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Intellectuals stand by Taslima

Authorities have decided to discontinue night curfew, a day after rampaging mobs scalded the city's secular fabric with rioting.

kolkata Updated: Nov 22, 2007 23:08 IST

Peace prevailed in Kolkata on Thursday and authorities decided to discontinue night curfew, a day after rampaging mobs scalded the city's secular fabric with rioting and demanded revocation of Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen's Indian visa even as intellectuals came out in her support.

The business community was, however, worried over the violence and felt it might affect West Bengal's economic progress.

"There is absolute peace in Kolkata. We have no report of any untoward incident from anywhere in the localities that were affected on Wednesday," Kolkata police commissioner Gautam Mohan Chakraborty told reporters.

"Buses and cars are plying and most schools and colleges in the area are open. The police patrolling is on and two columns of the army (each comprising about 60 soldiers) are present as a precautionary measure," he said.

"At least 68 people were arrested for their role in the violence.

"We have decided that there would be no night curfew on Thursday," he said.

According to army spokesperson, Colonel Alok Guha, two columns of soldiers were keeping vigil in the affected areas while two columns remained on standby.

A directionless agitation on Wednesday that combined protests against atrocities in Nandigram as well as against granting Nasreen extended stay in India turned the heart of this metropolis into a scene of flaming vehicles and scampering schoolchildren, forcing the authorities to call in the army for the first time after the Babri Masjid demolition aftermath in 1992.

A road blockade called by the All India Minority Forum (AIMF), spearheaded by Congress leader and lawyer Idris Ali, spun out of control as thousands of frenzied people from central Kolkata's Muslim-majority areas unleashed a free-for-all that went on for hours.

"Trust me, I have no idea how it spun out of control. But the immediate trigger could be the suppressed anger of the Muslims against Nasreen's stay in Kolkata," Ali told IANS after he was pilloried for the flare-up.

"We had assembled peacefully at around 9 am at the Park Circus seven-point crossing. We wanted to block the road in protest against Nasreen who has defiled the Prophet and hurt the sentiments of about 2.5 million Muslims living in West Bengal," said Ali.

However, Jamait Ulema-i-Hind leader Siddiquallah Chowdhury Thursday told a press conference that he had given prior warning to the police about the possibility of violence over Taslima Nasreen on Wednesday.

"I had told the police commissioner and the deputy commissioner (headquarters) about the possibility of a violence but they did not heed to me.

"If police were a little active this could have been prevented," he said. The police commissioner said the security of Nasreen was not beefed up after the incident as she already enjoyed security.

While Nasreen did not take any call all since the flare-up on Wednesday, city intellectuals came out in her support.

Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) state secretary Biman Bose, who earlier endorsed the demand that the controversial author should quit the state for the sake of peace, went back on his statement soon and said it was up to the central government to decide on her stay in India.

Noted writer and Sahitya Akademi award winner Sunil Gangopadhyay said: "It is inhuman to ask Taslima to leave the city or call for revocation of her visa. If any person dislikes her writings, he can protest democratically without burning down cars or harassing people.

"The protesters have forgotten that after the West Bengal government banned her book 'Dwikhandita' (Split In Two) in 2003, the Calcutta High Court revoked the ban, citing Article 19 of the constitution which allows freedom of speech and expression.

"If some sections of society do not agree with it, then they should appeal to the Supreme Court and not resort to mindless violence," he said.

Nasreen has been living in Kolkata since 2004.

Meanwhile, the business community felt that violent "incidents would definitely affect the economic progress of the state. We all have seen how normal life came to a standstill due to the protest by a section of people," Srei Infrastructure Finance Ltd vice-chairman and managing director Hemant Kanoria told IANS.

"West Bengal has been politically very stable for past several years but in the recent years we have seen some political opposition emerging here. Opposition must be there in a democratic set-up but the government should sort it out through dialogue so that the image of the state remains unaffected," Kanoria said.

However, Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industries (BCCI) president S. Radhakrisnan said: "The incident is condemnable and it should not happen in Kolkata. But I don't subscribe to the idea that Kolkata's image has been tarnished due to the incident. I think the character of the city has remained intact.

"But, at the same time, we all have to accept these types of incidents do affect economic activities in a city," he added.

First Published: Nov 22, 2007 23:03 IST