Bhatpara, is one of the most prominent names in the existing map of communal conflicts in West Bengal. Over the years, through various published and unpublished studies, AAMRA has noted that settlements near the Jute-mills along the river Hooghly are quite prone to communal polarisation and identity-led conflicts. This is a study of exploring identity consolidation in and around Bhatpara region through a series of fieldworks. This study unravels the complex politics-identity interface through intensive study of facts and artefacts. We have intentionally kept some of the raw data in the report, as there are more inconclusive questions than answers, as to what actually happened in Bhatpara over the years. There are multiple narratives, perspectives and dimensions to each of the conflicts that have rocked the political and everyday spectrum of West Bengal. This is part 5 of the report. To read Part 1 click here, to read Part 2 click here, to read part three click here, and to read Part 4 click here.
Interaction with girl children was done in a group, and it took place in a shelter they preferred. On behalf of AAMRA, our psychologist friends interacted with them. The children were between 8-16 years old. They stopped many times while talking, some were oblivious and some were silent, hushed up the incidents they faced. Here is a summarized version of our interaction with them.
Child 1: We were not at home. We are now homeless. Our Nani (maternal grandmother) stays nearby. Since she was unwell, we had gone there. Then the bombing started. We didn’t return back to our home. We were afraid to come out. Next morning we came to know that people had fled from their homes and taken refuge in a nearby mosque. We stay at the Garba line (labour’s colony).
Child 2: I went to my Nani’s house at Baruipara. My mother had to cast her vote. Since, bombing started on the day of the election, we stayed back. Then, we came to know that our homes have been looted. People told us not to go there. Since then, as our homes are ransacked we are staying at our Nani’s place.
AAMRA: Didn’t you go back to your house? What is the situation there now?
Child 2: They have looted everything. They didn’t even spare our clothes; even our new clothes which we bought for the Eid festival were also taken away or torn down.
Child 1: My new clothes have also been torn down.
AAMRA: You haven’t seen anyone. So who has seen them doing such things?
Child 2: A few women were present there.
Child 1: At our ‘line’ two people stayed back. When the hooligans came back for the second time and knocked at the door they didn’t open it. Then, they forcibly entered the room. When they entered, the little girl shouted “You people know me, no?” But the hooligans abused her and she left her home crying. On that day, I was also in a very bad state. When I came to know that our home was also destroyed and looted, I felt like crying out loud. (Sobbing) Everything is finished.
AAMRA: Do you think that this kind of thing can happen again?
Child 1: We don’t know Sir. Last year a similar incident happened on Ram Navami. In the morning we were brushing our teeth when we heard noises of hooligans coming in. We quickly went inside the room. We were very afraid. My little brother was also there. We feared for him more. They came and started vandalizing everything. Our mother pushed us under the bed. It stopped within ten minutes.
Police came to Kankinara Hindi High School. Arjun Singh also came. We came out to find that they have destroyed everything and thrown it outside. Then we went inside the middle room where all the women gathered together.
Child 2: We left for our home through the road which connects the local mosque. Everyone left the place only to come back about three months later. But this time the situation is worse than earlier and we don’t think we can actually stay here anymore. Our doors and windows are broken too.
AAMRA: Did you go inside your home?
Child 2: Yes. It was ransacked. This incident threw us in torment. People went to meet the police.
AAMRA: Are you children attending school now?
Child 2: No, but will go from tomorrow.
AAMRA: Did you all go to the same school?
Child 2: No, we two are Urdu Medium students of Kankinara High School and the other one is at Hindi Medium at Kankinara High School.
AAMRA: So there are Hindu students in your school too. How many of the students are Hindu and Muslim in the school?
Child 2: Our school has about 50 Muslim and 100 Hindu students.
AAMRA: Did you go to school after this incident?
Child 1: No, how can we go! We do not have school bags, books or exercise books.
Child 3: No, me too. We have no school bags etc.
Child 2: Yes, I went to school and got two books and exercise books too. Teachers have told us to attend school.
AAMRA: You met with the Hindu kids…
Child 2: Yesterday, I met one; I asked if the school is open. She didn’t respond and left.
AAMRA: Did you play with Hindu kids before this incident?
Child 1: Yes. You know there is a playground nearby. We used to play together, both Hindu and Muslim kids. Just the day before this incident, Gopal Raut came and sat at the nearby club. He used to get tea and refreshments from our family. My mother used to be busy, so my grandmother and I used to serve him. Just the day before the violence, he had water from our refrigerator and on the next day our refrigerator was broken.
AAMRA: They were the attackers? No one from outside?
Child 1 and Child 3: No.
Child 2: We were not present there, but many people have seen it. Particularly the elders.
AAMRA: What are the opinions of the elders?
Child 2: Elders are tensed and so are we too. I have to appear for the Board examination this year, so I am a little more tensed. We are staying at our Nani’s home, but how long will they allow us to stay there? Home is home. We need a new home and that needs money. We are travelling by train. Everyone is staying at different places. Someone in Sodepur, some in Khardah, some in Jagaddal.
AAMRA: Are you being threatened while travelling?
Child 1: Yes, once! We went to our home when the Hindu youths were saying we have already looted their homes, this time we will ‘loot them.’ They stay nearby.
AAMRA: You people have played together? Have you ever felt that they are Hindus and we are Muslims like this?
Almost all: Not before, we girls used to play different games. But now we feel like this.
Child 1: This is happening because of the political clashes. TMC and BJP. It’s up to them. But why should they believe that just because we are Muslims we are TMC supporters?
AAMRA: Where is your native place?
Child 4: Our family is planning to shift to Titagarh. We don’t want to stay here anymore.
AAMRA: You also want to leave this place? Leave your home?
Child 4: Not sure, but we have to think along this line.
AAMRA: What if you end up again living at a place where Hindus live as well?
Child 2: We can only know when to go. We don’t believe that every Hindu is bad or for that matter every Muslim is bad!
AAMRA: These kinds of incidents are happening at many places, what do you think? Why are these happening?
Child 1: Don’t know why such incidents are happening. We have not entered inside their head to know why, why they are doing like this. But, this is something new, earlier when something like happened, the army (paramilitary) was called for and everything was normalized. We never thought that something like this would happen again. This time it’s really difficult for us to return back and stay.
AAMRA: Do you think that Hindus do not want you to stay here?
Child 1 and 2: Yes, they do not want us to stay here.
Child 1: Before the election a few boys from Gopal Raut’s team came here for postering in favour of BJP. They gave everyone a poster. Before the election they came with a machine with a red button, and asked one of the ladies to press on the button no. 2. She said what if I do not press the button no. 2. They said, just wait for the result on the 23rd, we will make everyone leave this place.
Child 2: Gopal Raut came to our homes and asked my mother to write No.2 on the paper. My mother said no. Gopal Raut threatened us that he will not spare us after 23rd.
Child 1: They asked us to chant Jai Shree Ram.
Child 2: They have written Jai Shree Ram on our wall after breaking it down. They have also written ‘BJP’ on them.
AAMRA: Do you think that it happened just because of the election and that everything will be normalized once the election is over?
Child 2: In the same place there are Hindu houses as well. They didn’t do anything to them. Why did they do this to us only? Why have they written Jai Shree Ram on our walls? Why did they ask us to sign on No. 2? How would we know that this has happened just because of Hindu-Muslim conflict or for BJP? What do you think? How should we read the message? This is clear that they are asking us to vote for BJP, or demanding an explanation why we vote for TMC? Our Constitution allows us to observe our rituals and practice our religion. Don’t you think that this is going against the Constitution?
(After a halt of few seconds, crying and moaning)
Child 2 (Continued): They have looted everything at ‘Darma line’. They have thrown away all the clothes. They have even torn down and defamed our holy Quran Sharif. We felt very bad! They have looted our home, that is even alright, but why should they launch an attack on our religion and faith? This is an insult to our religion. Just like you worship Ram or Ganesha, the Quran is like that to us. Why would they insult our religion?
AAMRA: Today if they are attacking your faith, would you break Ganesha’s idol tomorrow?
Child 2: No, we are not going to do anything like that. We know how it feels if one sees his /her faith getting insulted. Whatever is happening with us today, we don’t want it to happen with them tomorrow.
AAMRA: Did you talk with the Hindus after this incident?
Child 2: Some of them were saying “this is bad, how awful it is to see such things happen to you? But, when the looting was going on, their women came and took away our cosmetics and utensils. We have two witnesses of the incident. Initially they were misbehaving with us, but with ‘fauzi’ (armed forces) being posted, they are not in a position to say anything now.
Child 2: If we attempt to go back they will all stare at us from a corner, they will start laughing at us. Last time when we four went there a woman was threatening us.
Child 3: We are not afraid anymore. Earlier, people used to drive us off. Let them try that now, we will see how they can drive us off now.
Child 2: We are even afraid of going back to our own homes.
Child 3: Why should we fear going back to our own place, that is our home, it’s not their home! This is also our land, not only of them.
Two youths from Bhatpara, who were displaced, faced all kinds of mayhem, gave their opinion and shared their experiences with us. One of them was Tamanna Parvin, a student of M.Com, preparing for competitive examinations. The other was Shahabuddin Mansuri, a student of MBA. We talked with them on 28 July, 2019.
AAMRA: What do you see and listen to?
Tamanna: We are from Darma Line. We stayed at our line quarter. We don’t know which party they were from. Suddenly, at 6 am in the morning of 20 May, a group of roughly fifty persons with weapons and pistols in hand, their faces covered by ‘naqab’ came there. We were sleeping at that time, they roused us from sleep and called us harshly, ‘leave this place or face the consequences’. Initially we did not understand who are they, Hindu or Muslim?
But later we came to know that only Muslim houses were attacked in Darma Line and Tina Gudam. But in Baruipara, houses of both the communities were attacked. We were staying with no problem. On 14 May probably some conflicts related to the election happened. We are common people; we were not involved in such political conflicts. But it was a fact that Muslim’s houses were attacked selectively.
AAMRA: Have you any such experience from your childhood?
Tamanna: Not even for a single day. I have been here for 7 years; my grandfather told us that they did not see this type of violence. Politics is there, political clashes are there, but communal violence in this form is completely new. We are staying in one place, drinking and eating together, enjoying together. But they took away everything. Even a teaspoon was not left for us.
AAMRA: Your Hindu neighbours are now talking with you, or not?
Tamanna: Where is an option! We have to talk with them.
AAMRA: What is their version?
Tamanna: ‘We did not do that. We do not know them. We were sleeping at that time. They all are outsiders”. But my question is, if they had attacked every house we have nothing to say, when floods come everybody has to face losses. Why they choose only Muslim houses?
AAMRA: If they all were outsiders, then how did they identify Muslim houses?
Tamanna: Exactly. In our line there are 32 houses, all are Muslim households. In front of our line, all are Hindu households. It is also a fact that in Tina Gudam, there are both Hindu and Muslim residents. These are labour colonies.
AAMRA: Women were humiliated too or not?
Tamanna: No. They only threatened us to leave immediately. They looted our goods, spared our lives. Once this line was made by ‘darma’(wattle), only the workers who were working in the Jute Mill lived there. In a single room, four to five workers had to stay. Later, after the population grew, many people came from their native villages and settled here and this colony became overpopulated. You can notice some signs of development, some people have even installed Air-condition machines. Gas oven, sewing machine, and mobile set is available in every house. They looted everything.
AAMRA: Did you see them looting?
Tamanna: How was it possible? They threw bombs, we all ran away from our houses. We took shelter at Nayabazar. Today this place is also terrorized.
AAMRA: You did not go to the Police Station…
Tamanna: Yes, we went there. But they told us, ‘now bombing and shooting is going on in every place, how can we manage? They even told us we have no ‘order’ to move.
AAMRA: Did you listen to any slogans during the time of looting?
Tamanna: Not on that day, but we saw a picture of our abandoned houses, on the wall they wrote their slogans, Hindu slogans.
AAMRA: It is not possible that all of a sudden such a large scale of displacement and plundering can happen. As a conscious citizen do you guess any type of conspiracy?
Tamanna: No, not at all. But we have bitter experience with party based political violence. Here TMC means Muslim and BJP means Hindu, this kind of division was planted. We did not guess that they will harm mass people; we thought their conflict will be restricted within party level.
AAMRA: Did your elders tell anything to TMC leaders?
Shahabuddin: Yes, we apprehended that they can create trouble. The leaders assured us that they will deploy security forces. But probably they cannot realise that trouble may come within the labour line.
Tamanna: As we all left because of their threat, we can’t witness, but a mother with her child was hidden in their house, they saw everything.
Shahabuddin: Last night also we heard some noises, it was the sound of bombing. We are asked to shift to a mosque at night; some of us went there but not everybody. Ramadan was continuing, some of us returned home at dawn. Those people, who will fast, ate. Azan was called.
AAMRA: You eat Sheheri at your home?
Tamanna: Yes. We had just gone to bed. And then they started bombing, heavy bombing. We are still afraid to go there.
AAMRA: Are your houses sealed now?
Shahabuddin: Yes, it was sealed by the company. We are told that repairing will be done. We want to stay outside, not there. We are now staying at a Mosque, but even that is not a secured place. They even threw bombs at Mosques.
AAMRA: Yes we talked with Imam of Chota Mosjid (One of the Mosques of Bhatpara).
Shahabuddin: You can see marks of bombs on the Mosque. That was Friday, they attacked with bombs. It happened for the third time during this period. The Armed Force was deployed there, but after the withdrawal of the force, bombing started again. There are three Mosques near Tina Gudam — Boro Masjid, Chota Mosjid and Khulla Masjid. They attacked Khulla Masjid three times.
AAMRA: How do you continue your study (to Shahabuddin)?
Shahabuddin: I cannot continue my study classes. But then, we boys can stay outside, but for women, it is tough. But what we can do, life is more precious. When we requested for police force they refused, but now they are telling us to return back. Five police personnel are posted now, but how long will they stay there? Is it possible to stay in our old residence with the support of the police force? Who will give us guarantee of our safety?
AAMRA: Your Hindu neighbours … What are their remarks now?
Shahabuddin: Now repairing work is going on. When we went there to see the work, some of them told us, come back again. No such incident will happen. All of them (the attackers) were outsiders, they will not come again. Some people also said, don’t keep all the valuable goods here.
AAMRA: Nobody gave you confidence?
Tamanna: Everybody is not the same. Some of them alerted us before the incident happened. It is a fact that they did not come to protect our goods, but it is also a fact that some of them felt miserable. But above all how can we stay there like before? We have to cross their (Hindu) area when we have to go outside.
Shahabuddin: And now there is a new problem we are facing from the Company. They are now sealing our homes.
AAMRA: Why? What is the role of the Trade Unions?
Tamanna: Gopal Rao is the culprit. He is the source of all trouble. Mill owners are not a factor, everything is controlled by him. Arjun Singh is his boss. He and his goons were those persons who shouted ‘Jai Shriram’ slogan when Mamata didi (Chief Minister) came here. People have lodged complaints against him.
Shahabuddin: From the State Government we got Rs. 6,300 per household. They repaired our quarters. But from the Mill we got nothing. Almost every family has a worker in the Jute Mill. But they are selective, when they seal our quarter.
AAMRA: Selection is based on religious identity? Your quarters are sealed because you are Muslim, is it like that?
Shahabuddin: Yes Sir. It may be that our quarter was allotted in the name of my grandfather, Tamanna’s brother is a worker in the Mill, but now he is in his native village. But it should not be a criterion for sealing. If it is, then it should be applicable to all. There are 32 Muslim households in that line, they had already sealed 15 quarters till date.
Tamanna: The Party, the Mill everybody divided us. Before this riot, we did not face any problems like these. Even there was no reason to feel that we are different. The situation has now aggravated so much that if they (Hindu) want to talk with us they are threatened. They are also in fear.
Shahabuddin: We want a home-shelter. How long will we stay at a Mosque or at a relative’s house?
AAMRA: How many lines are here? Total 1400 households are there, we know that.
Shahabuddin: Probably 30-40 lines. 30 to 50 households in every line.
AAMRA: What are the names of lines, which were affected?
Shahabuddin: 13 number, 6 number, our line 40 number, Tina Gudam, Sardar Line. At least 70 families have taken shelter outside of their quarter.
AAMRA: Any future planning?
Tamanna: No planning. Three months have gone by, we are still homeless. Nobody comes to us, nobody asks us how are we? I was preparing myself for competitive examinations. Rioters looted everything, they even burnt my books. Now we are staying at my maternal grandmother’s house. I have no clothes; I borrowed it from my cousin (showing us her dress). In the end, money was collected from Zakat at the Mosque. We got 3-4 thousands from it. Now we are dependent on help. Practically we are on the road (crying).
(to be continued)