CHOPRA (WEST BENGAL): Vexed with repeated cow thefts before and during the month of Ramzan, residents of Durgapur village, where three Muslim youth were lynched on Thursday night, formed night-guard committees who let the alleged cow thieves break into the barn to steal cows on the fateful night.
The farmers claim that 50 cows have been stolen in a span of two months and that there is a spike in the theft of cows usually ahead of Eid.
“The cow thieves came in a motorbike and two bicycles from across the river. Our night guards hiding in the bushes let them come to our village and steal cows. They were caught red-handed while attempting to break into the barn of Atul Basu. We caught them and informed the police, who came late. By then, an angry mob of over 1,000 people from neighbouring villages gathered near Atul Basu’s house and lynched the three thieves,” said Sanjay Poddar, brother of Krishna Poddar who along with Atul Basu’s two sons Asim and Asit have been arrested in the lynching case.
The families of the victims said that the trio had stepped out from home on their bikes after getting a call on their mobile phones. What they received the next day were Whatsapp images of the youngsters’ mutilated bodies.
The site of the lynching, the main road in front of Atul Basu’s house, has been cleaned off the stains of blood and is now covered with hay which is being spread out to dry, a common practice throughout Bengal. The villagers said that they had formed several night-guard committees of youngsters who take spots atop rooftops and in bushes and change shifts after every three hours throughout the night. Some of the houses even set up electrified fences around the barns to ward off cow thieves.
The move to form these committees was a result of the pressing problem of cow theft in the region. Residents say that over 50 cows have been stolen — 24 from Durgapur alone — in the past two months in the Hindu-dominated region in Muslim-majority Uttar Dinajpur district of West Bengal. “The anger of all the surrounding villages fell upon the three nabbed thieves,” said local resident Madhab Mullick, about the brutal lynching.
Whataboutery in the names of the killed has begun in this communally polarised area, as BJP’s Chopra Block mandal 2 general secretary Subodh Chandra Sarkar, also a local resident, threatened to launch an agitation to reopen a case of a lynching of a Hindu man in neighbouring Muslim village Majhiali if the case against the three accused of Thursday night’s lynching is not withdrawn.
“A Rajbongshi Hindu man was beaten to death by CPM cadres, who were Muslims, a year ago after his bike accidentally hit a Muslim man on a bicycle. None were arrested. We will put pressure on the police to open the case if the lynching case in Durgapur is not withdrawn,” he said.
Sarkar said the BJP was seeing a growth in population among both Hindus and Muslims in the region.
Other villagers said that the cow thefts in the region increase before and during Ramzan and that the bovines might have been being smuggled across the border which is just 7 km away. “The cow thefts spike before and during Ramzan. The cattle are easily smuggled across through Bangladesh through river and under the barbed wire,” said local resident Rajesh Roy.
An 80-metre-long tunnel under the Indo-Bangla international border was found near Chopra in April this year. It was suspected that the tunnel might have been used to smuggle cattle across the border.
The region around Chopra has had communal tensions earlier during festivals. It witnessed a communal clash on during Rath Yatra, same time of year last year, over the burning of a rath (chariot).