Communal violence in Bengal: HC seeks report
Violence broke out in Bengal’s Howrah district on March 30 during a Ram Navami procession as stones were allegedly pelted at the rally, injuring 10 people
The Calcutta high court on Monday sought a detailed report on the clashes that rocked three districts during Ram Navami celebrations last week, even as a political slugfest between the ruling Trinamool Congress and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) continued.
Violence broke out in Bengal’s Howrah district on March 30 during a Ram Navami procession as stones were allegedly pelted at the rally, injuring 10 people. Over the next three days, violence spilled to North Dinajpur and Hooghly districts, where eight people were injured. A total of 46 people were arrested, sparking a political row.
The high court division bench of acting chief justice TS Sivagnanam and justice Hiranmay Bhattacharyya sought a report by Wednesday, directed the government to ensure the safety of citizens during Ram Navami celebrations, and questioned the efficiency of the police.
“See to it that you (state) deploy adequate police force in these areas and ensure that general public, the schools and shop owners etc aren’t affected by the violence. You will have to safeguard them,” the court said, according to legal website Bar and Bench.
The bench was hearing a petition by the leader of the Opposition in the assembly, Suvendu Adhikari, filed on March 31, seeking a National Investigation Agency (NIA) probe into clashes that took place on March 30 at Shibpur in Howrah district and Dalkhola in North Dinajpur district. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who is also in charge of the home department, has blamed the BJP for the violence.
During the hearing, Adhikari’s lawyers referred to a similar clash that took place outside a mosque at Rishra in Hooghly district on Sunday. The government suspended internet services at Rishra and Mahesh areas of Hooghly and clamped prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
The bench asked advocate general SN Mookherjee why the police failed to stop back-to-back clashes. Mookherjee told the bench that peace was restored in the affected areas. The bench sought a detailed report and video footage of the incidents.
“The state should have been more careful in permitting rallies in such places that witnessed violence even last year. And if there were violations of the permission, why didn’t the police stop the rally there and then?” the court said.
The development brought back memories of post-poll violence that roiled the state in the aftermath of the 2021 assembly elections. At the time, the BJP accused the ruling TMC of attacking people who had voted for the opposition, a charge refuted by the ruling party. The clashes claimed at least 14 lives, prompting the Calcutta high court to order and monitor a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation. In all, four first information reports were filed.
Speaking in East Midnapore district, Banerjee targeted the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and asked why Ram Navami rallies were being organised for five days.
She alleged the rallies were being deliberately taken through areas inhabited by Muslims without police permissions. “Why are Ram Navami processions being taken out for five days? You (BJP) can organise many rallies on the day of Ram Navami. But do not carry weapons. We will not object. But why five days?” Banerjee said.
“They (BJP) are deliberately entering minority areas without permission. People were carrying weapons at yesterday’s rally in Rishra,” she said.
BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar dismissed the allegations, saying a video circulated by TMC general secretary Abhishek Banerjee — which showed a man brandishing a revolver at a Ram Navami rally — was not shot in Bengal.
“The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which organised the Howrah rally, have clarified that the video was not shot in Howrah. The location could be some other state. The TMC government is arresting innocent Hindus after yesterday’s violence at Rishra,” Majumdar said.
Four BJP Lok Sabha members from Bengal held a press conference in Delhi and said they will approach President Droupadi Murmu and Union home minister Amit Shah.
“The incidents should be probed by NIA. Hindus are being targeted in Bengal,” said Locket Chatterjee, the MP from Hooghly.
Adhikari also addressed a BJP rally in East Midnapore district to prepare for the coming panchayat elections.
Wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “No vote to Mamata”, Adhikari said: “Supporters of all opposition parties should ensure that Mamata Banerjee does not get their votes. This anti-people government must be routed.”
TMC state general secretary Kunal Ghosh attacked the BJP. “Huge processions are taken out across Bengal during Durga Puja but there has never been any incident. Muslims take out processions during Muharram. Christians celebrate Christmas. No violence is ever reported during these events. BJP has turned Ram into their political agenda.”