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'Police Inaction Led to Violence': Howrah Residents Recall Ram Navami Clash

15 injured, property damaged after violence broke out in West Bengal's Howrah during a Ram Navami procession

5 min read
'Police Inaction Led to Violence': Howrah Residents Recall Ram Navami Clash
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“We’ve been living here for the past 30 years but have never faced something like this. I managed to escape unhurt because I had gone to check on food in the kitchen when stones were hurled from outside. Our window pane was broken,” alleged Sarita Bothra, a resident of an apartment complex near PM Basti in West Bengal’s Howrah. 

She spoke to The Quint two days after violence broke out in the area between two communities during a Ram Navami procession, organised by right-wing organisation Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP).

Around 15 people have been injured in the incident including three policemen. At least 10 vehicles were burnt including cycle cart, two and three wheelers, and around 20 shops vandalised.
  • 01/03

    At least 20 shops were vandalised in the communal violence that broke out on Thursday.

    (Photo: Gurvinder Singh/The Quint)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>At least 20 shops were vandalised in the communal violence that broke out on Thursday.</p></div>
  • 02/03

    At least 10 vehicles were burnt including cycle carts, and two and three wheelers.

    (Photo: Gurvinder Singh/The Quint)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>At least 10 vehicles&nbsp;were&nbsp;burnt including cycle carts, and two and three wheelers.</p></div>
  • 03/03

    Tension in the area was palpable, even two days after the incident.

    (Photo: Gurvinder Singh/The Quint)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>Tension in the area was palpable, even two days after the incident.</p></div>

Bothra told The Quint, “I was alone at home as my son and husband were at work. I rushed to my neighbour’s house and saved my life.” 


What Happened on Thursday?

The area has been witnessing tension since Thursday evening when a Ram Navami procession passing through the stretch came under attack. Violence continued for at least 24 hours after that. 

Two days after, the remnants of the violence could be seen with gutted and looted shops and showrooms.  

The locality has a mixed population of both Hindus and Muslims and the violence has disrupted normal life and escalated communal tension in the area. 

“I was sitting outside a paan shop when I saw the Ram Navami procession of around 3,000 people including women and children passing through the area around 5.30 pm on Thursday. Some of them were shouting provocative slogans against our community and even brandishing weapons including guns,” alleged Shahdat Hussain, 74, a resident of PM Basti, the epicentre of the violence. 

Shahdat Hussain, 74, said that the police had directed shopkeepers in the area to keep the shops closed from 2 pm to 6 pm on Thursday due to the procession.

(Photo: Gurvinder Singh/The Quint)

Hussain said that the police had directed shopkeepers in the area to keep the shops closed from 2 pm to 6 pm on Thursday due to the procession. “We were following their instructions but suddenly someone pelted stones on them (the procession) from a nearby building and tension began,” alleged Hussain. 

The Quint also spoke to Rekha Chhangani, 40, a homemaker, who took part in the Ram Navami procession on Thursday. She alleged, “Stones were hurled from buildings that have minority population. I was offering prayers in the rally when suddenly stones started falling on us from the buildings that has minorities. I rushed inside my apartment for safety otherwise it could have been dangerous.” 

Meanwhile, 23-year-old Sayeed Raza, a mechanic, who was injured in the violence, told The Quint, “I was returning home from work when someone pelted stones at me. I have suffered serious injuries on my head and the doctor has advised me to get an X-ray done if the pain doesn’t subside in the next two days.” 

Sarita Bothra, a resident of an apartment complex near PM Basti shows a broken window pane in her house.

(Photo: Gurvinder Singh/The Quint)


VHP Denies Route Change Allegations 

It is pertinent to note that the same area had witnessed violence last year during the Ram Navami procession. On Friday, 31 March, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee blamed the Ram Navami procession organisers and particularly the BJP for instigating the violence and changing the route of the procession. 

“I had said it repeatedly (not to disrupt the peace.) They have been hiring goons from outside the state to orchestrate communal riots. Nobody has stopped their processions but they do not have the right to march with swords and bulldozers. How did they get the audacity to do this in Howrah? Why did they change the route (at the last moment) and take the unauthorised route to target and attack one community?" Banerjee said. 

She further said that strict action would be taken against the culprits. 

The VHP leaders who organised the rally have dismissed any such allegations of route change. “For the last decade, we have been holding the rally here had already sent a letter for permission to police on 3 March. The permission was granted on 21 March for the rally that started from B.E. College and was supposed to end at Ramkrishnapur Ghat covering a distance of six km. We had already covered four km and reached PM Basti,” said Indra Deo Dubey, convenor of VHP, Howrah district. 

There was a heavy deployment of security in the affected area.

(Photo: Gurvinder Singh/The Quint)

Dubey claimed that the VHP has “requested the police to give security for a 100 metre stretch in PM Basti as it is minority dominated.” 

He alleged, “We feared that there will be an untoward incident or violence as it had broken out last year at the same location but the police paid no heed and remained ineffective leading to such incidents.” 

Dubey claimed, “We were not carrying any weapons as the police had strictly barred it.” 

Ritu Singh, the state president of women wing of VHP, alleged that “miscreants” misbehaved with women and children in the procession and even snatched their chains and bags. “We demand an investigation by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) as we don’t think the police can do an impartial investigation.” 


Loss to Property and Livelihood 

Md Pervez, 42, a fruit seller whose cycle cart was burnt in the violence, alleged that those in the rally were shouting provocative slogans, “They were shouting Musalman Jhum ke bolo, Jai Shree Ram while brandishing swords and guns. How were they allowed to bring such kind of weapons in the rally? They looted my fruits and have burnt my cart. I am now facing livelihood issues.” 

The situation flared up again on Friday and the police had to resort to hurling tear gas to bring situation under control. The tension was palpable even on Saturday as section 144 was imposed. Most of the shops and other establishments remained closed while a contingent of police personnel marched in the area to bring normalcy. 

Despite both the communities accusing each other for the violence, they both raised question on the role of the police and blamed it for inaction. “Police remained mute spectator on both the days. They didn’t try to control the situation when the stone pelting began. Their inaction led to such an incident. It seemed that they were instructed not to interfere in the clash,” alleged Md Rahmatullah, 45, a local bus driver. 

Md Rahmatullah, 45, questioned the role of police and blamed it for inaction.

(Photo: Gurvinder Singh/The Quint)

When contacted, the Commissioner of Police (Howrah city), however, refuted such allegations, “The allegations of inaction are baseless as we are doing our duty. We have arrested 38 people so far and the situation is under control. We are also using drones to monitor the situation,” said Praveen Kumar Tripathi, the police commissioner. 

State Minister Arup Roy today said that the government is preparing a list of the affected people and compensation would be given to them. 

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