West Bengal is known as the land of festivals. A land which believes in ‘baro mashe, tero porbo’, which literally translates to thirteen festivals in twelve months. There have been some festivals that have historically been celebrated in a grand manner, and some that have taken a bigger scale recently.
Durga Puja, Kali Puja, Saraswati Puja have always been big in Bengal. But Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti have assumed a much larger scale now than ever before.
This also coincides with the BJP making inroads into Bengal and making a mark on the political landscape of the state.
Bengal has been witnessing violence during Ram Navami during the last few years.The Trinamool Congress government says this happens because right-wing outfits assert themselves violently during these festivals. The opposition BJP, on its part, alleges that the state government tries to curb their rights to assemble and take out religious processions.
On Thursday, the Calcutta High Court ordered a probe by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) into the violence in Howrah, Hooghly and Dalkhola during Ram Navami this year.
WHAT HAPPENED THIS YEAR DURING RAM NAVAMI PROCESSION
Violence broke out between two groups when a Ram Navami procession was taken out in West Bengal’s Howrah city on March 30. Vehicles were torched, shops ransacked and stones pelted during the violence.
Chanting slogans of ‘Jai Shri Ram’, thousands of people took part in those processions in Howrah, Kharagpur, Barrackpore, Bhadreswar, Siliguri and Asansol. Drumbeats, saffron flags and large cutouts of Lord Ram featured prominently in these processions.
In Howrah, stones were pelted at a Ram Navami procession and several vehicles were set aflame.
In Howrah, youths from Swami Vivekananda Seva Sangh were seen brandishing swords and hockey sticks during the Ram Navami rally. The rally was taken out in Howrah’s Sankrail area where several people were carrying armed weapons during the Ram Navami procession.
Stones were pelted again in Howrah on March 31, a day after violence broke out between two groups when a Ram Navami procession was taken out in the city on Thursday evening.
In a similar incident, vehicles were torched in Shibpur as well during a Ram Navami procession. The violence broke out when a Ram Navami procession was crossing the Shibpur locality. A number of cars and a few police vehicles were damaged during the violence.
Violence was also witnessed in West Bengal’s Dalkhola city on March 30. One person was killed and several others, including police personnel, were injured after a clash erupted between two communities during the Ram Navami celebration.
MAMATA BANERJEE BLAMES RIGHT-WING OUTFITS
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said she had cautioned right-wing outfits about taking out processions through Muslim-dominated areas.
“I have said it earlier that violence may occur if you take out the Ram Navami rally. This is the time when Muslims observe Ramzan and cannot be involved in any wrongdoing. I heard that there was a riot in Howrah,” the chief minister said, using the word ‘danga (riot)’ in her speech several times.
“No one stopped you from taking out a rally. I have heard that they have done something in Howrah. I will give them a befitting reply. Willingly they are depriving one community. Everyone keep your eyes open. No one will be arrested if he has not done anything wrong. I will not allow bulldozers. Whoever is rioting today, listen carefully. I will not spare whoever commits the crime. Howrah, Park Circus and Islampur are their targets,” she added.
CONTROVERSY OVER PROCESSION PERMISSION
Amid claims by Mamata Banerjee that the route of the procession was altered by the organisers and allegations by her nephew and TMC leader Abhishek Banerjee that organisers didn’t have the requisite permission, the convenor said he had police approval.
Indra Deo Dubey, convener, Ram Navami Shobha Yatra in Howrah, claimed that he got police permission to carry out the procession on the six-kilometre route. He asserted that the procession had been taken out on the same route for the last 10 years.
A letter from the Howrah Police Commissioner dated March 21 surfaced addressed to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Anjani Putra Seva, allowing them conditional police permission to hold Ram Navami rallies.
Another memo was given to the VHP and Anjani Putra Sena on March 28 seeking some details of the processions, including a copy of last year’s permission, exact number of participants, the route of rally mentioning the starting and ending points, and exact starting and finishing time of the rallies.
The VHP claimed that it replied on March 29 and was granted permission to take out the procession.
BJP BLAMED MAMATA GOVT
BJP leader Amit Malviya held West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee responsible for the Howrah violence.
Reacting to the violence and arson in Bengal, BJP’s IT cell chief Amit Malviya tweeted, “In brazen disregard for Hindu sentiments, Mamata Banerjee held dharna on Ramanavami, then warned Hindus about avoiding Muslim areas because it was Ramzan, forgetting that Hindus too were fasting for Navratr. As Home Minister of WB she is directly responsible for Howrah violence.”
CALCUTTA HC ORDERS NIA PROBE
The Calcutta High Court on Thursday ordered a National Investigation Agency (NIA) probe into the violence in Howrah, Hooghly and Dalkhola during Ram Navami this year.
A division bench of acting chief justice ordered West Bengal Police to hand over all the necessary documents related to the investigation to the National Investigation Agency within two weeks.
The high court’s order came on BJP MLA Subhendu Adhikari PIL seeking an NIA probe into the violence on Ram Navami in West Bengal.
The order of the high court comes after the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) took cognizance of a complaint alleging an attack by miscreants on Ram Navami procession despite permission in West Bengal’s Howrah district.
BENGAL’S HISTORY OF POLITICAL VIOLENCE
Last year too, there were reports of communal clashes also came from West Bengal’s Howrah city. The clashes took place in the same Shibpur area of the city, and police personnel had been deployed in large numbers to maintain law and order. Around 10 people were injured in the clashes.
But disturbances during Ram Navami and other religious events are a mere footnote to West Bengal’s long and ignominious history of political violence.
In its heyday, the Naxalite movement was the principal reason for political violence. But the Naxalite activists were subsequently outlawed.
The current cycle began in the 1990s, with frequent clashes between the ruling CPM cadres and Congress workers. One of the biggest incidents happened in Nunoor in July 2000. It was a bloody clash between supporters of the then ruling CPM and TMC workers.
A year ago, 10 people, including women and children, were burnt alive in Birbhum in an attack viewed as retaliation following a TMC worker’s killing.
The result of the West Bengal Assembly election in May 2021 heralded the return of Mamata Banerjee as the chief minister of the state for a third consecutive term. While Mamata’s victory was being seen as the Opposition’s challenge to the BJP’s electoral hegemony, it was the post-poll violence in the state that made most headlines in the national media.
Post-poll violence was reported from across the state. BJP workers and supporters reportedly fled their homes fearing assault by TMC members. Some are said to have never returned.