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Mainstream, VOL 60 No 43 October 15, 2022

West Bengal: Skirmishes at Mominpur | Upal Chakraborty

Saturday 15 October 2022


by Upal Chakraborty *

Mominpur is a locality in Kolkata familiar to me personally because of various reasons.

The most vivid memories date back to a period in the late eighties when I recollect my father taking up a consultancy assignment with a pharmaceutical company in that locality after his retirement. The owner of the company was an eccentric person with a penchant for late-night discussions. His meets meetings normally commenced around 7 pm, and continued till 10 or 11. After receiving a call from my father, I used to drive down to pick him up at those late hours.

This was more than thirty years back, but I vividly remember the communal harmony that prevailed then. Burkha-clad Muslim women chatted up with sindoor-smeared Hindu women freely, sitting on the famous Kolkata roks. Same was true for the men. Even at 11 pm, there was no sign of insecurity. Young girls roamed freely on the streets. The locality does not strictly belong to the minority-dominated Garden Reach or the interiors of Kidderpore. Demographers suggest that the proportion of both communities are equal here. It is located next to the posh Alipur region where top industrialists live in their palatial buildings with huge manicured lawns. Diamond Harbour Road intersects the two localities. Hence, chances of a spill over to adjoining areas are high.

I was naturally interested when I read of the riots last weekend. Rather, distressed. But I now breathe a sigh of relief as it becomes increasingly clear that Hindu fundamentalists are making a mountain out of a molehill. Incidents were triggered by the display of a flag on the occasion of Milad-un-Nabi. Hindu fundamentalists, with their scanty knowledge, assumed it was a Pakistani flag but it was actually the Islamic flag which only resembles a Pakistani flag - a green flag and the stars but designed differently. What followed was despicable. There were a series of skirmishes. Both sides flared up, pelted stones and hurled bottles at each other, damaging several vehicles. On the next night, a group of people ransacked many houses on the Mayurbhanj and Bhukailash roads. People protesting this incident surrounded the Ekbalpur police station and vandalised it. Incidents of bomb-throwing and vandalism elsewhere were also reported. Several shops were torched. Five policemen, including two IPS officers, were injured after being attacked by the mob. 36 persons were arrested the next day. The law-enforcing authorities were, as usual, initially inert, although subsequently the RAF was deployed and Section 144 imposed.

 Life limped back to normal in a couple of days. However, the fundamentalists are not the ones to lie low. A series of hate speeches followed. The CM [Chief Minister] was attacked personally in unprintable language. Comparisons were drawn with the riots at Noakhali during the dark days of Partition where thousands perished, the situation brought under control through Gandhiji’s personal intervention. It so happened that both disturbances were triggered on the day of Lokkhi Pujo, a few days after Hindus celebrate Durga Pujo. The similarity ends there. In this case, not a single soul perished, even injuries were minimal. Nor were idols desecrated. Such facetious comments were obviously intended to provoke. The BJP leaders including the State President made a bee-line for the area but the police was right in stopping them because their motives were clearly suspect.

Swapan Dasgupta, a journalist and a BJP leader, tweeted, “The rampaging mob violence targeting businesses and property of the Hindu minority in the Kidderpore- Ekbalpur region of Kolkata is alarming. It stems from the distorted empowerment resulting from a belief that one community is above the law and the norms of civic responsibility.” Targeting just one community is patently unfair and emanates from ulterior motives. He continues: “I have written to the Prime Minister drawing his attention to the panic of vulnerable Hindu communities in West Bengal to this ugly assertion of sectarian identity.... “. The BJP was clearly trying to gain mileage although they have never been successful in the past.

The media needs to report such incidents dispassionately, without naming communities. It instead blacks them out. The standard excuse proffered is that reporting tend to aggravate communal discord. However, in the era of social media, avoidances only helps rumour-mongers, like in this instance the comparison with Noakhali and similar exaggerations. Attempts to stoke communal passions need to be nipped in the bud. It is a standard Sanghi propaganda that an imminent Islamic takeover in Bengal is round the corner. It originates from demented, bigoted minds typical of the Parivar.

There is another group of individuals under a highly-qualified professional by the name of Garga Chatterjee, and his Banglapokho, a meeting-ground for Bengali chauvinists. It so happened that both the sparring groups in this case were not Bengali-speaking but originating from the Hindi heartland. Garga’s solution — clean Kolkata of the immigrants. They are the source of communal strife inside Kolkata for the last few years. His assertion perhaps does have a grain of truth in it, but the solution of a “Great Kolkata cleaning” is equally bizarre, smacking of genocide although he ostensibly speaks of putting all of them on a train for the heartland. Such comments lead to an additional dimension of disharmony and needs to be countered equally forcefully. The migrants from other States reside in Bengal because they are constitutionally eligible to. Instead of such xenophobic comments, he should ask his mentor, the Chef Minister of West Bengal, to initiate early action against the miscreants to ensure that similar incidents do not recur in the future.

The law-enforcing authorities in Bengal have never, in the past, crowned themselves with glory in tackling communal riots in time. Fortunately, the incidents have mostly been minor in nature and of short duration.

(Author: Upal Chakraborty has worked for various corporate organizations in a long career of 35 years, and, after retirement, currently focuses on writing articles on various social topics, consultancy and teaching)

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