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Deganga Intifada – Update

by Dr. Richard L. Benkin (March 2011)

 

Last October, New English Review reported on three days of anti-Hindu violence by Muslims in the Deganga area of North 24 Parganas, only 40 kilometers from the West Bengal capital of Kolkata (“Deganga Intifada?New English Review, October 2010).  While Indian papers continue to refer to the incident as a “riot” or “disturbances,” local activists insisted that it was nothing less than a planned pogrom carried out by Muslims against Hindus with the expressed purpose of driving them from the area.

The pogrom started—as these things are wont to do these days—with a fabricated land dispute; in this instance one in which Muslims claimed a wooded area off the region’s main road that Hindus own and on which sits a Hindu shrine that is considered very sacred.  As the 2010 Islamic observance of Iftar came to an end, a large group of Muslims attempted to seize the land until local Hindus stopped them. It was then that they started attacking Hindu households and shops indiscriminately. Most reports after the initial ones alleged extensive arson and property damage but no physical attacks or molestation of Hindu women, which have become regular features of these aktions. According to Tathagata Roy, a West Bengal political leader, “This was a well-thought-out, well-executed pogrom whose objective was to terrorize the Hindus no end…. The ultimate intention can only be to cleanse the area of Hindus with a view to totally Islamize the area.” I returned to the Daganga area in February to check on the people and the area and to see if Roy’s words were prophetic. They were.

The first home we stopped at foreshadowed what we would encounter pretty uniformly. The owner of the land, an elderly Hindu woman, spoke with us but was afraid to give her name for fear of reprisals (something repeated by our other informants in the area). Since the violence, her Muslim neighbors have become more aggressive, boldly encroaching on her small plot of land, which has been in the family for generations. Near the perimeter, in fact, they had erected a wall on which was painted a star and crescent to represent the fact that the land was now under Muslim control. Our witness said that her neighbors have made no secret of their intention to push her out of the region, and lamented that the authorities have been no help. She fears more violence. As we spoke, her Muslim neighbors congregated around the land and made a menacing show of watching the woman.

At the second home, we were greeted by a mother and her young daughter who told us that not more than two weeks prior, neighbors threw part of a cow carcass in their yard. This is not only a serious form of religious desecration for Hindus (and illegal in India), but it also has been used to intimidate them elsewhere, suggesting that they might be next. The authorities told her that they would not intervene and that she had to work it out with her Muslim neighbors; but according to Animitra Chakraborty of Hindu Samhati (a Hindu self-defense and renewal organization), “they were in no mood to talk.” As a result, the woman is seriously thinking of taking her daughter and moving out of the area.

The head of Hindu Samhati, Tapan Ghosh, took us to the sites of some of September’s excesses. As we stood on the main road, he pointed to a nearby market and told us that “all the Hindu shops were looted and then burned” to the ground; clearly a targeted and religiously based attack. Most shops were little more than sticks and fabric but others were made of brick. The Hindu community has rebuilt most of them as well as most of the damaged homes. One large house, however, remains damaged. Its owner, a leader of the Hindu community, was accused by the mob of firing on them and was taken away by authorities. He has not been seen since, and his wife and children have fled the area. Fear is growing among the Hindus living in Deganga. Many have already fled, and those still there expressed a great deal of trepidation, especially for the women. They fear going to school, to the market, and elsewhere. Most said they are ready to flee the area, and it seems that they need little more than another serious incident to pack up and leave.

Other families told us their valuables were looted and showed us where their homes were firebombed.  In some cases we saw the charred remains of furniture and evidence of the fire bleeding through freshly painted walls.  Several individuals said that reports alleging there were no physical assaults simply were not true. One man described being beaten, and at least two groups of women showed us where they fled to escape being molested. One elderly resident, a former schoolteacher told us that on the third day of the pogrom he observed a curious procession on a ridge across from his home: a long line of local Muslims carrying hand weapons including lakhis (long sticks that are commonly used in these attacks), machete-like knives, and other implements. What really grabbed his attention, however, was the fact that they were following a group of local police, which told him that any appeals to justice were going to be futile. Yet, his greatest disappointment, he said, was that up until recently, Hindus and Muslims lived peacefully with each other in the area. He is convinced that this change could not have happened randomly but is part of a planned effort to force Hindus from Deganga. Throughout his career, he said, he taught Hindus and Muslims alike—“good boys,” he said—and now some of those Muslim students are using those lessons to attack their Hindu counterparts.

For some time, I have been using figures from Bimal Pramanik, Director of the Kolkata-based Centre for Research in Indo-Bangladesh Relations that show a steady and deliberate effort to change Hindu-Muslim demographics in West Bengal. Between 1981 and 1991, Muslim population growth in West Bengal was nearly 35 percent compared to only 25 percent in Bangladesh; this while Hindus were dropping from almost one in five to nine percent in Bangladesh. It is far more powerful to listen to the real victims and look into their eyes as they talk about their fear. And as if we needed confirmation, disturbances started up again before we left the area; little more than shouting and shoving. But the next day, Muslims attacked Hindus in Deganga. As expected, local authorities took no action.

Jihad has come to India, and while Deganga seems to be the next area designated for ethnic cleansing, we have seen a similar (though quieter) process occur in small villages all along the 4095 kilometer border. Towns once dotted with small Hindu temples are now bereft of them as Hindu populations either flee or are destroyed.  Each year, I seem to ride through another village now Hindurein. While we in the West focus on internecine battles in North Africa and elsewhere in the Arab world, our enemies are quietly eroding the greatest bulwark against their expansionist aims. There are one and a half times the Muslims in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh than in the entire Arab world and Iran. The only question left to us is whether we will awaken to this danger before it is too late.


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