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
The Muslim outrage against the blasphemous post was largely ‘spontaneous and self-sustaining’ in the context of countrywide persecution of the community members, minority leaders insisted. But some of them also admitted that contest for the community turf among some Muslim religious and political leaders and consequent shows of strength, both to the police and administration for political mileage also played a vital role in the prolonged rampage by a section of the community youth. Piecing together the versions of feuding groups and community insiders, a broad pattern comes to fore.
Two major all India Islamic organizations –Jamat-e-Ulema Hind, the followers of Maulana Madani of Deoband school who had opposed Jinnah’s two nation theory during Indian freedom struggle and traditionally close to Congress as well as more conservative Jamat-e-Islami, followers of Maulana Madani, pre-independence exponent of pan-Islamic unity and Shariat-based statecraft have presence in Bengal. Hyderabad-based All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen or AIMIM led by Owaisi clan is also trying to make forays in the state. According to police and community insiders, a few maulanas attached to these dispensations were also among the mischief-mongers. Mamata Banerjee has decided to ban both MIM and Hindu Sanghati, a Bengali version of RSS with US-based network in the wake of Basirhat violence. However, we have not come across their specific and immediate role in the violence.
We found that it was mainly the enmity between some members of Pir clan of Phurphura Sarif in Hoogly’s Jangipara and their estranged followers said to have added ‘fuel to the fire’ at the Muslim side. Both groups wanted to prove who really call the shot or can control the community passion. Founded by Allamma Abu Bakar Siddique, a Sufi saint of 19th century revered by his devotees as Dada Pir or Dada Hujur in undivided Bengal and Assam, the Phurphura clan presides over a huge religious establishment around his Mazar or last resting place that draws thousands of devotees round the year, Pirzadas or male descendents of the founder run some Madrasas, orphanages under the flagship organization, named Ahle Sunnat-Al Jamat.
Their rival group headed by Maulana Abdul Matin and his family including his father Hafez Samsur Rahman and elder brother mufti Abdul Kayum have been devotees of the Dada Pir. But they have got separated from the Pirzadas — mainly Twaha Siddique and his nephew Abbas Siddique– and launched their own outfit named All India Sunnat-Ul Jamat.
Both sides insisted that they and their supporters follow the principles of Dada Pir in temporal and spiritual matters. The community insiders, however, say that the differences between the two sides are less spiritual and more temporal. The latter involves money and power, both social and political. Both camps of Dada Pir followers have accused each other for fueling the unrest for personal and factional gains.
One of disputes over money revolves around the fees for religious leaders who attend the Waj Mahfils, popularly known as Jalsas. A Muslim variation of Hindu dharmasabhas, usually held in the evening or late at night, Jalsa preachers explain the tenets of Islam, both temporal and spiritual and their implementation in contemporary life against an honorarium collected by public donation. Dada Pir, considered most exalted Murshid (the spiritual guide) in this part of Bengal began this practice of preaching popular Islam like kathaks or prabachaks in Hindu tradition in order to reach out to his predominantly agricultural murids or disciples who used to be busy in the fields before sundown. The honorarium was initially a token of respect by rural poor, often in kind than in cash. Over the decades, however, it has now become professional fees.
Bordering on the performing art, histrionics and rhetoric are crucial for success in the Jalsa circuit. The themes for speeches which were earlier more focused on personal piety and social duties now also deal with the perceived or real threats to Islam and its followers as well as need for community unity and action to get out of the perils of our time. “Jalsa organizers and participants won’t come for you if you can’t exhibit explosion of emotions by screaming out your rage or crying in pain. They are supposed to voice the inner turmoil of community. More shrill is your voice, more popularity you earn,” Md. Kamaruzzaman observed. Being a soft-spoken person, he said he would not succeed as a Jhalsa speaker despite being a Madrasa-educated Maulana.
Not only the middle-aged and old muftis and Maulanas, Hafez and Qaris as well as Pirs and Pirzadas, but also younger boys, even children are now being groomed as preacher- performers, known as Khoka maulanas or baccha maulanas, apparently fashioned upon recent trends in the Arab world. They are also in circulation in social media as well as video and audio computer disks.
Though they can’t match the money-spinning ventures of their Hindu counterparts of television age, these Islamic speakers usually charge between RS 10000 to 20000 for two-three hours. More popular preachers demand further hefty premium. Organizers of Jalsas, mostly rural youth, pay them not always out of voluntary donations collected from community members. As it has been turned into a lucrative business, rivalry among the preachers and organizers has become vicious, not only in terms of bagging money but also gathering social authority and consequent political clout. “Gondogoler mule waj-mahfiler taka (rivalry stems over waj-mahfil fees). We are opposed to demands on fees that other make,’’ Matin commented. He and his brother are among the regular preachers. Being a mufti, his brother gives fatwas or religious verdicts too.
Mamata Banerjee has co-opted many Muslim religious community leaders in his party and a few in his government. Former Jamat-e-ulema Hind state chief Siddiquallah Choudhury, an influential maulana with large following is now a minister in Mamata Banerjee government. Twaha Siddique, the most vocal and temperamental Pirzada of Phurphura , was known as close to TMC leader Mukul Roy, once Mamata’s second-in command and now a prodigal turned disgraced returnee. Now the powerful Pirzada is critical of Mamata Banerjee government, ostensibly, on the ground of her failure to deliver on her minority welfare promises. His importance can be gauged from the visit of CPM and Congress leaders at his place before the 2016 assembly poll. In contrast, less influential but ambitious group led by Maulana Matin is more to close to the ruling party ministers and MPs from the district.
For record, the present chief Pirzada of Phurphura, Md. Sebgatullah Siddique had appealed to the clan’s followers to ‘maintain peace, safeguard Bengal’s heritage of communal amity’ and ‘not to pay attention to rumors’ while requesting police ‘not harass the innocent’ during the July flare up. It was put on the ‘authentic official’ website which also warned against ‘those who misuse’ the clan’s popularity.
The blame game
Twaha Siddique, who apparently represents another section of the clan and runs an orphanage in the name of Mozaddeyia Anath Foundation also appealed for peace and posted it his facebook page on 4 July. Though posted late, two days after the Baduria boil had began, he opposed holding Hindu community responsible for the crime of ‘one individual’ and called for withdrawal of blockades following the arrest of the offending boy. He also cited Bengal’s tolerant tradition while warning against the ‘dishonest politicians and communal forces’ who were trying to exploit the situation.
Speaking to us, he held his rival group led by maulana Matin as well as Mamata Banerjee and her party responsible for mishandling the situation created by the offending post. “The offender boy was the first culprit while Matin was the second. He incited Muslim youth first, then tried to pacify them but failed,” senior Siddique said. Accusing Mamata and her minions for making room for Sangh Parivar, he said: “Most of the Trinamul men take vow in the name of Mamata during the day only to become loyal to RSS at night. We had labored hard to bring Mamata in power but she failed us.”
Denying that his unfulfilled political ambition is behind his sour relation with the chief minister, he claimed Mamata had offered Rajya Sabha membership to him thrice. “I have declined it since politics is not in my blood. I speak unpalatable truth which Mamata does not like,” he said. Predictably, he dismissed Choudhury and other Muslims leaders in the government and ruling party as ‘opportunists’ and ‘deceivers’.
He did not venture into troubled zone during the flare up since ‘the administration neither asked for it nor stopped him’ while roping in lesser known maulanas and Pirzadas to pacify Muslim youth. “They did not call me because I don’t hold brief for the ruling party,” he quipped. Taking offence to chief minister’s veiled criticism of some minority leaders for overreacting to the facebook post; He accused her of ‘insulting’ his community by blaming it for the violence while undermining the gravity of the first offence that had provoked it.
Maulana Matin admitted that he had supported the blockade on Sunday night in Baduria. But he insisted that he had appealed to withdraw it after the arrest of the offender. “One has to run with the mad horses for some time in order to tame them,” he reasoned. He claimed that blockades were organized at some ends of Basirhat in latter days in his or his brother’s name without their knowledge, hinting to his rivals’ hand in it.
He accused Twaha Siddique and his nephew younger Abbas Siddique of being ‘jealous’ in the wake of his ‘growing popularity among the Muslim masses’. “At some blockade points, we were told they won’t withdraw before ‘Abbas Bhai’ asks so. Some Phurphura people played with fire to show their strength. This is not the first time they had done so,” he complained recalling an earlier communal outbreak in south 24 parganas after murder of a maulana on road. Matin claimed that his religious rivals as well as TMC municipal chairman’s inner-party foes played spoilsport in Baduria as they wanted to prove their might. “A senior police officer told me that we failed to pacify the agitators because our rivals were instigating them to demand public hanging of the offender. We realized it later”.
He named Mafizul Islam alias Khoka Moulana , Nurulla Amin and Abdullah Hafez, as well as Mantu Hazi alias Maniruzzaman, a local TMC leader opposed to Baduria municipality chairman Tushar Singha, most reportedly close to Phurphura clan for organizing the youth for the proposed congregation of enraged faithful at Jadurhati on the way to Basirhat. He also blamed them for giving credence to the canard over the damage to the Mazar of Ruhul Amin and Aminia madrasa in Basirhat as well as leading the avenging mob them. Also Maulanas Yasin and Qutubuddin of Jamati backgrounds were mentioned for instigating youth.
Abbas Siddique could not be reached as he had left for Haj. His uncle called him a ‘young lad’ but declined to comment on the complaints against his nephew and his associates. “I am a god-fearing man and won’t comment without knowing everybody’s role,” he said.
Pirzada Khobayeb Amin, the junior Pirazada and brother-in-law of Abbas Siddique at influential Maulanabag Darbar Sharif of Basirhat, blamed Matin and his friends. He cited an unnamed police official on a TV show to buttress his allegation. “I had video recording of the show in which the official named Matin and his cohorts like Kamarazzuman for fueling the passion,’’ the young man in his early twenties said. The clan founded by Allamma Ruhul Amin which is connected to Phurphura Sarif, both spiritually and temporally, is now headed by his grandson mulana Sharful Amin. The district administration had roped in the father-son duo to douse the flame in Baduria and Basirhat.
Younger Amin said that a community congregation was scheduled in Baduria on Tuesday but the administration did not allow. “Some of Phurphura followers and their rivals claimed leadership before the meeting could start and groups of angry youth dispersed from the spot looking for more troubles,” he added. Matin denied the charge and asked for probe into the organizers behind the proposed congregation that later spread troubles in Basirhat.
Junior Amin too admitted the roles of men like Mafizul. “Mafizul called me to inform that he is on his way to Basirhat with 20000 boys as he had heard about the damage done to our mazar and adjacent home. I told him to go back because it was a complete canard. For three days since 6 July hundreds of devotees had called us with the same worries and intentions. I told them we are completely safe and they need not rush at all. But canards took time to die down and led to some violence affecting both Hindus and Muslims,” he recalled.
His father, also a teacher of Aminia Madrasa, appeared relatively detached from the ‘inter-Silsila’ spat, blamed the ‘ego clashes’ between two Sunnat-Al Jamats for lingering the violent youth protests. “Both sides wanted to increase their following by claiming to be true defenders of the community interests. Young boys do not know or care much about religion. But it’s unfortunate that they were instigated by some people to put up blockades on Rath Jatra day leading to violence,” senior Amin said.