Bengal students allegedly assaulted for demanding resumption of Saraswati Puja stopped since 2009
At least five students of a government-aided school in West Bengal’s North 24-Parganas district were allegedly beaten up by locals on Friday when they staged a roadblock, demanding that prayers should be offered to Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning, on January 29.
The protesting students included girls and many boys from the junior section of the co-educational Chauhata Adarsha Vidyapith under the Haroa police station area in Basirhat.
Though no one was hospitalised, two students were left with bleeding injuries, eyewitnesses said. No police complaint was recorded till Sunday afternoon.
Ganesh Sardar, an English teacher, alleged that the crowd entered the school, looking for him.
“Some teachers hid me inside a ladies toilet to save me. Had the district administration not acted on time, the situation could have gone worse. The officer-in-charge of Haroa police station saved me,” said Sardar.
He alleged that he became a target because he is the district general secretary of a teachers’ body affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
“I insisted that let both Nabi Diwas (Prophet’s day) and Saraswati Puja be held again,” he said.
State minister and district president of the ruling Trinamool Congress Jyoti Priya Mallick said he was not aware of the details.
“Before commenting I have to gather information,” Mallick said.
The puja was stopped, allegedly under pressure from local people, in 2009, the year Chauhata Adarsha Vidyapith turned 50. About 75% of the 1700-odd students of the school are Muslims while most of the teachers are Hindus.
“The puja was stopped in 2009 under disturbing circumstances when local people and students objected to holding Nabi Diwas in the school. To ensure peace, some residents of this area and the school authorities decided not to hold either inside the premises,” Himangshu Sekhar Mondal, who joined the school as the headmaster in July 2019, said.
Mondal said students had approached him a few days ago for restoring the puja, which he thought might lead to trouble. He then referred the matter to the school’s managing committee.
“The committee told me that in view of the security issue, it could not reach any decision. I cannot say whether Saraswati puja will be held or not. I hope there is no fresh trouble on Monday,” Mondal added.
Mondal said that during Friday’s agitation someone locked the school gates from outside.
“The crowds surrounded the school and traffic came to a standstill. The students possibly sustained the injury in a stampede-like situation. I did not see anyone beat them up. I was inside the school throughout the incident. The disturbance was going on outside,” he said.
A police officer, who rushed to the spot and did not want to be named, said while speaking to HT that tension ran high and that they had a tough time tackling the situation.
Shankar Sinha, officer-in-charge of Haroa police station, refused to give details of the incident.
“The situation is under control,” was all that he said.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s state unit general secretary Sayantan Basu criticised the attack.
“This is most unfortunate. I have repeatedly said that this part of the North 24-Parganas is infested with illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Friday’s incident is a proof,” Basu said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah have repeatedly said at public meetings that people cannot perform Durga and Saraswati pujas in many parts of West Bengal. Both held chief minister Mamata Banerjee responsible for this.
“If you wish to celebrate Durga Puja or Saraswati Puja in West Bengal, you will be attacked by goons. Should we go to celebrate these festivals in Pakistan?” Amit Shah had said during a rally in the state before the Lok Sabha polls in 2019.
Basirhat and Baduria witnessed communal riots in July 2017 over a Facebook photo posted from a teenager’s account. Numerous houses and shops were torched.