"We live peacefully – and we have been staying here for several generations now. But we have never witnessed a communal clash before," said Mohammad Pappu, who runs a tailoring shop on the ground floor of Jama Masjid mosque, in Sandhya Bazar area of Rishra, in West Bengal's Hooghly district.
"Thankfully, most of the shopkeepers had gone back to their homes to break their fast as it is the holy month of Ramadan,” Pappu said, adding that "the situation could have taken a turn for the worse had the market area been active."
As The Quint visited Rishra on Monday, 3 April, the situation remained tense. Although internet services remained suspended to keep the situation under control, stone-pelting was reported in some areas with the local police resorting to lathi charge and tear gas to disperse the crowd.
What Happened on Sunday?
Two processions were organised by the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and 13 other Hindu organisations.
According to the organisers, while the first procession was carried out peacefully, the second one – led by BJP leader Dilip Ghosh – "came under attack" – with stones being hurled at them from the mosque – when it was passing through the Jama Masjid mosque at around 6 pm.
The procession that began at Rishra's NS Road was supposed to cover a distance of around 3 km before concluding at Jagannath Snan Ghat. Even though Ram Navami was celebrated on Thursday, 30 March, religious processions – also known as 'shobha yatra' – are usually taken out days after the festival, too.
Local BJP leader Mohan Adok, who was part of the rally, termed it as an organised crime.
“It was in an organised and pre-planned crime as stones were being hurled to us from the mosque, and cops stood as mute spectators. They then ran away when the situation became out of control,” Adok said.
“The ruling party (in West Bengal) has been orchestrating such incidents to instigate fear among Muslims and save its minority vote bank. I have been taking part in the procession for the last 12 years but such an incident never occurred before. Why is it happening now?”Dilip Ghosh
Members of the minority community, however, blamed those in the Ram Navami procession for the violence.
“The committee members of the mosque were greeting the procession (around 6 pm) and there was no tension at all… Suddenly people in the rally began to throw stones at the mosque. Around 20 people inside the mosque were about to break their fast after offering evening namaz (prayers) but we shut them inside and closed the doors," Zakir Hussain Noori, the maulana (cleric) of the mosque, told The Quint.
A day after the violence, pieces of stones could still be seen inside the mosque.
Noori further alleged that around six people, carrying saffron flags, tried to enter the mosque, but failed because the gates were closed.
Mohd Sarfaraz Ahmed, a resident of Sandhya Bazar, alleged that those in the rally were carrying "small revolvers".
"We saw them carrying gun and swords. It was a small revolver which they were brandishing in air."
Local BJP leader Adok refuted allegations of carrying any weapons in the rally.
On Monday, the state police barred Suvendu Adhikari from the BJP, who is the Leader of Opposition, from entering the violence-hit area. Blaming the Trinamool Congress (TMC) government, Adhikari said,
“Our religion doesn’t allow us to be violent during festivals. We always try to be calm but the state government is behind all this as it wants to save its vote bank. There are no words to condemn such incidents.”
Meanwhile, state BJP chief Sukanta Majumdar sat on the road with his supporters after he was denied entry, too. He alleged, “The police is arresting our supporters from their homes but they are not acting against those who had thrown bombs at us. Even our councillor office has been attacked but policemen have not done anything.”
So far, at least 12 people have been arrested. Talking to The Quint, Amit P Jawalgi, Commissioner of Police of Chandannagar Police Commissionerate, said, “We have imposed Section 144 in the area – and those involved in the violence are being arrested.”
However, residents accused the police of excesses. “The police are conducting raids since Sunday night and arresting people without any reason. We have not done anything wrong but still our houses are being searched since last night. We have not gone to work today,” lamented Mohd Afroz.
Shops and other establishments remained closed during the day and work was also suspended in Rishra's Wellington Jute Mill – the oldest jute mill in the country .