Every once in a while, Maulana Mohammad Yaseen Mondal shuts his eyes and lapses into deep thought.
And when he speaks, retelling – and reliving – the horrid events of 5 July evening when a mob of his coreligionists descended on a Hindu house in Magurkhali village under Baduria block of West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district and set fire to it, he comes up with only one answer:
That 17-year-old boy couldn’t have done it by himself. There has got to be some other force behind that vile Facebook post that degraded Allah, our Nabi, our Rasool.Maulana Mohammad Yaseen Mondal
Are Days of Tolerance Over?
Over a week after Muslims torched the house, sparking riotous mobs to resort to violence in Basirhat and other nearby and far-flung districts of West Bengal, the years of inter-communal tolerance “are over”, says the maulana, adding that the bhratittyo (brotherhood) of the past has suffered a “permanent damage”.
Mondal is the imam of the mosque right opposite the house of the 17-year-old high school kid who remains in protective custody of the police. The identity of the boy is not being revealed to safeguard his security.
Like other imams in Bengal, Mondal gets a state government-sanctioned salary of Rs 2,500. Two modest hatcheries by the side of his brick-built house supplements his salary.
“The two communities have drifted apart after 5 July and the subsequent terrible events,” 51-year-old Mondal admits, and then slips in an “open secret” that no political party in Bengal is willing to speak out, leave alone discuss – the “menace” of the regular settling down of Bangladeshi illegal Hindu immigrants in the small towns and villages of densely populated North 24 Parganas that borders Bangladesh.
This is the very inverse of the Indian Hindus’ “fear” of Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants swamping Bengal.
Intermingling of Politics With Religion
The Muslims of Magurkhali and Rudrapur villages as also those of Baduria town and beyond have been finding the recent arrival of “Bangladeshi Hindus” a threat to communal harmony, if there ever was one.
“About 40-50 such families have been able to purchase land, procure citizenship documents and build houses in Magurkhali and Rudrapur,” Amirul Islam, a former Congress vice-chairman of Baduria municipality, said.
In the last polls to local bodies, Magurkhali, which is part of Ward No 17 under Baduria municipality, elected Manisha Ghosh of the BJP as councillor.
A few years ago, Islam, who is the chief patron of the Magurkhali mosque, switched loyalties to the Trinamool Congress which has been accused of creating conditions for the entry into West Bengal of Bangladeshi illegal immigrants, mainly Muslims but also Hindus.
Over the last 25 years, there has been a steady, and continuing, inflow of hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi Hindu immigrants who have settled in nearby towns such as Swaroopnagar, Habra, Basirhat, Machhlandpur, Gobordanga and Tetulia. These Hindu immigrants found their prospects of earning Indian citizenship to be bright after the Narendra Modi government declared that the Citizenship Act of 1955 would be amended to grant them that status.
“The Sonali Sangha club which is close to the house of the 17-year-old boy is frequented by several young Bangladeshi Hindu immigrants who have settled in Magurkhali. The boy was on friendly terms with them. We cannot say with certainty, but there could a possibility that the offensive FB post was shared by one of them with that boy. Of course, that is now a matter of investigation,” says Hafizul Islam, a second-year student in Kolkata’s Alia University and a resident of Dakshin Shimla village.
A ‘Daily Battle’ for Hindus of the Area
While the Hindus of Magurkhali are “lying low” for the time being, the members of Sonali Club, opposite a primary school, shaded by a bamboo grove and arecanut trees, refuse to “discuss the violence”. Inside the one-room club, whose floor is littered with bidi ends, eight to nine youths lounge about, watching a South Indian movie dubbed in Hindi. They begin to disperse as we introduce ourselves as journalists. But one of them, who did not wish to be identified, says:
“It is a daily battle for us,” he said, indicating the strained relations with the Muslims and the consequent “pressure” that the Hindus are in the village.
Amirul Islam, who tried to build a bridge – without much success – between the openly suspicious Hindus and Muslims after the attack of the riotous mob in Magurkhali, says:
Those Bangladeshi Hindus who may have carried with them feelings of persecution in their country of origin, may have brought those sentiments along with them here. What happened in Magurkhali could be the result of Muslims’ ire against those aggressive communal feelings harboured by the Bangladeshi Hindus who may have faced persecution in Bangladesh.
Islam presents a detailed account of the means that Bangladeshi immigrants, especially Hindus who have settled in North 24 Parganas, adopt to obtain Indian citizenship.
They manage to get hold of voter identity cards, even Aadhaar cards. They then approach real estate promoters and purchase land which is done by tweaking land records. I dare say that officials at the Baduria Block Development Office (BDO) are hand-in-glove with the immigrants to facilitate their purchase of land.Amirul Islam
“Even parents can be ‘hired’ on monetary considerations to procure resident permits,” Islam says, adding that once landed property is obtained and a house built on it, the Hindus “keep shuttling between Bangladesh and here”.
There have been several occasions when, “despite negative residency reports (of the Bangladeshi Hindu immigrants) from the BDO, the names of the Hindu immigrants duly find mention in the electoral rolls”. Islam claims that the number of Bangladeshi Hindu immigrants in the municipal limits of Baduria is less than that compared to the outlying villages.
Where is Hindu-Muslim Unity Headed?
Back in Magurkhali, Maulana Yaseen Mondal’s daughter Haleema Khatun, the dupatta of her school uniform draped over her head, removes her floaters at the threshold of the modest house. In the backyard, two goats are tethered to stakes. Hens and chicks frolic about the backyard, muddied by the incessant rain. “There are 150 students in our class, but the bulk of them are Muslim girls,” Haleema says. She goes to the co-educational Rudrapur Radha Ballabh High School where she studies in Class XI.
After instructing Haleema to make some tea for us, Mondal says that “the relationship between Hindus and Muslims appears to have been irreversibly damaged” which is evidenced by the fact that he doesn’t get any “invites from them (Hindus) anymore to perform jhaar-phoonk or provide them with local totka (superstitious medicinal remedy)”.
“The recent ugly incident reveals that even Muslims of Magurkhali and Rudrapur have developed a degree of hatred for their Hindu neighbours. Recently, there was an attempt by us to do a photoshoot featuring members of the two communities, but it was spurned by the Hindus,” Mondal says, lamenting the “increasing” gap between members of the two communities who “no longer have any aantorikota (fellow feeling)”.
“The future of Hindu-Muslim relationship here doesn’t appear very promising now, but we Muslims just hope that the BJP doesn’t try to fish in troubled waters. Otherwise, who knows what might happen before the panchayat elections due next year,” the imam of Magurkhali said.
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