By Sandhya Jain
The West Bengal Panchayat elections, slated to be held in April or May this year, seem to have unleashed a fresh round of minority appeasement, with the sudden arrest of Hindu rights crusader Tapan Ghosh on March 14. The event appears to be a follow-up of last month’s violence against the Hindu community in South 24 Parganas, in which 200 Hindu homes were destroyed across four villages, the temple burnt, and several shops gutted, after a maulvi was robbed and murdered on the adjacent highway by unknown persons on February 19.
The attack on innocent Hindus was premeditated as assailants armed with petrol bombs and arms descended in trucks from distant Kolkata suburbs; no arrests have been made till date. Instead, the State managed a complete media blackout of the violence; showered Rs. 3 lakh compensation on the murdered man’s family, and doled out a mere Rs. 10,000/- each for the gutted Hindu homesteads.
Ghosh, who vigilantly monitors atrocities against Hindus all over the State, brought the violence to the notice of the outside world, but the National Human Rights Commission did take cognizance of the incident.
As the violence spread, it engulfed Jalaberia, where 16 Hindu labourers were abducted by radical Islamists on February 20, 2013. Ghosh has now been charged in connection with this episode, though he was clearly in Kolkata at the time, putting out the news, and even appeared on a local television channel.
Non-bailable charges were slapped against him and when produced at the Bankshall Court, he was denied bail. The next day, he was produced at Baruipur court with jurisdiction over the Kultali police station, and again denied bail. The same day, his key deputy, Bikarna Naskar, was abducted by three men outside Ghosh’s home; after initially feigning ignorance about the identity of the men, the ASP, South 24 Parganas, reportedly admitted that his men had ‘picked up’ Naskar. No reasons were given for this action, though Naskar was later released.
The FIR in the Jalaberia case names Tapan Ghosh as chief instigator, though it is obvious that Hindus were the main victims of the episode. After the violence in Naliakhali village, the anger of the radicals spread and reached Jalaberia (PS Kultali, South 24 Parganas).
On the morning of February 19, 2013, an unsuspecting group of 60 Hindu women from Jalaberia took six vans for the Narugopal temple at Tulsighata, but were prevented at Kultali by radicals who attacked the vehicles, harassed the women and tried to kidnap a 25-year-old young man accompanying the women. He was saved due to the pleas of the women who returned to Jalaberia immediately.
Next morning, February 20, 16 Hindu brick kiln workers were abducted by radicals in Kultali. Irate Hindus blocked the main road in Jalaberia and took two Muslims hostage, to negotiate the release of the labourers.
Police, however, demanded that the Hindus release the men in their custody. A contingent of RAF rescued the two men, leading to violence and police firing. The 16 Hindu labourers were later released on February 21.
Cases were registered against 37 Hindus including Tapan Ghosh under sections 147/148/149/332/333/353/427/152/153/109/186/507/186/307 IPC & 4 ES Act and 3 & 4 PDPP Act (Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984). It is in connection with these cases that Tapan Ghosh has now been arrested.
Ghosh’s supporters say he was arrested to scuttle plans to gherao and submit a memorandum to the Joynagar PS on March 25, 2013. He had visited the South 24 Parganas police superintendent on March 13 to inform him about the programme.
Tapan Ghosh thereafter anticipated his arrest, and prior to being apprehended on the morning of March 14, issued a statement saying, “I am going to get arrested for protesting in the most recent Jalaberia incident. In the Jalaberia Hindu-Torture Case (after Naliakhali, Canning recent incidents), Police tried to break the power of Hindus, and thus Hindus protested and resisted to protect their lives and property, Police-Muslim nexus is visibly evident.
Now, I am at home, and the police has arrived to vindictively arrest me to suppress the raised Hindu voices by HINDU SAMHATI. I do not know if I will be granted bail or, not! How many days I have to be behind bars, let us see! Until I get bail and return, keep the HINDU SAMHATI work and support going on. I wish my all active workers, volunteers, and supporters for giving the best effort to save Hindus. Bande Mataram.”
Samhati activists claim that three police stations are particularly harsh and biased towards Bengali Hindus of the area, viz, Joynagar, Raidighi and Diamond Harbour. Hence they had planned to agitate against these police stations. Radical Islamists in the State and their sympathisers within the administration are keen to defeat the Samhati’s work; already in many parts of the State the condition of Hindus is similar to or worse than that of Hindus in Bangladesh.
As news of the arrest spread among the people, spontaneous protests broke out with people holding street corner meetings, street marches, and even Rasta Rokos in protest. For several hours, there was ‘Rail Roko’ in the Hotar, Kalyanpur, Joynagar railway stations and ‘chakka jam’ at Ramnagar More and Malancha More (streets) in South 24 Parganas. There were huge rallies at Machhlandpur (PS Habra) and at Hasnabad (PS Hasnabad) in the district.
But the media blackout is admirable.