Monday 26 October 2020

Mamata Fiddles As Bengal Burns

[dropcap]B[/dropcap]arely had the rhythmic beats of the dhak, the traditional festive drums, died out on Vijaya Dashami, the concluding day of the Durga Puja, that the State of Bengal witnessed serious and ugly communal flare-ups in multiple pockets. Widespread clashes between Hindu and Muslim communities were rampant over Durga Puja immersion and Muharram processions in numerous places in the State. Spread over districts like North 24 Parganas, Howrah, West Midnapore, Malda and Murshidabad, communal clashes erupted in numerous areas such as Halishahar, Hajinagar, Andul Argori, Manikpur Beltala, Kharagpur Golbazar, Taltali and Chandannagar Urdibazar.

One of the earliest reports of trouble came in from Argori village in the Howrah district where some arrests had to be made following incidents of misbehaviour against Hindu women in a Durga Puja pandal by miscreants from the Muslim community. Trouble of a much more serious nature was witnessed in localities like Halishahar and Hajinagar near Naihati, both in North 24 Parganas, where rioting by Muslim mobs on 12 October during Muharram and retaliation by Hindus led to the destruction of commercial properties and fleeing of people from their homes. There have been reports of some serious injuries. Communal clashes were also witnessed in Kharagpur Golbazar area in the West Midnapore district as well as in some places in the Murshidabad district where shops were looted and set on fire.

Hindu properties damaged in the latest riots [Courtesy: Hindu Samhati]
Hindu properties damaged in the latest riots [Courtesy: Hindu Samhati]
As of today, there are still numerous families in places like Hajinagar that have not mustered enough courage to return to their homes. Numerous shops that the mobs vandalised on the day of Muharram continue to remain closed.

Earlier, the state government had caused a huge controversy by deciding not to allow Durga Puja immersions after 4 pm on 11 October, Vijaya Dashami, the traditional day of immersion of the idols. This inexplicable decision was taken in order to facilitate Muharram processions, scheduled for the next day. Such a decision was a rarity, never taken even during the 34-year long communist rule in Bengal. This was promptly challenged in court. In the face of severe criticism by the Calcutta High Court, the decision had to be modified. The court ordered a longer time window for private puja committees to immerse their Durga idols on the 11th.

The glaring failure of the Mamata administration to properly deal with the communal situation is being reflected in this entire scenario. As of now, the Bengal CM and her additional chief secretary have shrugged off the communal incidents and prevalent tension in the various pockets of her State as “minimal” and “not serious in nature”. There have been efforts to even pass off the violence and riots as “engineered by the social media”. The situation on the ground speaks otherwise. The gutted shops and empty homes in places like Hajinagar tell a completely different story.

Such failure by the state machinery to rein in miscreants has been witnessed on numerous occasions earlier. From the Deganga and Canning riots in 2013 to the more recent mayhem in Kaliachak, Malda, earlier this year, the State government in Bengal has proved time and again to be a mute, helpless spectator in the face of organised communal violence.

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It happens almost every year! Picture of a desecrated idol from last year [Courtesy: Hindu Samhati]
It is unfortunate that the local Bengali language media of Bengal, along with some English newspapers, has traditionally adopted a ‘see-no-evil’ approach especially when it comes to communal violence, a perspective admitted even by senior editors of leading Bengali dailies in the State. In this digital age, however, the equations are changing fast, and first-hand accounts backed by videographic evidence of actual incidents provided by citizens are fast shattering the myth of Bengal being immune to communal tensions. The key to resolving the issue, therefore, lies in dealing with the situation with unbiased determination. An ostrich-like response or the habit of brushing the unpleasant truth under the carpet is certainly not going to make the problem vanish. As of now, the State government seems to think otherwise.

In hindsight, it would not be a hyperbole to say that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s appeasement politics has taken a demonic turn in this key eastern State of the country. Endless propitiation of self-appointed leaders of the Muslim community in a bid to secure the votes of the entire community may have paid rich electoral dividends to the TMC supremo, as the Muslim vote bank has all but moved away from its traditional communist camp towards the TMC. But where has this diabolical game left Bengal, its homeland security and its overall fabric of communal harmony? Is Bengal, or Bangla, its new official moniker according to a recent legislation in the State Assembly, going to become all but an extended section of Bangladesh, the Islamic republic across the border, the piece of land surrendered to Islamist forces during Partition?

Such questions are doing the rounds in the nooks and corners of Bengal and elsewhere in the country. The administrative failure of the State can only add fuel to the fire described by these questions.

On clicking on a YouTube link of the type, you will be told that the video has been removed under government pressure
On clicking on a YouTube link of the type, you will be told that the video has been removed under government pressure

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Sagnik Chakraborty
A writer, editor, translator and teacher of languages based in Hyderabad, he serves this portal as a contributing editor

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