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
Read Part IV : How Divisive Forces Are Gaining Ground In Rural Bengal: Magurkhali, A Micro Example
Why the Muslim boys became so aggressive despite community had not been facing any political persecution in Bengal under Mamata Bannered government? Muslim religious and political leaders whom we spoke to admitted their failure to pacify the community youth. Instead, they faced the mob ire at some places which bordered on physical attacks and threats. They tried to explain the prolonged outrage and misplaced aggression citing the presence of large throngs of unknown rough-hewn youth and their pent-up anger against persecution of coreligionists elsewhere. But does it indicate the growing disconnection between middle-aged leaders and youth as well as their certain radicalization through fundamentalist propaganda on social media?
Maulana Md. Abdul Matin is the leader of All India Sunnat-Al- Jamat which runs 85 unrecognized Madaras under a self-styled Board of Islamic Education in and around north 24 parganas and resident of Berachapa neighboring Baduria. He said he was among those who tried to pacify the community youth in Baduria on Sunday evening after the administration egged on but failed. According to him, the teenagers and youths in their early twenties who had dominated the blockades since 2 July evening were mostly from poor families of outlying villages with little or no exposure to education in madrasas or general schools.
After learning embroidery and other traditional artisan skills at villages, a large section of these youths had migrated to Mumbai, Surat, Delhi and other cities but came back after losing jobs or earnings in post demonetization days, he said. Those who had saved their jobs either in Mumbai or Metiaburuj at Kolkata’s west were home during the Eid vacation. Embittered over the persecution of Muslims across the country, experienced personally or perceived through social media hate campaigns, they were looking for an opportunity for outburst. “These migrant boys hardly know us. So they refused to listen,’’ Matin said.
“I argued that we need to learn true teaching of Quran and Hadith to be a good Muslim as well as know about Constitution to be a good citizen. Mob justice or extra-judicial killing won’t be acceptable either to Islamic law or Indian law. Even Saudi Arab does not allow Instant hanging at public demand. So Law should be allowed to take its own course. But these boys neither know Islamic nor Indian jurisprudence. So they kept on demanding immediate public hanging of the offender,” he added. Unlike this time, he recalled his success in dispersing protesters following another offensive facebook involving Allah and Islam’s prophet, but by a Muslim youth in Basirhat’s Tyantra bazaar some time back.
It took hours but I had succeeded in defusing the tension where the people were asking for the handover of the accused boy. This time, situation turned different,’’ he said.
Md. Kamaruzzaman is a former leader West Bengal Madrasa Students Union and now heads All Bengal Minority Youth Federation. He also runs a higher secondary school and B-Ed college in a multi-acre complex at Dewananti village in his native Haroa.
He had the similar experience since 3 July.
“I tried my best at Aminpur, Sandalia to remove the blockade on Monday on my way back home from Kolkata following request from district administration but in vain. Police was impatient and tactless at one point. The boys who knew me did not misbehave but others were adamant and declined to budge. Next day blockades came up at every half a kilometer. I ventured out and gathered that many of protesters were not aware of arrest of the offender. Printed images of the offending post were pasted at roadsides at some points. I shared the news about the boy’s arrest, but they continued demanding his public hanging. I did not approach them further fearing further insults.”
He narrated the same scenario closer home when he tried to lift blockade on railway track that connects Kolkata to Hasnabad at Haroa road station. The vandals ransacked tea-stall of a Hindu vendor who had agreed to serve the stranded commuters on his request.
Both leaders felt that despite low social tension in Bengal and expressed political protection by the chief minister, a storm was gathering in the wake of pan-Indian rampage by Hindutva forces against Muslims as well as dalits, capped by incidents like killings of elderly Md Akhlak and teenaged Junaid. Misgivings against police was another factor as police harass minority youth more as regular crime and terror suspects and criminals made use of that sentiment. “They did not make difference between the police of Modi and Mamata. Generally scared of police as individuals and groups, the protesters wanted to express their pent-up anger. They also enjoyed the opportunity to rule the roads.’’ the latter said.
Individually and together they had posted a joint appeal for withdrawal of blockades on facebook following Souvik’s arrest. Matin had claimed it ‘victory for our protest’ and both requested not to disturb Ratha Yatra of ‘Hindu brothers’. Consequently, both faced ire of co-religionist youth bordering on physical threats both over phones as well as in persons. “As soon as video of our appeal had spread online, groups of cell-carrying youth turned up at Matin saheb’s office at Berachapa and begun abusing us. We had to leave for safety,” Kamarazzuman said.
Despite being adept in using the social media, both men in their late 40s admitted that Baduria-Basirhat being an eye-opener for them too as it pointed increasing gap between community leaders and the youth who are vulnerable to vicious cycles of online hate campaigns. It needs a deep probe by the voices of sanity and humanity both within the community and outside. In an apparent move to bridge the gap, Minority council of Bengal, a forum of 15 odd groups, has planned a social media outreach against hate campaigns, the latter said.
Silver lining in the outburst of passion
All the people we spoke to noted that despite the highly charged atmosphere, the Muslim ire in Baduria was mainly directed to police. Attack on Hindus was hardly reported and damage to their property was minimal. Also there was no Hindu reprisal in contrast to what happened in Basirhat. The mob which had tried to torch accused boy’s residence in Magurkhali on Monday did not attack other Hindu homes or damage the permanent Mandap for village pujas.
“The unarmed policemen who are guarding the Sarkar’s place took shelter at our home as the mob proceeded down the road chanting ‘Naraye Takdir, Allahu Akbar’. I had many relatives at my home for my father’s last rites. Scared women started crying fearing attack. Fortunately, the mob did not try to enter our home or damage the Mandap” elderly Gautam Choudhury recalled. The village Imam said he had tried to prevent the crowd from marching into the village. “But they wanted to close down some madur( cane-based mats) polishing units mainly owned by Hindus down the road in neighboring villages. However, Allah saved us from bigger troubles in the locality on that day.”
According to him, it was Moksed Mondol, a fire brigade employee and village resident who called the fire services to douse the fire at Sarkar’s residence. As the fire tender was stopped at a nearby blockade point, Amirul Islam, a former vice chairman of the municipality and Trinamul turned independent candidate took initiative to make way for the firemen through the blockades. By the time they reached, neighbors had doused the flame.
Rumor-mongers spread the violence to Basirhat
On 5 July, the trouble spread toward Basirhat apparently because of rumormongers who had worked overtime in fanning the canard of attack on Aminia Madrasa and damage to the Mazar of Allamma Ruhul Amin, the late presiding Pir of Maulanabag Darbar Sharif. A disciple of Dada Hujur of Phurphura Sharif, Amin’s mazar in Basirhat town is another centre of popular Islam of Sufi Silsila as streams of devotees visit the place round the year. His descendents run a madrasa chain named after the clan. Reports of damage to a mosque close to sub-divisional court, despite neighboring Hindus came out to protect it, also added fuel. Earlier situation took ugly turn and tension ran high in parts of neighboring Swarupnagar after a section of Hindus put up blockade shouting ‘Jai Shree Ram” near Tentuliya bridge after Muslim youth blockade declined to allow passage to Hindu funeral bier and allegedly damaged it. Communal hawks at both sides were apparently preparing for a show-down.
As Basirhat town is Hindu-dominated in contrast to the rural areas around it, the rumor of Hindu attack gained ground. According to maulana Matin, a large crowd of Muslim youth who had gathered at Jadurhati from surrounding villages on the way for a congregation of believers became the frontrunners for avenging the purported attacks. The meeting was postponed as administration apparently denied permission. As the canard of damage to spread, rallyists boarded a caravan of 15-26 small trucks and other vehicles, generally used for transporting agricultural and other goods and they proceeded towards Basirhat. They vandalized shops and establishment on their way and entered the town in throngs while blocking roads. In some places, ‘Raths’ of lord Jagannnath were targeted.
Pirjada Khobayeb Amin, descendent of Ruhul Amin and son of Sarful Amin who now leads the influential Maulanabag Darbar Sharif, admitted the role of rumor-mongers. “We received hundreds of calls from our devotees and well-wishers about the so-called attacks on the Mazar and our family. Some wanted to rush to spot to avenge and protect us. We told them not to pay heed to the rumor mills as both the Mazar and our family were safe. We had to issue formal disclaimers and appeals for sanity both local Imams and larger community,” the young man said.
The question remained who were running the rumor mills? We will deal with it in next episode.