Mohammadbazar, Birbhum - A Saga of the Hapless Hindu Tribals
Empty Stone Crusher
Tribal women returning to village
Tribal leader Rabin Soren (center)
They are the sons of the soil in this Birbhum district of West Bengal. They are Hindu tribal people. They have lived in this region since time immemorial. They used to live here in peace with the forest as their neighbour. They are not ambitious. They are not greedy. Their need is meager. They are hardworking. Their only assets are the neighbouring forests and their hard labour. Here the land is rocky and the yield is very little. And they were satisfied with it. They owned this rocky land.
This rocky land turned a curse for them. Of course 2 additional factors contributed in this curse:
(1) their innocence and (2) growing demand of stone and stone chips for our urban civilization. Especially the roads and real estate industry.
So the greedy men came from the cities and towns and converted the rocks and the land into quarries. They set up Stone Crushers for making stone chips to be transported to cities and towns. The environment of the area changed. The clear sky became covered with stone dust. This dust smothered the crops. The tribal people lost their livelihood. Hence they were compelled to take up jobs in those quarries and crushers as labourers.
Their harmony with nature was lost. Consumption of alcohol increased. Various diseases including Tuberculosis due to stone dust affected their health. Their social fabric got strained.
The work for the owners for those quarries and stone crushers was not easy. Because, according to the law of our country, the Tribal people’s land are not saleable to non tribals, the nature of forest land is inconvertible. Moreover, obtaining clearance from Pollution Control Board is almost impossible fulfilling all its conditions. So, the owners opted for illegal methods of fraudulence and bribing the govt. officers. 20-30 years back, Sindhi people were owners of these units. Slowly they made way for the Muslims in this business. These Muslim owners proved to be much more efficient in this fraud and all types of illegal and immoral methods. Hence the business increased manifold in their hand. Now there are about 150 quarry and 1200 stone crushers in the whole of Birbhum district. Ninety percent of those are owned by Muslims. Among those, only 35 quarries and 231 crushers are licensed.
These owners brought Muslim managers, labour supervisors and a large number of Muslim labourers from nearby Murshidabad district. In Mohammadbazar block, one noted antisocial Seikh Kamaal Khan took the lead. Once upon a time, a petty criminal Kamaal Khan now owns at least 3 quarries and a number of stone crushers, of course by all fraudulent and illegal means. Local people believe that this Kamaal Khan is in regular contact with ISI of Pakistan.
These Muslim owners, managers, supervisors and labour contractors set their greedy eyes on the healthy tribal women and girls. It was really difficult for the poor tribal people to protect the honour of their womenfolk from the lust of these rich and powerful Muslims. It is most unfortunate but true that all concerned govt. and police officers take illegal money from these Muslims. So, the administration put a blind eye to these atrocities. For these hapless tribal people, in the words of Rabindranath Tagore “bicharer bani nirabe nibhrite kande”.
The tribals were fuming.
Moreover, the huge stock of explosives, which are used to blast the rocks, often creates unwanted explosions killing innocent tribal people and damaging the houses (in fact huts) of the poor tribals. On 5 February, a huge explosion in Kamaal Khan’s quarry damaged many houses of the tribal people in vicinity. When they protested, Khan brought criminals from outside to hurl bombs on those protesters to make them silent. This time the tribal people were not cowed down because their backs had been pushed to wall. So, they offered resistance to these criminals and their backer Kamaal Khan. Then only, the govt. administration had been compelled to intervene and shut down that illegal quarry of Khan.
To save the honour of the women, the leaders of the tribal community made some rules to be obeyed by all. One such rule is : no outsider will enter in any tribal locality after 6 pm. The reason is obvious. But many loose character Muslims were not inclined to obey the restriction. One Bashirul Sheikh of Muslim dominated Kapasdanga village was one of them.
Despite repeated warnings, he ventured regularly in one tribal village Baromasia at night. On 19 April at 12 midnight, when he was involved in immoral act, Debu Soren allegedly hit upon his shoulder with an axe. Bashirul died on the spot.
Later on Bashirul’s body was recovered by police. After post mortem it was handed over to the crusher owner. The Muslim owners and the Owners’ Association fully controlled by the Muslims thought, enough is enough. It will be difficult for them to run the units and make profit if the tribals are not taught a lesson. Moreover, they are absolutely unwilling to stop sexually exploiting the tribal women as if it is their birth right. Therefore they planned the strategy. They brought a large number of Muslim criminals from outside. On 22 April, they took out a huge procession in the name of ‘condolence procession’ through the tribal villages. Most unfortunately, the Muslim labourers joined the sinister design of the Owners’ Association, no need to mention for their community affinity. Police was informed. They were there.
It did not turn out to be a ‘condolence procession’. It was a pistol wielding rampaging procession. It passed through 6 tribal villages. The rampaging processionists looted all the 6 villages at gunpoint. There were very little to loot. So, they were not satisfied. Hence they sprinkled petrol on the mud houses and burnt those houses down. They beat up and tortured the hapless villagers and molested the women. They also plundered the livestock of the poor tribals. In Sagarbandi village, Dhatu Hembrom deposited Rs. 12,000 for his daughter’s marriage. The whole amount was looted by the rampaging Muslim mob. The villages were Sagarbandi, Chanda, Pachami, Natungram, Mothrapahari and Harmadanga. To save their lives, all villagers fled away. One Motilal Maddi, aged 40 plus, could not escape. He was brutally killed stoned to death. His brother Mangal Maddi and Kabiraj Murmu were seriously injured. And all these happened in front of police. It should be mentioned here that the Muslim owners of these illegal units are protected by the ruling CPIM. Hence police was mute spectator.
About 3000 tribal villagers had to flee fearing for their life. Many tribals are still missing. When the Hindu Samhati team visited the affected area on 26 April, they saw some villagers were returning.
After this massacre, the tribal people put up a strong resistance. They formed groups with their traditional weapons, i.e., machetes, axes and bow and arrows. They attacked the quarries and stone crushers. Now, all the Muslim labourers and owners and management staff fled away. At least half a dozen of them were killed in flight by arrows. According to Sunil Soren and Rabin Soren of Birbhum Aadibasi Gaunta, two Muslim miscreants Kalu Seikh and Anarul Seikh were killed trying to make bombs.
Now the situation is tense. The battle line is clearly drawn. Non tribal Hindus of the area are in full sympathy with the tribals’ struggle for self respect. They are lending their helping hand to the tribals despite the losses incurred by them for closure of the units. On the other side are all the Muslim owners, staff, labourers and local Muslim villagers. The corrupt govt. officers are on their (Muslim) side.
Now the situation is extremely tense. All the quarry and crusher units are closed and empty. As the houses of the tribals have been burnt and looted, relief camps and community kitchens have been put up. Groups of armed tribal youths are guarding all tribal villages and entry points round the clock. The area of tribal agitation is expanding everyday because the problems are similar everywhere.
Mainly 3 organisations are leading the agitation – ‘Birbhum Aadibasi Gaunta’, ‘Adibasi Raksha Mancha’ and ‘Majhi Pargana Daichi’. Hindu Samhati team visited the area, distributed medicine and assured the tribal leaders of all kind of help.
It should be mentioned here that, though Birbhum is not a border district, its Muslim population crossed 35 percent in 2001 (0 – 6 year age group Muslim children population was 41.15%). In Mohammadbazar block, the Muslim population was 29.03% in 2001. What signal comes out of 2011 census, it is yet to be seen. In this district, Nalhati and Muraroi blocks have already turned Muslim majority.
Apart from Kamaal Khan, Nazir Hussain Mallik, Musharraf Khan, Salauddin, Azim Seikh, etc. organized the attack on tribals.