Communal violence in Rishra over Ram Navami continues to halt daily life

Communal violence in Rishra continued for the second day in a row disrupting public life as locals live under the dark shadows of uncertainty.

Communal violence in Rishra over Ram Navami continues to halt daily life

Communal violence in Rishra, an industrial town in West Bengal’s Hooghly district, over a Ram Navami rally on the evening of Sunday, April 2nd, continued even on Monday, as the police failed to maintain the law and order situation.

Incidentally, it’s the second such instance of communal violence in West Bengal within 72 hours, after a similar incident occurred in Howrah district’s Shibpur on the evening of Thursday, March 30th.

East Post’s correspondent reported that sporadic communal clashes continued across the GT Road, opposite the Wellington Jute Mill, from Monday morning onwards, and crude bombs were hurled at Rishra Station premises from 9.30pm onwards.

This massive bombing affected railway traffic on Howrah-Bardhaman main line as many local and express trains remained stuck at stations on the route. Train services resumed after 1am of Tuesday, April 4th.

Communal violence in Rishra: The chronology

The Howrah-Bardhaman main line of Eastern Railways bisects Rishra. Bengali Hindus and Muslims live on the western side of the railway line, while non-Bengali Hindus and Muslims live on the eastern side.

Wellington Jute Mill, which has been closed for the past 25 months, is at the extreme east of the railway station, on the banks of the Ganges, along the GT Road. It’s a mixed community locality, where mostly the former workers of the local jute mills reside.

Communal clashes in Rishra erupted on Sunday evening when a huge Ram Navami rally, which commenced from Bangur Park area near the railway station, reached the Sandhya Bazar area close to the Wellington Jute Mill. Participants armed with sharp weapons started a ruckus after alleging that the local Muslims have pelted stones at the rally.

India’s federally ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) member of the Parliament (MP) Dilip Ghosh and member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) Biman Ghosh were present at the rally and allegedly provoked the scuffle between the participants and the local Muslims.

East Post’s reporter has been informed by anonymous sources that the Muslims who gathered to pray at the local mosque around 6.30pm started objecting to the loud music played by the ‘DJ’ sound systems and the provocative slogans raised by the BJP MP’s followers. A skirmish took place which quickly transformed into a massive clash between the two sides.

The unrest spread quickly to Sandhya Bazar, Masjid Lane, Maitri Lane, NS Road, etc along the GT Road. Stones were pelted by both sides and crude bombs were also hurled. Locals also alleged that shots were fired by the arsonists. Vehicles and two-wheelers on the road were set ablaze by the arsonists. Police vehicles and fire engines were not spared either.

MLA Biman and Rishra Police Station’s officer-in-charge Piyali Biswas suffered injuries along with others, but no one was reported killed. The police arrested 12 people on suspicion of involvement in communal clashes in Rishra till Monday morning and imposed Section 144 in the area which prohibits an assembly of five or more people.

As the situation worsened, Dilip fled the affected area. He alleged that the province’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) had provoked the communal violence in Rishra, and the police didn’t act responsibly to stop the mayhem.

On the other hand, TMC’s Rajya Sabha MP Shantanu Sen alleged that the unrest was orchestrated by the BJP, and he drew a comparison to similar incidents of violence during Ram Navami rallies in Bihar, Maharashtra, and other provinces.

East Post’s correspondent reported on Monday that the residents of both communities have alleged that the communal violence in Rishra wouldn’t have taken place on Sunday had the police acted promptly.

It has been alleged that the police retreated when violent clashes erupted between the two sides. However, soon a large contingent of policemen arrived and unleashed baton-charge and fired teargas shells to bring the situation under control.

Communal violence in Rishra: Mayhem on Monday

Tensions remained high across Rishra even on Monday. Residents of both communities told East Post’s correspondent on Monday that they are in great fear as hate-mongering and communal polarisation are taking place throughout the locality, and, as a result, sporadic clashes continue in various areas.

On Monday afternoon, our correspondent found that all shops, including eateries, were closed near Wellington Jute Mill. Some shops were open on the small roads and lanes that are connected to the GT Road but there were no buyers, quite uncommon during the Iftar time in the Islamic fasting month of Ramzan. There has been a large police deployment in front of all religious sites. Rapid Action Force (RAF) has been conducting repeated route marches across GT Road.

Sporadic violence erupted in various lanes connecting Maitri Path, Masjid Lane, Gandhi Sadak, etc, from 6.30pm onwards. East Post correspondent reported that though the GT Road was desolate at that time, people crowded the lanes and bylanes as tension simmered throughout the area.

The correspondent reported that the police entered various lanes along Maitri Path and started dispersing the crowd. By 9.15pm, the lanes became completely deserted. No one was seen on the GT Road. However, several youths have been found roaming around on motorcycles with saffron flags near the railway station.

East Post correspondent reports that mutual suspicion prevails among both communities of the locality. They are afraid to even walk out of their houses. Workers at Jayashree Textiles and other factories told the reporter that they are afraid to go to work because of incidents of communal violence in Rishra. Parents are also worried as they can’t send their wards to schools due to the prevailing situation.

IFTU’s state committee member Madhav Upadhyay told East Post on Monday night that many workers are trapped inside Jayashree Textiles due to the ongoing communal violence in Rishra. Therefore, the union asked the authorities to accommodate the workers in the factory until normalcy is restored. Upadhyay informed East Post that the authorities have accepted the demand and made arrangements for the workers.

Labour unions allege a conspiracy

Communist Party of India’s (CPI) Hooghly district joint secretary and district All-India Trade Union Congress’s (AITUC) secretary Pranesh Biswas said they want peace to return. He said that the CPI wants peace to be restored at any cost and the administration must conduct a proper investigation and act against the culprits responsible for the mayhem.

Biswas alleged that the communal violence in Rishra is a conspiracy hatched by the capitalists to crack the Wellington Jute Mill workers’ unity and claimed that the CPI would resist it by reaching out to the people.

Anjum Parvez, leader of the Indian National Congress’s trade union Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) told East Post that he isn’t in a position to speak as the situation has worsened.

IFTU leader Upadhyay said that the discontent among the workers is increasing. He alleged that such communal violence in Rishra didn’t take place in three decades. He alleged that the communal violence in Rishra is the handiwork of the TMC and the BJP. Upadhyay informed East Post that the IFTU wants to prioritise the safety and security of the workers.

Common people’s agony and allegations

East Post’s correspondent reported from Rishra that the common people of all communities repeatedly expressed their anger on Monday over the ongoing communal violence in Rishra.

A mill worker, who did not wish to be named, alleged that the tension in the region was being systematically created which benefited the political leaders at the expense of ordinary working people like him.

People belonging to both communities in the affected areas alleged that they were not involved in the violence but there has been incessant religious polarisation in their localities.

They alleged that polarisation is done for obnoxious political gains, while they are at the receiving end of the violence. When asked who is polarising the people, residents refused to answer.

Sukesh Mali (42), a schoolteacher and a resident of the Bengali-dominated area on the western side of the railway line, informed that he returned from Uttarpara by train around 4pm on Sunday when he saw the Ram Navami procession near the station. He said there was a huge crowd of saffron-clad people playing DJ and chanting “Jai Shri Ram”.

Mali told East Post’s correspondent that the cacophony was itself enough to scare the onlookers. After returning home that evening, he came to know that clashes had started.

Mali also alleged that he later came to know that the protestors raised inflammatory slogans near the mosque on GT Road, which forced the Muslims to protest.

Mali also lamented that he saw at least three students of his school, who have appeared for their 10th standard board examination this year, participating in the rally.

Passengers stuck at Rishra Station till midnight also expressed their anger to the East Post correspondent. They complained that the police could have thwarted the incident of communal violence in Rishra quickly, but allegedly due to political reasons, they have been reluctant to act, thereby increasing the suffering and insecurity of the common people.

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