BASIRHAT: A computer-unsavvy class X student designing a Facebook meme that has set alight the communal cauldron of Basirhat sounds only astounding to his neighbours.
The subdivision in North 24 Parganas of Bengal has been burning since Monday, ostensibly over something the teenager posted online.
Neighbours say he couldn’t have acted alone.
“He is not that smart to have used Adobe Photoshop to create that image. More people might be involved with him,” said the boy’s neighbour Haji Usman Mollah.
The boy’s residence in Rudrapur town -- 4 km from Baduria -- lies bang opposite a mosque, the Magurhati Masjid. Haji Usman says there has always been amity in the mixed neighbourhood, and the teenager was never taught communal hatred.
Today, the boy’s house stands gutted, burnt to cinders by mob anger Sunday night.
It’s not a happy story. the boy lost his parents ten years ago. His father killed his mother and went to jail, and the boy grew up with his uncle Bablu Sarkar. He loved cricket and was very upset when India lost to Pakistan in the recent Champions Trophy tournament.
So there’s speculation in Rudrapur about what incited him last weekend. Was it the rumours that a few Muslims celebrated Pakistan’s victory in Basirhat and Baduria, ponders neighbour Shanti Mondal.
Muslims are a majority in these border lands, so there’s always a understated jostling between them and the local Hindus for advantage. Hindus by and large live in the urban centres and control the cross-border trade, while Muslims dominate the rural landscape, doing construction and farm work.
“Both communities try to gain an edge. Nobody wants to lie low,” said Bimal Mondal (name changed), a man who admitted he took part in the rioting at Tatra village.
The scene was a bit like a war zone on Wednesday. There were raids and counter raids between Tatra and Paikpara villages. The windscreens of at least three police vehicles were smashed at Paikpara in the afternoon and police fired tear-gas shells to scatter the mobs.
Cross-border migration has been heavy in recent decades, and it introduced a demographic imbalance and a sociological skew in the region. Time and again, Muslims are accused of sheltering co-religionists from across the border. “Fake documents are easily made. A lot of people slip across the border every day by bribing the BSF,” said a Baduria resident, Imran Ali.
While the teenager’s Muslim neighbours and most Hindus in the region blame these ‘outsider Muslims’ for the rampage in Basirhat town, where Section 144 was clamped on Wednesday, Muslims in rural parts of the subdivision put up posters at various locations demanding the boy’s hanging. “Peace will return only when the boy is hanged,” said Latehman Mollah of Malancha, a town near Basirhat.
Many Hindus also want exemplary punishment for the boy to bring back peace to the region. “Why should we suffer because some kid has posted an image? We don’t have anything to do with him. He should be punished,” said Radhika Mitra of Tatra village whose tiled roof was torn down by stone-pelting mobs from Paikpara village.
Despite the internet shutdown in all of North 24 Parganas since Tuesday afternoon, wild rumours of desecration of places of worship have been circulating in and around Basirhat town. “We want peace and have put up white flags along with Indian flags. But we want to protect our religious sites too,” said Ibrahim Gazi of the Trimohini locality in Basirhat.
In Baduria town, there were peace rallies on Wednesday and local people banded together to set up bipartisan vigilance groups. “We have decided to form peace committees to protect temples and mosques. The peace committees will take out rallies urging people to forget animosity,” said Sheikh Imdadul.
Meanwhile, the faceoff between West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and governor Keshari Nath Tripathi over the Basirhat communal violence turned uglier on Wednesday. Several Trinamool Congress leaders fired fresh salvos at the 83-year-old governor and the state BJP demanded Mamata’s sacking and President’s rule in her place.
While education minister Partha Chatterjee said the governor’s house had turned into a BJP party office, panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee called Tripathi a ‘parrot of the BJP’.
Responding to these allegations, the governor issued a press statement saying that Partha Chatterjee’s statements were made to cover up the lapses of the state government and divert attention from the law and order issue.
On the other hand, BJP called for president’s rule in Bengal. “The Trinamool Congress government has proved to be inefficient. We will write to the Union Home Ministry. The CM should step down,” the party said.