Short-sighted electoral politics. “Temples vandalised, Hindus under siege in Bengal,” by Sandhya Jain for Niti Central, May 22 (thanks to Amit):
Amidst tensions over attempts to encroach land belonging to a temple in Balagarh, Hooghly, West Bengal, prohibitory orders under Section 144 have been imposed, even as the mainstream media abides by an informal diktat to black out the news. Aggrieved Hindus say the trouble arose when members of one community sought to extend a nearby graveyard into the temple space, and attacked the temple deities, triggering violence. The administration, in a display of blatant partisanship, has arrested six persons from the wronged community only.
The Lakshmi Narayan temple possesses 48 decimal area as devottar property, and lays adjacent to a graveyard (kabristan). The State Government allotted Rs 10.5 lakh to construct a boundary wall for the graveyard. But when construction began, the Hindus objected that it was encroaching upon the devottar area.
According to volunteers of the Hindu Samhati that monitors Hindu grievances in the State, on the night of May 19, some miscreants entered the temple and damaged the principal deity. The next day, angry Hindus blockaded the road, but calmed down when the block development officer came to the village and made some assurances. But on the morning of May 21, the deities were thrown out of the temple, triggering high tension in the village.
The administration has taken a blatantly pro-minority stand and arrested six persons from the Hindu community only. Four of the arrested persons are being held at Balagarh police station, but two have been shifted to Chinsurah police station. The arrested persons include the BJP block president Subhash Khan, who was produced in the Chinsurah court today. Another person, Samir Singha, was badly beaten in the course of protests against the iconoclasm, and is currently in a hospital.
The forthcoming panchayat election — scheduled to be held in three phases on July 4, 6 and 9 respectively, is widely believed to be the cause of the administration’s laxity (or indulgence) of the belligerence of the minority community that has been increasingly assertive in recent times.
Ironically, while neighbouring Bangladesh is convulsed in a struggle against Islamic fundamentalism and is demanding punishment for Jamaat-i-Islami cadres who participated in war crimes during the bloody conflict that led to independence from Pakistan in 1971, in West Bengal, the Jamiat Ulama-E-Hind organised a massive rally in support of Bangladesh’s criminals, and denounced the Sheikh Hasina Government.
As Muslims comprise approximately 27 per cent of the population, their vote determines the outcome of every election. Hence, few parties care to confront or even contain the assertiveness of the community. In a tripartite contest between the CPM, the Congress, and the ruling Trinamool Congress, the winner is decided by the Muslim vote.
Under the first-past-the-post system, a party needs only around 33 per cent of the vote to win. Once the Muslim vote is assured, there is no need to woo the 63 per cent Hindu majority as only about 10 per cent additional vote is needed to beat one’s rivals to the victory post. That much is available from the cadre base of each party, caste of the individual candidate, and so on.
This is a backdrop against which incidents have been taking place in West Bengal in recent days. On May 20, Hindus of Malancha, a village under Diamond Harbour police station in 24 Paraganas South district, prevented radicals from the neighbouring Muslim-dominated village of Kamalpur from hooking (stealing) electricity in their village. Thanks to the local police and administration turning a blind eye, hooking electricity from Hindu-dominated villages by Islamists in 24 Paraganas South is a routine affair.
Matters came to a head on May 17, when Hindus disconnected a number of electric wires. Previously, a freak thunderstorm had ripped a number of electric wires from the lampposts and almost electrocuted some Hindus. To prevent electrocutions, the Hindus disconnected the wires and this annoyed the Muslims who descended on the village in large numbers. This triggered a scuffle between the two communities.
Thereafter, on the evening of May 20, around 7.30 pm, some miscreants attacked Hindus with lethal weapons to restore the connections. The Hindus did not react but telephoned local Trinamool leaders Jayanta Ghosh, Aman Sanpui, Razzaq Sheikh and warned them about the fast-deteriorating situation in the village. Although Jayanta Ghosh reportedly promised to send a police contingent to the village, this did not happen according to the locals.
This incident closely follows an attack on a Kali temple in Keranitola, Medinipur town, West Midnapore District, on May 12, by a large crowd of fundamentalists. In protest, the Bajrang Dal and other youth clubs blocked roads and observed a bandh in some areas of the town.
Tensions rose when a Hindu, riding a motorcycle, collided with a Muslim bicycle rider and was caught and held for a ransom of Rs 25,000. However, he was rescued by members of his community without paying ransom. In revenge, the local Kali Temple was attacked and the icon of the deity damaged.
To prevent the situation from getting out of hand, the Police and Rapid Action Force (RAF) descended on the area to pacify the crowds. Three Hindu boys were detained and later another six were arrested even though it was a temple that had been desecrated.
Recently, on the morning of May 20, a Bajrangbali (Hanuman) temple near Kansai Bridge, near Midnapore, was desecrated and the murtis damaged. The local MLA rushed to the spot, supervised removal of the debris, and promised early installation of a new icon.
Communal tensions are simmering in Bengal on account of the myriad concessions the Trinamool regime has showered upon the minorities. These include grants to Imams and Muezzins, distribution of cycles among Muslim girl students, and special advantages to others under schemes to improve the lot of OBCs. No commensurate scheme has been invoked to benefit any Hindu group so far.
With nearly seven weeks to go for the Panchayat poll, Hindus in the State are a nervous lot as they have few choices between the CPM and the Trinamool, and neither party protects them.
It’s the same story the world over.