Amidst a near-complete media blackout and distressing silence from statutory bodies like the National Human Rights Commission, a serious communal flare up has taken place in South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal, with more than 200 Hindu homes torched and looted in four villages — Naliakhali, Herobhanga, Gopalpur and Goladogra, in the Canning police station area, from the wee hours of February 19. Almost two dozen Hindu shops were fully damaged and looted in Joynagar police station area; many shopkeepers have fled and members of the besieged community have begun to send their womenfolk away.
Although triggered by a purely local incident, the looming Panchayat elections in the State seem to have given vested interests an opportunity for a show of strength. Competitive communalism is in the air, with the two major political formations fighting to capture the huge Muslim vote in the State.
By all accounts, the trouble began late in the night of February 18-19 when Maulvi Rohul Kuddus (resident of Ghutiyari Shariff, South 24 Parganas) and Abdul Wahab (resident of village Moujpur, Joynagar) were returning from Jaamtala Haat in Kultali after attending a religious congregation. Maulvi Kuddus was driving a motorcycle when the duo was attacked by unidentified culprits on the Naliakhali main road. Maulvi Rohul Kuddus was shot dead and his aide Abdul Wahab, injured.
The motive for the murder is unclear. Reports in a prominent newspaper however, claim that the Maulvi was carrying Rs 11.5 lakhs, which was taken away by the assailants. Other sources say that huge unaccounted funds are circulating in the region and are being used to buy unlicensed firearms and ammunition, under the patronage of political parties.
Bus driver Samir Sen, coming to Canning from the Golabari terminal, spotted the body at around 4:25 am on February 19. He stopped and found that the Maulvi was already dead. His motorcycle was lying on the side of the road. Sen reported the crime to the police at Canning, as did other bus drivers who came that way, but the police were tardy in arriving at the scene and picking up the body. The injured Abdul Wahab escaped and contacted other people.
As rumours spread, large numbers of Muslims began to descend upon the area in trucks. The headmaster of a local school reportedly incited the mob, and soon Hindu homes began to be attacked from the early hours of February 19. The violence quickly escalated with the police and administration initially at a loss. According to local reports, police officers Anup Samaddar and Anup Ghoash of the Canning police station were seriously injured and two police vehicles torched in the turmoil. The unrest has spread to Sandeshkhali area of North 24 Parganas.
Hindu Samhati leader Tapan Ghosh, who is monitoring the situation with volunteers, told a local television channel that after the Maulvi’s body was found, Naliakhali village, which was closest to the site of the crime, was attacked and looted, the village temple damaged, and five women molested. As the police party was initially outnumbered, the mob torched homes with impunity, pouring petrol and setting them ablaze in a three hour rampage. Naliakhali villagers claimed they had no knowledge about the murder and the reasons for the attack on them until the police arrived.
Neighbouring villages were also attacked, Hindus beaten and their shops destroyed. The mob set up roadblocks at several places such as Natunhat, Priyor More (Joynagar ps), Bhangankhali, Hospital More (Basanti ps).
As the violence escalated, the administration rushed battalions of Combat Force and Rapid Action Force to bring the situation under control. Police from Bidhannagar and Howrah were also deployed with water cannons. But the peace is still fragile as several dozen truckloads of people from various parts of Kolkata such as Park Circus, Rajabazar, Metiaburz and Garden Reach, are heading towards Canning subdivision.
The forthcoming Panchayat elections in the State seem to be the backdrop for both the murder and the violence. Both the CPM and the Trinamool Congress are determined to monopolise the Muslim vote. Muslims comprise nearly 30 per cent of the population of the State according to official statistics, though informed sources put the actual figure much higher on account of the ceaseless infiltration from Bangladesh.
According to the Census 2001, the district-wise population of Muslims in West Bengal is Murshidabad (63.67 per cent); Malda(49.72 per cent); North Dinajpur (47.36 per cent); Birbhum (35.08 per cent); South 24 Parganas (33.34 per cent); Nadia (25.41 per cent); Howrah(24.44 per cent); Cooch Behar (24.24 per cent); North 24 Parganas(24.22 per cent); South Dinajpur (24.01 per cent); Kolkata (20.27 per cent);Bardhaman (19.78 per cent); Hooghly (15.14 per cent); Midnapore(11.32 per cent); Jalpaiguri (10.78 per cent); Bankura (7.51 per cent); Purulia(7.12 per cent) and Darjeeling (5.31 per cent).
The infiltrators appear to be organising themselves and ganging up with local co-religionists to challenge the majority community and change the demography of some target districts.
Should Hindu families feel compelled to retreat from the area, an Assam-like situation could develop in Bengal as well, as illegal Bangladeshis align with native elements and to swamp the State with the benign connivance of political parties.