riot.