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Mainstream, VOL LV No 32 New Delhi July 29, 2017

Anatomy of Basirhat (West Bengal) Violence

Saturday 29 July 2017


by Ram Puniyani

In an insane act of violence two people lost their lives in Basirhat (West Bengal, 4.7.2017). For quite sometime the social media is abuzz that West Bangal is turning Islamist, Hindus are under great threat, their condition is becoming like that of the Pundits in Kashmir. A section of the TV media projected the view that West Bangal is not safe for Hindus but is a heaven for Muslims. Angry posts are also declaring that Mamata is appeasing the Muslims, Islamist radicals are growing in Bengal with support from the Mamata Government etc.

This act of violence was provoked by a facebook post. (July 4, 2017) Once it was known in the area as to who had done the posting, they surrounded the house where the 17-year-old boy lived. The posting was derogatory to the Muslims. As the atmosphere was building up the State machinery kept silent till the aggressive mob of Muslims surrounded the house. Police intervention was too late. While the boy was saved despite the angry mob which was demanding that the boy be handed over to them, the BJP leaders got hyperactive and visited the area as a delegation. They tried to enter the hospital to see the dead body of Kartik Chandra Ghosh (age 65). Muslim attackers had killed him. This attempt of the BJP leaders was to derive political mileage from the situation as the BJP claimed that Ghosh was President of one of the units of the BJP, while Ghosh’s son denied it.

The Governor of West Bengal, K.N. Tripathi, reprimanded Mamata Bannerjee for the violence. Seeing his attitude Mamata got upset and described him as behaving like a block level BJP leader. The same Governor has been called a ‘dedicated soldier of the Modi Vahini’ by one BJP leader, Rahul Sinha. The communal violence has taken a political colour, the BJP accusing Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of appeasement of Muslims while the ruling Trinamul Congress is alleging that the BJP is out for inciting communal passions to benefit electorally. Surprisingly, with this violence, wherein two people have lost their life, the BJP is demanding President’s Rule in the State, while the law and order has already been restored within a week’s time.

The picture in Bengal is very complex. A section of the Muslim leadership is repeatedly indulging in violence in response to ‘hurt sentiments’. Earlier also violence was unleashed by Muslims in Kaliachak, when one Kamlesh Tiwari had posted something offensive against Prophet Mohammad. The feeling of impunity enjoyed by this section of the Muslim leadership is giving a big handle in the hands of the Hindutva forces, for which there is yet again an opportunity to polarise the society along religious lines. Here in Bengal they don’t have to create the issue of ‘Holy Cow’ or ‘Ram Temple’, it is being provided by this misguided section of the Muslim leadership.

A picture is being created that Bengal is in the grip of Islamisation as the earlier Kaliachak violence and now this violence are being cited to show that Hindus are unsafe here. There was no loss of life in the Kaliachak incident but yes there was loss of property, though. The core theme of the BJP-RSS propaganda is built around Hindu victimisation.

The role of the government has been far from satisfactory in this violence, as it had time enough to control the situation but it did not. The law and order machinery must ensure prevention of the build-up of such incidents. By and large one can say that an effective system can prevent most of the riots, irrespective of who is the offender. Here the government should have acted in time.

Surely, Mamata’s alleged appeasement of Muslims does not apply in economic matters. The fact is that the economic conditions of Muslims of Bengal are among the worst in the country. The budgetary allocation for minorities in Bengal is much less than in many other States.

At the same time the communal polarisation by the BJP is coming up with the menacing speed. In a State where Ram Navami (Lord Ram’s birthday celebration) was practically unheard of, this year around Ram Navami processions were taken out with frightening swords in hand. Lord Ganesh’s festival is also being promoted in the State where Ma Durga had been the main deity so far.

Finally, who benefits from the violence? The studies of different scholars on communal violence in India, like those by Paul Brass, point out that there is an institutional riot mechanism, the core part of which is the impunity enjoyed by the offenders, the abysmal role of the justice delivery system as a whole. Another significant study from Yale University tells us that in places where communal violence takes place, in the long run at the electoral level it is the BJP which stands to benefit. Those who appease the Muslim fundamentalists should note this and see to it that discharging the constitutionally assigned duties is the essence of governance, irrespective of the community involved in the violence.

Let’s summarise the anatomy of violence in Basirhat. Stage one, the offensive post on face book; stage two, fundamentalist radical sections of Muslims unleash violence; stage three, the approach of the State Government fails in preventing the violence; stage four, the BJP carries on from there and worsens the atmosphere by playing out videos which showed that Muslims were attacking Hindus in Basirhat. [It turned out that the videos were not from Basirhat at all. They were taken from the Gujarat violence of 2002. Also clips of a Bhojpuri films showing the molestation of Hindu women were recklessly circulated, the impression being given that this is happening in Basirhat. The same was claimed by the BJP’s national General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, who said that he had news of Hindu women being raped in the affected area.] And lastly, drums are beaten about victimisation of Hindus in Bengal. One just hopes that all these will not lead to polarisation of communities in a State where so far communal violence had been reasonably under check.

The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.

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