KOLKATA: Sunil Sarkar, a tea vendor in the Basirhat market was privy to the unfolding communal violence in Basirhat in North 24 Parganas district. He had kept his shop open on Wednesday despite a curfew to feed BSF jawans, police and rioters alike.
“On Wednesday morning, when I went to Muslim-dominated Paikpara village to fetch milk for tea, I saw youngsters gathering in small groups. I understood tension was brewing. I knew the leader who was mobilising the youth. I asked him to not pull this incident like a rubber. He said ‘Kaka (uncle), you stay out of this,” said 57-year-old Sarkar.
As Sarkar was returning to his shop, he saw at least 10 police vehicles pass him towards the Muslim areas. “An hour later, the forces returned. They looked exhausted and tired of fighting with the angry mobs. Seeing the window panes of at least three vehicles smashed, I understood what they had faced in Paikpara. I gave them bread and bananas along with hot tea. That soothed their nerves,” he added.
Though Basirhat returned to normalcy on Saturday, residents of the border town and neighbouring villages cannot forget the communal storm that ravaged them Tuesday and Wednesday. An inflammatory Facebook post by a 10th standard student triggered the communal clash. Over the next two days, centuries of camaraderie between the two communities vanished and a passion for revenge took its place.
“We personally knew every adversary whose shops and homes we were vandalising. But, if we don’t hit back, we would be perceived as cowardly beings and would be subjected to similar aggression in the future as well,” said Raju Das (name changed), a resident of Tyantra village— 3 km from Basirhat town— who was engaged in attacks and counter-attacks with neighbouring Paikpara village.
“Due to aggressive posture of the Paikpara residents, the Hindus of Tyantra village realised that they would be attacked,” said Sarkar. Being the only shop open in the market, many of Tyantra residents visited him for errands and discussed their plans.
“The Hindus of Tyantra were scared. Rumours spread that Muslims from the Paikpara village as well as from Malancha, some 24 km away, would join them and attack Basirhat town and their village. They sought the help of Hindus of Basirhat town to fight against the rural mobs. Within a few hours, a lot of iron rods, sickles, hammers, bamboo and wooden staffs were amassed. People acted very swiftly to ward off the attackers,” he said.