Kolkata

Uneasy calm as West Bengal limps to normalcy; 200 arrested, 42 FIRs registered

Police are seen patrolling Howrah where normal life was limping back to normalcy, on June 13, 2022.

Police are seen patrolling Howrah where normal life was limping back to normalcy, on June 13, 2022. | Photo Credit: Debasish Bhaduri

HOWRAH

Mohammad Ainul (45) and Aurangzeb (34) rummaged through a pile of debris that was once their shop in Panchala Bazar on Monday afternoon.  Both of them fruit vendors, travel from Bauria in the district to the busy Panchla market and make a living by selling fruits. “There is nothing left here. Who do we blame for this, Muslims or Hindus? Both are responsible for this,” Aurangzeb said. Ainul said that when the mob came rushing towards the shops from Panchla crossing, all the shopkeepers - both Hindus and Muslims - ran for their lives. “I covered my stall which had all kinds of fruits, apples, mangoes and pomegranate. See, everything has been turned to ashes,” Ainul said.

An uneasy calm prevails over Panchla Bazar, where violence had erupted on Saturday. Almost all the shops have downed their shutters. Several shops in the market have been set on fire. Panchla Bazar has shops of both Hindus and Muslims, which is clear from boards and signages on them.  

A security guard at an ATM says that another ATM of a nationalised bank few meters away has been vandalized. “What is the fault of the poor ATM? Doesn’t everyone use it?” the guard asked and hurriedly left the market. Several garment shops in the market including one owned by Sanath was burnt to ashes. Like the fruit vendors, Sanath who is picking up the pieces of his shop, also rued the fact that he could save his own life but could not protect his property. 

Protesters did not spare even a club called Netaji Sangha that stands at the entrance of the market. Not only photographs of national icons including Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose were destroyed, even the ambulance of the club was not spared by the protesters. While traders and shopkeepers stayed away from the market, scores of policemen stood guard to the rows of closed shops at Panchla bazar.

Protests over the offensive remarks made about Prophet Muhammad by former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson had started in Howrah on June 9. It started with blockade of the National Highway 6 and on June 10, the protests turned violent with porters targeting public property and private vehicles.

Muslims flee fearing arrest

About 20 km away at Salap crossing on the National Highway 6, rows of charred vehicles still bear testimony to the violence. Rita Porel, who works in a plastic factory, said that her house was surrounded by vehicles on fire when she returned from work on Saturday evening. The house which is nothing more than a cubicle wrapped by polyethene sheets is home to four persons and a goat. “All the Muslim neighbors have fled, maybe they fear arrests,” she said pointing out to the small houses located next to hers.

There are other places in the district along the NH that have borne the brunt of the violence. A pile of charred motorbikes are lying next to an armoured vehicle in front of the office of Superintendent of Police, Howrah Rural. Another six km from Panchla on the National Highway, at Mansatala, a BJP office that served as headquarters for Uluberia subdivision has been set on fire.

Not only Howrah, but the violence was witnessed at Rejinagar and Beldanga in Murshidabad, where internet services have been suspended. On Sunday evening, protesters attacked a local train at Bethuadahari railway station in State’s Nadia district. On Monday, the situation turned volatile in Bethuadahari  and police had to resort to baton charge to disperse the mob that gathered near the station. 

200 arrested, 42 FIRs

Senior officials of West Bengal police said that so far, 200 people have been arrested and 42 FIRs have been registered. Additional Director General (Law and Order), West Bengal Police Jawed Shamim said that there has been no loss of life or serious injury; people have been booked for road blockade, assault, rioting, and damage to public property and spreading communal hatred.

“Nobody will be spared. We will identify each and everybody and take strict action,” Mr. Shamim told journalists at the State Secretariat. The police officer said that the situation in Howrah district is under control and no fresh violence was reported in the past 48 hours.

In another development, Kolkata Police has issued summons to suspended BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma. Summons has been issued by Narkeldanga police station and she has been asked to appear on June 20. Complaint against Ms. Sharma has been registered at various police stations in the State.

 ‘Don’t allow protest rallies’

In another development, an association of Muslim clerics in the State has urged the State government not to grant permission to any more protest rallies, pointing out that “people cannot be held to ransom by violence. The State government should not give permission for any more protest rallies,” Md. Yahya, president of Bengal Imams Association said. Mr. Yahya, however, said that situation could have been handled better by the State administration. Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari said that para-military forces should be deployed to assist the police in maintaining law and order.


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Printable version | Jul 26, 2022 4:50:05 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/uneasy-calm-as-west-bengal-limps-to-normalcy-200-arrested-42-firs-registered/article65523590.ece