March 30 to April 4: A tense six days in West Bengal | Kolkata - Hindustan Times
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March 30 to April 4: A tense six days in West Bengal

Apr 06, 2023 01:14 PM IST

The violence between two communities during a Ram Navami procession has caused a political war of words

Kolkata: On March 30, a Ram Navami procession organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Anjani Putra Sena, a smaller Hindu outfit headquartered in Howrah, was making its way through the lanes of Kazipara area of Shibpur in Bengal’s Howrah district. It was around 5.30 pm and several Muslim residents of that neighbourhood were preparing to break their Ramzan fast through the traditional iftar.

West Bengal governor CV Ananda Bose visited the area where clashes broke out between two groups during a Ram Navami procession in Hooghly district. (PTI) PREMIUM
West Bengal governor CV Ananda Bose visited the area where clashes broke out between two groups during a Ram Navami procession in Hooghly district. (PTI)

Some youth raised slogans and an angry exchange between members of the two communities soon followed. Within minutes, the situation deteriorated and members of the procession began pelting stones at the houses on either side of the street. Stones came flying from the houses as well. Eight vehicles were torched, and a few shops were broken into and vandalised. Ten people, including two policemen escorting the Ram Navami rally, were injured. “At least 30 people have been arrested till around 10 pm. Raids are going on,” an IPS officer from the Howrah city police told this reporter on Thursday evening. The police eventually brought the situation under control using batons and tear gas to disperse the troublemakers.

None of the injuries were inflicted by sharp weapons or firearms, the doctors who treated the wounded at local hospitals said.

Around the same time on March 30, a similar incident of violence took place at Dalkhola in North Dinajpur district in north Bengal when a rally held by some Hindu outfits was passing through an area inhabited mostly by Muslims. A youth died of a heart attack, Bishop Sarkar, superintendent of police, Islampur, said.

At Howrah’s Kazipara, tension was still palpable on the morning of March 31. A second spell of stone pelting forced the administration to impose prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure at Kazipara and PM Bustee areas.

On April 1, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the West Bengal police started a probe into the Howrah violence. Howrah police commissioner Praveen Tripathi said 38 people had been arrested in connection with the two incidents.

The day also witnessed hectic activity in the political camps.

The TMC circulated photos and videos of people brandishing firearms and swords and claimed the images were captured at the March 30 Ram Navami rally in Howrah.

Leader of the opposition in the state assembly, Suvendu Adhikari, on the other hand, moved a petition before the division bench of Calcutta high court’s acting chief justice T S Sivagnanam and justice Hiranmay Bhattacharyya seeking a National Investigation Agency (NIA) probe into the clashes at Shibpur and Dalkhola.

On the evening of April 2, another incident of arson and stone pelting took place outside a mosque at Rishra in Hooghly district around 5.45 pm. BJP national vice-president Dilip Ghosh, who took part in this Ram Navami rally, shared a video on social media alleging that stones were pelted from the mosque.

Biman Ghosh, the BJP legislator from Purshura constituency in Hooghly, was hurt in the stone pelting, the party alleged. Later that evening, BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar wrote a letter to Union home minister Amit Shah.

“In view of the deteriorating law and order situation, we immediately seek your kind intervention as per law so that the situation does not go out of control and life and property of ordinary citizens are saved,” the letter stated.

Hooghly remained tense the following day, and stones were pelted again at some closed shops and an ATM counter near Rishra railway station, but no one was injured in this bout of violence.

On April 4, the Union home ministry sought a report from the state on all these incidents. The same day, Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, speaking at a rally in East Medinipur district, said that the BJP was "maligning" the name of Lord Ram by "organising violence" during Ram Navami processions. That very day, the Bengal police arrested a 19-year-old youth named Sumit Shaw from Mungher in Bihar saying he was the one caught on camera while brandishing a revolver at the Ram Navami rally in Howrah on March 30.

Senior state police officers said a similar stone pelting happened at the same locations in Howrah during a Ram Navami rally in 2022 and permission for the April 30 rally was given to the organisers on strict conditions.

“Although the organisers were told to end the rally by 5 pm, they stretched it beyond the deadline. As a result, the rally, with blaring loudspeakers, passed through a Muslim neighbourhood when local residents were breaking their fast or preparing for evening prayers,” a police officer said on condition of anonymity.

HT has seen a copy of the permission document that the Howrah police gave this year to Indra Deo Dubey of VHP and Surendra Verma of the Anjani Putra Sena.

“Last year, there was a serious law and order problem which occurred in your Ram Navami rally due to non-compliance of time line strictly. After analysing the causes and discussing the various factors to be taken into account to ensure a peaceful observance of the rally this year, the following guidelines are being given for strict compliance by the organisers,” the letter stated.

The letter said the organisers must ensure that nobody carried weapons, made provocative remarks or changed the route of the rally. It also stated that the rally should end at 5 pm on March 30.

Dubey, who was convenor of the rally for VHP, said, “We did not violate any condition. It was the police who failed to stop those who started pelting stones at us from the rooftops without any provocation.”

On March 30, the state government suspended internet services not only in Howrah but also at Asansol-Durgapur police division in West Burdwan district and Barrackpore in North 24 Parganas district where Hindu groups took out processions.

“These precautionary measures became necessary after what happened in Howrah. In 2018, the 16-year-old son of the Imam of Asansol’s Noorani mosque was killed in violence during a Ram Navami procession, triggering state-wide outrage. The administration cannot afford to take any risk,” a senior state police official said, requesting anonymity.

MD Yahiya, president of the Bengal Imams Association said that in all the incidents, local Muslims were breaking the day’s fast when the clashes took place.

“The clashes during Ram Navami is a recent phenomenon. For centuries, processions have been held across Bengal during Durga puja. There has never been any incident. Bengal’s Hindus celebrate so many festivals. Their rallies pass through Muslim neighbourhoods. Has there been any communal clash?” Yahiya said.

“The real communal violence Bengal witnessed was during the Partition in 1947. There were a few clashes in 1964 also in the wake of an alleged theft of what was believed to be the Prophet’s hair from the Hazratbal shrine in Kashmir. Other than this, Bengal has no record of communal violence,” political science professor Udayan Bandopadhyay said.

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