The recent reports from North 24 Parganas of West Bengal drew sharp criticism from both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the ruling West Bengal government led by the Trinamool Congress. The BJP has alleged that 2000 people belonging to the minority Muslim community attacked Hindu families and set fire to many offices. It all started with an allegedly offensive Facebook post by a 17-year-old boy residing in Maghurkhali village, which lies in North 24 Parganas district’s Basirhat sub-division. The post was soon reacted upon and thousands turned to the streets. Personally, I have not seen the post, but I have heard that the post was extremely offensive and that’s why it incited the mob to commit violence.
The point to be noted here is that the places where the violence was reported are inhabited mostly by Muslims, especially places like Bagjola, Machhlandapur, Bashirhat, Hingalganj, Degaga and other adjacent places. This area is noted for its lack of development, illiteracy, and a large number of people below the poverty line. The area is also close to the Bangladesh border. According to “Anandabazar”, a leading Bengali newspaper, mobs from both of the communities are seen with swords, axes and other weapons openly in the street.
As a result of the public outrage, police soon arrested the boy who made the original post, Souvic Sarkar. A rumour spread that the police had brought Souvic to Baduria police station, which has jurisdiction over Rudrapur village. Soon the mob took the law into their own hands, attacking police officers, setting fire to police vans etc. As a result, the centre deployed three company security forces in the area along with state deployed forces.
I belong to that district and have seen the tension between two communities stop normal life many a time. But this time, the situation was quite different. Although before this, such tension could be seen in our area, or in other parts of West Bengal, it was a result of communal clashes in UP, Gujarat or some other place in India. I have almost never seen the people of West Bengal, especially those of my district Uttar Chabbish Pargana (North 24 Parganas) indulge in direct clashes. Even when they did, the matter was usually minor and was solved by the peace initiation made by both of the parties.
Several areas in the North 24 Parganas were once strongholds of the Naxalite Movement in the 70s and later. Then they became strongholds of the then ruling party, CPI(M). Now, many local Assembly seats are held by the ruling TMC party.
According to some people, the photo-shopped image of a holy site that was being circulated was so disturbing, that it quickly incited the mob. This is not the first instance where religious sentiments have been hurt by Facebook or other social media posts.
The interesting fact to be noted here is that the place that was once a stronghold of the communist parties is now a stronghold of the Rashtriya Sayamsevak Sangh. Posters of Hindu Jagran and RSS are all over the district. Bengali Hindus who never celebrated Ram Navami have begun to celebrate it with armed processions etc. In a word, RSS has been able make a place for itself in these regions.
The kind of vandalism done by the mob is of course condemnable. Some people went too far in demanding that the administration hand over the boy to them. According to Aajkal and Anadabazar, local religious leaders and mosques are constantly calling for peace and urging people not to believe in any kind of rumours. On the other hand, CM Mamata Banerjee is doing her best to keep the situation under control.
It is being claimed that the violence which took place in Baduria, or in adjacent areas, was committed by young unemployed youths, active on social media, especially Facebook – which sheds a whole new light on the situation. BJP, capitalising on the opportunity, did not hesitate to attack the CM, saying that she is trying to appease a particular community. But we have to look at the Baduria violence from a broader perspective. At a pan-Indian level, Mamata and Arvind Kejriwal are two of the very few people who are challenging the godlike figure of Narendra Modi in Northern India. The BJP and the Sangh Parivar have to find a way to defame them. Although I am not a supporter of the Trinamool party of any other party in that sense, Mamata’s reported efforts to reduce tensions is nevertheless admirable. We, those who are sitting in metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai or any place out of Bengal have to understand that, nobody is exempt from the law. The law will punish those who take it into their own hands.
India is not a place to run a sharia system of punishment. The demand of the mob, that Souvic be handed over to them, is just another instance of ignorance. Nobody can deliver judgement on an individual while the Indian judicial system is still existing. However, many partisan elements are taking this opportunity to defame Mamata in any way they can, in order to increase their influence in Bengal. They are active in spreading fake news, which is dangerous for the other parts of Bengal – or India. I hope those who vandalised property and created conflict in the region will be arrested and brought to trial. But on the other hand, people who are living outside of Bengal should not get taken in by the fake news being brought to them. Religion is a sensitive issue, and we Indians are very much products of our religious orientations, no matter how liberal we become. We tend to quickly believe any news brought to us in the name of religion.
No progressive mind in Bengal is supporting the violence that took place. The Facebook post by Souvik is as harmful as the violence by the mob. Religious leaders and local party leaders from TMC, CPI(M), and others are constantly calling for peace, but not the BJP. The situation of the place is under control now. But the way many malicious elements have begun to spread false news, it may lead to another series of unwanted misunderstandings.
At last, I would like to say that this is the age of intolerance. I have never before seen people being so intolerant towards anything and everything. All I want is to call for peace, and strong action against the people who took the law into their hands. I would never want my district to make headlines for communal violence rather than for sport or education.