Suspicion and mistrust could not prevent themselves from coming out of the eyes of everyone, of them as well as of ours, when our team reached Basirhat. This is possibly very common for post-communal violence areas. But at least for me, myself being the resident of Basirhat, this was completely unfamiliar. It took some time for us all to settle a little before we start our investigations. It was 16th August, 2017 that our team visited Ganrakupi village of Basirhat (P.S. Hasnabad). We interviewed Riyajul Mollah and Abu Taleb, the former, a fish hawker and the latter, a tailor, who were beaten with bamboo sticks and iron rods on 4th July, 2017, near Basirhat Maiti Bagan and Harishpur, respectively. Both suffered a broken leg with Abu succumbing to a damaged left eye. The attackers are suspected to be ‘Hindu activists’. Both alleged that they were targeted because of their religion and had not received any help from the government.
Then, we interacted with the family members of Arafat Gharami, a staff of a local cycle repairing center who had gone missing since 4th July while going to Basirhat town to buy some tools for his shop. On 6th July, 2017, his family members filed an FIR at Hasnabad Police Station. The police looked for him at the Basirhat Hospital, local police station and morgue, but couldn’t find him. His family members suspected that Arafat must have died during the riot but still there is no confirmation.
The next day we reached Magurkhola village (P.S. Baduria). This very village is extremely important in the context of these violence events since it is the area where Souvik Sarkar, the boy whose derogatory Facebook post was alleged to have instigated the riot, used to live. His house was just opposite to the Magurkhola Milan Masjid. He used to stay at his uncle’s house, which had wide been reported to get completely burnt, though we experienced something else which the supporting picture says [Fig. 1]. Inhabitants of the locality pointed out before us that there were Muslim households in a Hindu locality and vice versa. Our team interviewed two carpenters just next to that house — Tarun Karmakar and Alauddin Mondal. Alauddin declared himself as a member of Sunnat-Al-Jamiyat. Their statements were as follows:
On 2nd July, Sunday, Souvik’s incident got hyped. Some people gathered at Souvik’s place by 6 o’ clock in the evening to ask him the reason for his deeds. The police arrived at around 6:30 pm. Most of the people were Muslims in that mob but they did not attack. Problems started at Rudrapur Bazaar at around 7 pm when some people blocked the road in the bazaar area. Matin Sahab (the leader of Sunnat-Al-Jamiyat), Tushar Sinha (chairman of Baduria Municipality), the then officer-in-charge of Baduria police station and the circle inspector of Basirhat arrived and requested all the people at Rudrapur bazaar to keep calm.
While Alauddin insisted that Matin Sahab had only demanded the boy’s arrest, Tarun interrupted him and reported that Matin Sahab had said, ‘If the police doesn’t take action then I’ll see how to tackle them!’
On the very next day (3rd July, Monday), the police arrested Souvik from his uncle’s house. His family left their house the day after not to have returned till date. However, the whole area was overcast by tension. Police were posted in front of Souvik’s house. Some outsiders from a distant village attacked Souvik’s house, the attackers being very young, 16-22 of age. They tried to set fire inside the house. 5 or 6 constables including one S.I. fled away to the spot. Those who tried to stop them included Amirul Islam (ex-vice chairman of Baduria and president of local masjid committee) and also Alauddin. When the culprits went away, Mokshed, a local fire brigade worker called on his men to control the fire.
We contacted one of Souvik’s cousin sisters. She refused to disclose her name but suspected Pritam Paul, Souvik’s friend, who had been arrested recently, for the controversial post as it was published from his brother’s abandoned facebook account. She questioned out of suspicion as to how can a picture go viral so fast through social media and bring such trouble to their family.
Then we came in contact with Amirul Islam, ex-vice chairman of the municipality. He said that during the unrest, he had advised Tushar Sinha, the current chairman, to inform the police and seek the guidance of Matin Sahab (local muslim leader, Sunnat- Al- Jamiyat). Thereafter, upon reaching the spot, according to Amirul, ‘Matin Sahab gave a religious lecture’. Tushar Sinha forbade the mob to take the law into their own hands. On 3rd July, there were instances of road blockade near Keosha, Malaypur, Machlandapur, Ramchandrapur and Hakimpur. As per Amirul, the police possibly didn’t have the permission to carry arms. When we asked Amirul whether the attackers were from Rudrapur, he replied, “No, if they were, I could recognize them. They were outsiders and so they had no intention of listening to us”.
Then we went to Tyantra where Kartik Ghosh had died during the riot. We spoke with his son Debasish Ghosh, who informed that the nearby ‘Hindu’ shops were destroyed. On 5th July, Kartick Ghosh was attacked with a sharp knife while coming from Bhawanipur, Naupara, and he expired next day. Two accused goons had been arrested from Shwetpur and Paikpara till then. According to Debasish, the hooligans were ‘Muslim’ boys, most of them being dwellers of Paikpara and of about 15-18 years of ages.
Then, we went to visit Fajlur Sardar at his residence at the Pifa area of Basirhat. He was seriously wounded during the incident and was taken to the hospital by the family members of Kartik Ghosh. We asked him, ‘How did you get your jaw hurt?’ He said that he could not make out how it got hurt. One of the shells discharged by the paramilitary while trying to control the riot hit him hard and he fell down.
Then, our team approached the councilor of Ward No. 7 of Basirhat municipality, Asit Majumdar. He had left the Congress and joined TMC after his brother Amit Majumdar was nominated as the Congress-Left alliance candidate instead of him in the last assembly elections. Asit Majumdar said that Basirhat town got affected from the Rath Mela massacre at Baro Kalibari para near Trimohini. Some anti-socials had attacked the fair and initiated violence to loot shops. Regarding the riots, he agreed that on the first day, the police did not play an effective role against conflagration. However, possibly, in order to defend their empire, he argued asking: ‘Was any temple or mosque attacked during the incident?’ He said, ‘There was one Kali temple near Moylakhola which was attacked by the mob. But we protected the Paschim Dandirhat mosque when the mob went to attack’. But, unknowingly he raised a serious question, why not the temples or the mosques but the shops are generally attacked and looted during the communal violence?
On the third and last day of investigation, we first went to Basirhat Maulanabag Darbar Sharif, commonly called ‘Hujur-er-Bari’ by the local people. Here, ‘Allama Ruhul Amin Foundation’ (ARAF) is run in kinship with Furfura Sharif. Their work is mainly related to social welfare and has a huge acceptance amongst Muslim community in Basirhat. Our team went to visit them along with Asit Majumdar owing to his personal relation with Karful Amin, the official hierarchical leader of the Darbar. According to Karful, the riot was misinterpreted and the people’s sentiment had been used.
Was there any allayment of stimulation at the Darbar during the riot?
He agreed. But he showed us the appeal which he had given openly in the letterhead of the Darbar regarding maintenance of peace and amity.
Is there any influence of Basirhat Muslim organization Tablik-e-Jamat or Bangladesh’s Jamat-e-Islam?
He said, ‘Tablik-e-Jamat have some local influence as they preach Islamic ideology at Masjids. But their influence is limited within the locality’.
Then we spoke with Khobayeb Amin, the director of ARAF. He informed us that some 3 years ago, a conflict occurred between Souvik’s uncle & the Masjid committee present near his uncle’s house regarding the use of sound systems. Though the clamour was small, TMC leader of Baduria, Mantu Haji took advantage and threatened that he would rest only after banning the mike. Khobayeb had arranged a peace meeting in presence of three IPS officers. The conflict would have been solved but Mantu arrived and handed over his phone to one of the officers to speak with the former TMC leader Mukul Roy, who very recently has joined the BJP. Ultimately, no solution came from the meeting. Rage of riot increased from the next day. Amin also contacted Basirhat’s ex-counsillor Shamik Bhattacharya and appealed to control the riot but Shamik denied further discussion.
When we asked him whether the role of the government and administration could have been more positive, he agreed and added that the police were initially kept inactive. Amin showed us a video footage of a Bengali news channel where Abdul Matin, Kamrujjaman and the other TMC leaders were seen inciting the riot. He added that BJP might have involvement behind it.
We spoke to the councilors of the corresponding localities (Ward No. 12, 13 and 14) and could get to know that the reason behind the turmoil may be private interests among the groups involved in the illegal trade of cow and gold at the border.
Whatever the reasons were, the spontaneous relations between the neighbouring residents, which I personally enjoyed since my childhood, was seen to be completely ruined.
Note: 1) All the names mentioned in the report are real and have been directly spoken to by us. In some cases identity is not revealed keeping in mind their choice.
2) None of the persons have been forced or influenced to speak under any particular view.
(Kingshuk Chakraborty, a representative of People’s Brigade, carried out the survey on Basirhat-Baduria communal violence, 2017, together with some representatives of the All India Secular Forum (AISF) and the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism. The investigation on the issue was scheduled for three consecutive days, viz 16th, 17th and 18th August, 2017).