The communal violence in Telinipara in Hooghly district of West Bengal occurred amidst the raging pandemic during the lockdown in early May 2020. Everyone knows there was unrest, conflict and communal violence. But what actually happened in Telinipara? What triggered the violence and what are its immediate and far-reaching effect? This is the second report by Aamra— a study group on Conflict and Coexistence, of their post-Ramnavami riots in West Bengal. The English version of the first report on Bhatpara was published in GroundXero in six parts. We are now publishing the full report on conflict and violence in Telinipara in parts. This is the first part of the fact finding report.
Fact Finding Report on Telinipara, 2020
Introduction and perspective
Aamra (An Assemblage of Movement Research and Appraisal) is a study group on Conflict and Coexistence. We have been visiting various places in West Bengal, rocked by communal conflict and violence, during the last four years (2016-2020), to study and understand the nature and cause of the communal conflict. In the last three years, we have conducted extensive field research on communal conflicts in Bhatpara in North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal. The fact finding report on Bhatpara has already been published. Telinipara is the second report in the series of conflict study.
Bhadreswar, on the west bank of the river Ganges, is a notable town, of the Hooghly district in West Bengal. The town is historically significant in various aspects – in art, in literature, in culture, its demographic, in its history of subjugation and struggle for freedom. Telinipara is a large area of this town. The area is mixed and densely populated. Bhadreswar Municipality was established on 1 April 1879. Electricity came to Bhadreswar in 1942. Sudhir Kumar Mitra’s book ‘History of Hooghly District and Banga Samaj-2‘ published in 1948 contains some fragments of life in Bhadreswar at that time. A few excerpts from the book are given below:
Bhadreswar Municipality is divided into five wards. Ward number one is Bhadreswar, ward number two is Gourhati, ward number three is Telinipara and ward number four and five is Mankundu.
Outbreaks of diseases occur often at places other than the Bhadreswar mill area as they are not kept very clean. The major road in this municipality is the Grand Trunk Road. All the branch roads along this road are narrow and dusty. The road mileage is 13.6 miles. Of these, 9.75 miles are unpaved roads. Pedestrians will benefit if the unpaved roads are maintained properly and made walkable. The dirty sewers on both sides of these roads are a disgrace to the municipality. Outbreaks of gastroenterological diseases happen frequently in these areas due to poor sanitation and sewage drainage systems.
As the municipality does not have its own ‘water works’, there is shortage of drinking water everywhere except in the mill area. The water supply system consisting of 80 tube wells seems insignificant. It is the duty of the Mill authority to assist the municipality in supplying drinking water to the people. The tradition of this ancient historically and culturally rich town will be maintained if the municipality follows a specific plan of action.
— (page 565, History of Hooghly District and Bangasamaj-2, Sudhir Kumar Mitra, 1948)
Hooghly district has a long history of people coming in from different parts of the country in need of livelihood at different times. There is a history of European colonists coming for trade and establishing empires. From the book we know –
Among the European merchants, the Portuguese were the first to arrive in this country to trade. From then on, the places on the bank of river Ganga in this district were inhabited by white traders. The dominance of the Englishmen in Hooghly, the Portuguese in Bandel, the Greeks in Rishra, the Germans in Bhadreswar, the Australians in Konnagar, the Dutch in Chuchura and the Danes in Srirampur was particularly significant.
— (page-845, History of Hooghly District and Bangasamaj-1, Sudhir Kumar Mitra, 1948)
Hindi and Urdu speaking people who migrated to work in Chatkals (Jute Mills) and other industries came mainly during the period of British rule. There are a large number of Hindi and Urdu speaking people in the mixed population of Telinipara. Besides, there are people of Oriya, Telugu and other languages living within Bhadreswar municipality area.
Champdani town is adjacent to Telenipara. Here also resides, mainly workers, who toils in jute mills and various other factories. It is known from history that riots have taken place at different times in these two towns — Telinipara and Champdani. After the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992, the people here had faced the heat of the fire of communal violence. In almost every communal incident, the Hindi-versus-Urdu equation has come to the forefront. But the specialty of this year’s violence in Telinipara was its expanse, both In terms of area and population affected by it. There are allegations that Bengalis were also involved in the communal violence that recently rocked Telinipara (May 12 violence). There are allegations of organized rioting in a well-planned manner by bringing in rioters from outside.
The Gondalpara Incident
Both banks of the Hooghly River (especially the Barrackpore and Chandannagar subdivision areas) have recently become centers of communal violence in West Bengal. There is a mention of post-Ramnavami violence in Chandannagar in our published report, ‘Communal Violence, 2018: West Bengal’. Like in 2016, this time too, Urdibazar in Chandannagar Municipality, became one of the main centers of communal strife. The propaganda of ‘Nizamuddin-Corona Jihad-Beware of Muslims’ was also circulating here through various social media platforms. On the other side of the Ganges, especially in Bhatpara, the propaganda took a huge shape. In April 2020, communal tensions began in ward number 12 and 13 of Bhadreswar municipality and in ward 25 of Chandannagar municipality. The Telenipara riots had not taken place by then.
On April 19, 2020, the residents of Gondalpara Chatkal area woke up amidst the possibility of a communal riot. At 3.30 pm, someone broke open the lock of the Malapara Mosque and entered the mosque premises, the furniture inside the mosque were broken and the Quran vandalized. The locals grabbed the miscreant, beat him up, and later handed him over to the police. On April 20, the Rapid Action Force was deployed there.
We talked with Rajesh Jaiswal, the elected Councillor of Forward Block party from Ward 25 (near Gondalpara). Rajesh Jaiswal is himself a resident of Gondalpara. He said, ‘You know, Chandannagar municipality has been dissolved. Here the hooliganism of Trinamool Congress has put an end to all democratic space. Even before the 2019 parliamentary elections, the political scenario of Chunchura, Chandannagar, Bhadreswar had started to change, the change was huge. The BJP leadership used propaganda, communal polarization and violence as strategies. Their target then was to capture the Hooghly Lok Sabha constituency. The same political strategy is still continuing.’
“Gondalpara jute Mill has been closed since 2016. Slums teeming with unemployed laborers have now become breeding grounds for communal forces,” opined a trade union leader, speaking on condition of anonymity. He said, the April 19 incident was the beginning of a big conspiracy. When we went to the area adjacent to the mosque, many people said, ‘I don’t know who came to the mosque that night. The police did not reveal his name or identity. Mubasar Ali, who was sitting near the mosque, said, “The man might have a mental disorder. Maybe that’s why he was used.’
Communal propaganda regarding Corona and the social media
From hundreds of WhatsApp groups, messages like ‘Muslims are spreading Corona’, ‘Many Muslims returning from Nizamuddin’s Marqaz are here in Telinipara’, ‘ In Urdibazar of Chandannagar there is a massive outbreak of corona among Muslims’, ‘The Muslims are not following any rules, so Corona is spreading’, were spread. Most of these groups are controlled by Hindutva groups. Besides, the ‘volunteers’ of Hindutva mentality have voluntarily shouldered the ‘responsibility’ of spreading those messages. The names of some of the WhatsApp groups are ‘Corona se Bacho’, ‘Beware of Muslim’, ‘Ram ka naam lo’, etc.
The use of Facebook has been relatively low due to its lack of ‘privacy’. The exception was the Locket Chatterjee BJP MP from Hooghly. The essence of BJP MP’s posts at different times on her Facebook page is nothing but ‘hatred towards the Muslims’. We give below the summary of some of her posts-
1) May 13, 2020 Facebook post – Police are giving opportunity to a particular religious community to indulge in terrorism, vandalism, looting, arson and hooliganism.
2) May 12, 2020 Facebook post – The day before tomorrow, people of the X community came with swords, came with various weapons and attacked, set on fire. Two gold shops were looted and then a lot of things were looted. … I have been getting phone calls from 11 noon today, Chandannagar and Telenipara are burning. Fire and Bomb. You have all seen how black smoke has risen. Phones kept coming from all around how the houses of Hindus were looted. Set on fire. Women are calling, ‘Didi we probably won’t be able to save anything of ours. If I hear such a situation then how will I feel?
3) May 12, 2020 Facebook post – There are barricades all around, but why can’t a small area be brought under control? The police are doing so much good work why can’t the police do it here? Because there is an instruction from above, ‘Police, don’t touch them until I tell you’. Why did I say ‘them’? Recently, many among ‘them’ in Chandannagar have been found corona positive. Many have returned from Ajmer, there are TMC Councillors from minority communities. They have been found to be corona positive. Since it was found, people around them have been told to go in quarantine. They won’t test, they won’t go in quarantine. They got into trouble with the police. They won’t go anywhere, they’ll just spread. When people are fighting corona, their purpose is to spread corona. When the police administration set up barricades to stop the spread, when the people of the area put up barricades, since there are many corona cases in this neighborhood, ‘they’ attacked the innocent peace-loving people to vent their anger.
On May 10, the shops of the Hindus were attacked, a community did that, but the administration did not do nothing. The Trinamool government has put them up on its head. They will get the result in hand in hand.
It is to be noted that this MP later herself announced that she has tested positive for the virus.
Just after the riots
On May 10, 2020, several shops were attacked on the Ferry Ghat Street in Telinipara, where the Hindu Mohalla begins. Looting and arson in about 20 shops was reported. The first part of our investigation is in this context.
On May 11, 2020, a fact-finding team of Aamra – Ek Sacheton Prayas first tried to go to Telenipara. But the police stopped them after Chamdani. We spoke to some of the affected Hindu shopkeepers at the Palta Ghat in Champdani. Champdani municipality is next to Bhadreswar.
On May 19, 2020, one of our members went to the riot-hit area of Telenipara on a bicycle. FG (Ferry Ghat) Street and the adjoining market were quite crowded. People were busy shopping for the upcoming Eid. The member told us that he felt Muslim youths were watching the ‘outsider’. At the end of the market, there is an intersection, from there the Hindu area starts. A little further is the Telinipara Ferry Ghat. The Rapid Action Force Jawans were not letting anyone go there. A little before the turn, on the left, is a Muslim neighborhood with row after row of houses in slums. An old woman in her seventies was sitting in the doorway of a small house. The member would talk to her, Hamida Banu (name changed). She spoke in Hindi or Urdu.
AAMRA: Assalam Aleikum Nani.
Hamida: Salam beta.
AAMRA: Does this road lead to Nehru School?
Hamida: Where are you going?
AAMRA: Will definitely not go to school. I will go to Telenipara Ghat, can I go this way?
Hamida: It is difficult to go through this road. Go down FG Street.
AAMRA: The police are not allowing people to go that way.
Hamida: I don’t know, son, the situation is tense.
AAMRA: Still? It’s been so long since the trouble first started?
Hamida: The situation has deteriorated after the arrival of the political leaders.
AAMRA: Which leaders are you talking about?
Hamida: Leaders like Locket Chatterjee, our MP.
AAMRA: What had happened on that day?
Hamida: The situation has turned complex before Ramjan. They were accusing us of spreading corona.
AAMRA: They mean the Hindus?
Hamida: Not all Hindus, some scoundrels.
AAMRA: And what happened after the start of Ramjan? Ramjan started on April 25.
Hamida: There are scoundrels on both sides.
Just at this moment someone came out from inside the house. The conversation stops. Our member addresses him, but the person does not respond. He looked at Nani angrily, Nani paused for a moment, then started with some hesitation. Thinking that this conversation might get her in trouble we decided to stop.
AAMRA: Thank you Nani. We have to go. What happened that the Hindus and Muslims living together burnt each other’s shops and houses!
Hamida: This is politics, ugly politics.
AAMRA: Many shops here have been burned and looted.
Hamida: Yes, Hindu shops have been looted here. Muslim ones were looted in other areas.
AAMRA: Yes, we saw on GT Road.
Hamida: There has been looting here too, and arson. There has been looting and arson there too.
AAMRA: We heard that the owner of the shop looted on GT Road lives in Telinipara.
Hamida: Yes we were looted and here we are the looters.
AAMRA: Hindu shops were looted here, you are saying that the looters are also the ones who were looted?
Hamida: Yes, that’s right. Here Muslims have looted Hindu shops, Hindus did the same elsewhere. It means the same thing, doesn’t it?
Read Part 2: The Vandalised Mazar of Satyapir
Fact-finding Report on Telinipara, 2020
By AAMRA Ek Sachetan Prayas Forum
Date of Publication: 2nd October, 2020
Team Members: Amitava Sengupta, Faruque Ul Islam, Subha Protim Roy Chowdhury, Ipsita Chakraborty, Subhankar Sengupta, Saurajit Pramanick, Saumen Ghosh, Rajesh Naskar
Associates: Sheikh Ajmal, Abhishek Mukherjee, Subhankar Mukherjee
Edited by : Amitava Sengupta, Subha Protim Roy Chowdhury
Published by – Mohit Randip
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Very much impartial and empathetic work.