Malda violence is a result of “an opium war”, not communal

Published on: January 11, 2016

A report after speaking to all stakeholders on the ground

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The following article is written by us in conversation with Suvojit Bagchi, Chief of Bureau, The Hindu in Kolkata

It is rare that the analysis of a civil liberties organization, the administration and local politicians concur. So it seems however from West Bengal’s Malda district where the local police authorities, senior office bearers of the APDR and local politicians agree that the real reason for the flare-up in Malda last week was an opium war and the general lawlessness that the Mamta Banerjee government is loth to control

The Association for the Protection Of Democratic Rights [APDR] is a respected civil rights group of Bengal, spread all over the state of West Bengal. The work of this 43-year organisation is viewed seriously: its statements carry some weight, much like the statements of PUCL or PUDR in north India. So when the APDR issued a statement last week arguing that Malda violence is not “communal by a long shot”- challenging all media reports- the point was underscored carefully.  “Communal comments by a Hindu leader provoked an unfortunate incident in Kaliachak police station area in Malda. We are condemning the fact that communal flavour has been added to the incident to excite people,” the APDR statement said.

 “The miscreants could take advantage of the incident due to negligence on part of the administration and a religious campaign of an extreme nature. However, the incident was not communal by a long shot and so far nothing has happened which is communal in nature. Even if administration was late in responding, it acted positively to establish peace,” the APDR statement said. APDR also appealed to the local residents to maintain calm and not get swayed by the “rumours of a communal kind”.

The Malda-chapter secretary of the APDR Jishnu Roy Chowdhury, who signed the statement stated that the locals across communities almost unequivocally acknowledged that last Sunday’s (January 3,2016) mob-led violence can “in no way” be described as communal violence. “It was never a clash between the Muslims and the Hindus; no one would say so if you visit the area. But unfortunately a section of the media called it a communal violence,” he said. Malda is a Muslim-majority district, as figures of the last Census show. Many locals have expressed displeasure at the media portraying it as “a communally sensitive district.” Even the Hindus, locally, did not endorse such a view.

“There is a general lawlessness in the state and Malda is not outside Bengal. So a section of TMC goons mobilised this attack on the police as they are doing in many parts of the state but to call it communal is dangerous…this is playing politics with a genuine law and order problem,” said Roy Chowdhury. In Kolkata, APDR’s senior member Nilanjan Dutta corroborated Roy Chowdhury’s argument and said that the incident did not indicate to a clash between the Muslims and the Hindus.“In fact, to the best of my knowledge, when BJP’s MLA Samik Bhattacharya visited the area, he himself never said that it was a communal violence,” Dutta also said. APDR’s statement and the comments of its senior office-bearers assume significance as the civil rights group is otherwise a very strong critic of the Chief Minister and her government.

The Hindu reported from Kolkata on January 4, 2016 that a not-so-known Muslim organisation, Anjuman Ahle Sunnatul Jamat [ASJ], organised a protest meeting in Malda on January 3 in Kaliachak Block I in south Malda to protest an allegedly derogatory remark against Prophet Muhammad by a leader of a Hindutvawaadi organisation in Uttar Pradesh. Contradictory reports emerged regarding the size of the gathering, a section of which turned violent injuring over a dozen policemen, torching police vehicles and even firing few shots. A 22 year old person was injured. The incident was described as one with “communal overtones” by a section of the media. The social media was more direct and blamed ruling Trinamool Congress for its “Muslim appeasement policy.”