Asansol: Bereaved Imam Thwarted Political Communal Disturbance

In West Bengal today, communal incidents are being orchestrated for calculated political gain and establishment of political hegemony. The latest one took took place in the industrial belt around Asansol. Asansol is a rail and coal town with roughly 21% Muslim population and no history of communal conflict. BJP’s planned assertion, accompanied by competitive communalism by the TMC is resulting in communal flare-ups in the state.  

TMC secured the support of the Muslim community, mainly by offering symbolic rather than substantial support through paltry monetary supports to Imams. Now, though, the TMC is competing with the BJP in attempts to communalise the Hindu community and carve out a ‘Hindu’ vote bank. This is being done by recruiting the underworld and local clubs, again with overt and covert state support.  

A fact finding team from AIPF and PUCL, West Bengal visited Asansol on 7th April, 2018. The team visited some of the most disturbed areas, suggested by the local AIPF members and peace activists. These areas included Ram Kishan Dangal, Hazinagar, Chandmari , Chowrasta-Thakurpara , and the Noorani Masjid. The devastation, vandalism, arson, and loot was still visible. Victims, mostly women, from both Hindu and Muslim communities came forward unhesitatingly to tell us what they had experienced. While describing the attacks, the victims described the attackers as unknown, and did not even mention the religious identity of the attackers. The complaints were focussed on lack of security from police and the demands were focussed on rapid compensation for the loss and return to normalcy.

The riots flared up on after Ram Navami, which was celebrated by both TMC and BJP in a competitive manner this year throughout West Bengal. Just after that “celebration”, on 27th and 28th March the sudden violent attacks rocked Asansol. On 27th March the local community of mostly below-poverty-line families in R K Dangal and Hazinagar area, had no inkling that an attack was imminent. This region is locally known as ‘border region’ and is an area were Hindu and Muslim majority areas merge from two sides.

On that fateful day most Muslim families from these areas rapidly fled to safer Muslim majority zones, and Hindu families did likewise. But, the more well-to-do families stayed indoors, and surprisingly remained unharmed. In most areas, only a few houses were attacked. We met several Hindu families, who were protected by their Muslim neighbours too. In Muslim market areas, Hindu shopkeepers kept their shops closed those days. The closed shops were looted - again, sporadically – and not in a big way. No one complained of either molestation or physical attack by the invading mobs in any areas. Thus, there was a kind of systematic rampaging strategy, with some degree of restraint. It was all carefully calibrated, not a spontaneous and uncontrolled ‘riot.’    

At the Noorani Masjid we met Maulana Imdadulla Rashidi at noon, who lost his youngest son Sibtulla on 27th March. The Class X student was kidnapped and brutally murdered by the communal mob.  But, instead of letting his justified anger and that of his community find vent in revenge violence, the Maulana urged them not to abuse or attack anyone. He said that he had lost a son and he did not want anyone else to experience a similar tragedy. The Maulana met the visiting AIPF-PUCL team and described the entire incident to them and spoke to them of his mission as a peace activist.  The Maulana’s dignity and compassion spoke of true leadership qualities – so different from the leaders who rule our country, stoking hate for votes.

Fact finding teams from AIPF and PUCL have visited areas of West Bengal hit by communal violence, since 2016. A report of four incidents, compiled in a booklet titled “Some recent communal violence in West Bengal”, was published last year by AIPF, WB. The common underlying trend and fault lines were identified, based on our conversation with victims and local peace activists. Measures which can prevent recurrence of such incidence were pointed out and forwarded to the local administration, before distributing them to the public. The general pattern in these manufactured communal riots is more or less same.

The visiting team included noted writer and journalist Bolan Gangopadhyay, State Secretary of PUCL Amlan Bhattacharya, A B Choudhury from AIPF, filmmaker Mitali Biswas, singer Nitish Roy, veteran social activist Naren Ghatak, scientist and activist Tushar Chakraborty, and Dr Shamit Dasgupta. The comrades who took all the trouble to organize this visit and accompanied the AIPF-PUCL team included Rathindranath Bannerji, Sandhya Das, G C Ghosh, Ujjal Roy, Sunit Das, Khagen Bhattacharya and Surunder Kumar.