Communal clashes erupt in India's West Bengal after Muharram processions, Durga Puja celebrations?

Devotees carry an idol of Hindu goddess Durga before immersing it in the river Ganges on the last day of the Durga Puja festival on September 28, 2009 in Kolkata, India. Photograph:( Getty )

Kolkata, West Bengal, India Oct 15, 2016, 12.33 PM (IST) Pooja Mehta

Communal clashes marked the culmination of Durga Puja celebrations and Muharram processions this year in several parts of eastern Indian state of West Bengal. 

 

According to locals, clashes erupted in several parts of the state on Tuesday as five-day Durga Puja festivity (observed by the Bengali community to honour Hindu goddess Durga) came to an end. Several people including some police personnel were injured in the clashes, sources said. 

 

Clashes in Naihati town 

In Naihati town of North 24 Parganas district, eyewitnesses allege that they saw hundreds of outsiders entering the area, who claimed they had come to ‘protect’ members of their community.

 

Reportedly provoked by the leaders of a right-wing group, these outsiders hurled bombs at a Muharram procession (where members of the Muslim community mourn the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad).  The participants of the procession hurled bombs in return and clashes ensued.  

 

“The situation is still tense here. While it is usually peaceful around the daytime, as soon as darkness descends, the anti-social elements from both the communities start hurling bombs at each other. Cops turn mute spectators and they do not do anything to bring the situation under control. It’s been close to a week that the situation continues to worsen but little has been done to bring back normalcy in the town,” a local told WION pleading anonymity. 

 

“The leaders of the ruling party, Trinamool Congress (TMC),  who are protesting against the current situation and are trying to avert such clashes are also coming under fire. Several bombs were hurled in front of the Trinamool Congress party office to foil their attempts," he added. 

 

As darkness descends, the anti-social elements from both the communities start hurling bombs at each other. Cops turn mute spectators and they do not do anything to bring the situation under control," a local told WION.
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Some reports also suggest that when the Muharram procession was advancing in Naihati, members from the community requested for lowering the volume of loudspeakers playing devotional songs near a mosque, but were refused, which resulted in the breakout of clashes. 

 

Meanwhile, the local administration discontinued the ferry services on Friday evening to prevent any movement of outsiders into the Naihati area. It is being suspected that the outsiders, who initally instigated the clashes, entered the town through ferry and small boats. 

 

The ferry services on the Ghola Ghat in the area, however, are yet to be suspended. Meanwhile, the police has imposed section 144 of the Indian code of criminal procedure (CrPC) that prohibits gathering of more than four people in a public place. 

 

As WION spoke to the inspector general (IG) of West Bengal police (Law & Order), Anuj Sharma, regarding the matter, he assured that the situation is peaceful now. 

 

“We did receive few complaints of several groups clashing with each other. But, the situation is normal now. Police pickets have been put in place, wherever such incidents were reported,” Sharma said. 

 

'Provocation by hardliners'

In the industrial city of Kharagpur in Paschim Medinipur district and Chandannagar city of Hooghly district, it is being reported that several shops were burnt down and houses were looted by some members of the procession as it was on its way. Several parts of Chandannagar are still on a boil, sources informed WION.

 

Eyewitnesses claim that they have been hearing the noises of firing and bombing during the night hours.  

 

“Last night, we could hear sounds of firing and bombs going off at regular intervals. The trouble began on Friday evening as two armed groups charged each other with countrymade bombs. All the shops immediately closed down. We are living in a state of constant terror. The situation is beyond the control of the administration,” a local from the area told this correspondent on conditions anonymity. 

 

Similar incidents have been reported in several districts of the state — West Midnapore, Murshidabad, Howrah, Hooghly, Burdwan and North 24 Parganas and Malda. 

 

Locals claim that these groups are being provoked by hardliners and the administration has failed to maintain peace. 

 

In Malda district, Rapid Action Force, a specialised wing of the Indian CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force), has been deployed in areas where clashes erupted. According to locals, the areas continue to be tense. 

 

In several areas of North 24 Parganas, locals have come together for night-vigil in a bid to prevent further clashes.

 

(WION)