For most of last week, police and paramilitary forces posted in Baduria and its surrounding areas in North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal struggled to contain the violence that threatened to tear apart the Hindu and Muslim communities living in the area. Police moved swiftly to take into custody the Hindu boy, all of 16, who had posted the "offensive" Facebook post that triggered a mob of Muslims to clash with Hindus. A local shop-owner, caught in the violence on his way home from work, was stabbed to death.
However, over the weekend, though Internet services had still not been restored, Baduria, Basirhat, Swarupnagar and Deganga were hobbling back to normalcy. News agencies such as PTI and IANS reported from the ground that the state police and central paramilitary forces were still posted in the area and were keeping a tight hold over the law and order situation. Muslim leaders were trying to calm people down and prevent further bloodletting.
A police official told PTI: "The eagerness of the local people to bring back normalcy in the area is actually helping us restore peace here."
Two days ago Mohammad Kamruzzaman, the secretary of the West Bengal Minority Youth Federation, told the Hindustan Times that he was "shocked and ashamed" at the violence.
"The eagerness of the local people to bring back normalcy in the area is actually helping us restore peace here."
"This incident is a major setback for our community and our fight against the atmosphere of intolerance perpetrated by the RSS. Muslims, who so far got sympathies, now stand accused," he said. Kamruzzaman said he travelled 10 kms to the Baduria police station, under siege from a mob demanding the arrest of the boy.
Muslim men tried to protect the rath yatra processions that came under attack, Abdur Kayum, a lecturer at Alia University, told HT, and Muslims pooled in money to help their Hindu neighbours whose shops and businesses were destroyed during rioting.
However, over the weekend, a clear attempt was noticed over social media and elsewhere to keep Bengal polarised. On her part, the Mamata Banerjee administration refused to let a central team of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), comprising MP Meenakshi Lekhi, Om Mathur and Satyapal Singh, from visiting Basirhat. A day before, actress-turned-BJP-politician Rupa Ganguly was also detained, further triggering anger among the party's politicians.
Twitter and Facebook were awash with images of the Gujarat riot of 2002, being passed off as one that took place in Bengal. A spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Nupur Sharma, used one such photo to call for protests at Jantar Mantar and came under under severe criticism. Even after 24 hours and thousands of tweets pointing out her 'mistake', she neither deleted the tweet not issued a clarification. For the gullible on WhatsApp propaganda groups, the Gujarat riots photo could well be the representative image for Basirhat and few would know the difference.
A controversial BJP MP from Hyderabad tweeted out a video exhorting Hindus to "give a befitting reply" to Muslims, in what can clearly be called hate speech targeting the minority community. "Just as Hindus were driven out of Kashmir, these people will drive Hindus out of Bengal to convert it to a land like Bangladesh," T Raja Singh said, alluding to a call for Sharia — the hardline law governing Islam — sweeping through the neighbouring state.
"Hindus of Bengal should give a befitting reply, just like the Hindus of Gujarat had earlier done in 2002. They should stand up against those who killed Hindus in 2002," Singh, who had earlier threatened to behead anyone opposed to the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, said.
Jis prakar Kashmir se Hinduo ko bhagaya gaya usi prakar Bengal se Hinduo ko bhaga ke Bangladesh jaisa rajya ye log bana denge-Raja Singh,BJP pic.twitter.com/kyMkrKGiJv
— ANI (@ANI_news) July 8, 2017
It's ironic that Singh slammed communal rioters by referring to one of the worst communal riots India has ever witnessed in recent memory.
Singh had also said last year that those who eat beef should be killed, and approved of "consequences" after Dalits were flogged in Gujarat's Una.
Singh's comments have had the Opposition bristling. Congress leader Meem Afzal was quoted as saying that "the statements by Raja Singh are shameful. By mentioning Gujarat riots, he is trying to claim that Modi government's persecution in Gujarat was justified."
Banerjee has announced a judicial inquiry into the communal violence and transferred the Superintendent of Police of North 24 Parganas district and the Inspector General of Police (South Bengal). Meanwhile, a disturbing trend has emerged on Facebook and Twitter. There have been several posts calling for the alienation of Bengalis in other states.
This is reminiscent of the time Kashmiri Muslims came under attack in other states following stone-pelting in the Valley. Students were beaten up in Rajasthan, while huge hoardings calling for Kashmiris to leave the state, came up in Uttar Pradesh. And if these tweets are any indication, similar calls for othering of a whole community has started in Bengal too, based on the belief that the Mamata Banerjee government is victimising Hindus, while liberal Bengalis are sympathetic to Muslims.
They should be not be allowed to take refuge in other states
— Aditya Patel (@Aditya2d) July 9, 2017
Meanwhile the Trinamool Congress has accused the BJP of bringing people "from across the border" and instigating the locals to spread violence and destroy communal harmony, PTI reported.
Party secretary general Partha Chatterjee said: "There have been consistent attempts to destroy the communal harmony in West Bengal. And we have been noticing that people from across the borders are coming to this part of the land with support of the BJP, and creating trouble here and trying to instigate people and spread violence with their hate speeches."
"We are seeing that a few BJP leaders in the state, with the blessings of their government at the Centre, are trying to initiate violence in different places in the state in a planned manner," he added.
Locals at Magurkhali, in South 24 Parganas, which has rarely seen communal clashes, told NDTV that late on Sunday "outsiders on motorcycles" came to their hamlet to look for the boy who shared the Facebook post.
"When we saw them coming in, most of us ran inside," Shahjahan Mondal, a villager, told NDTV.
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