Ki Bolche Bangla: Year After Riots, How Will This Locality Vote?
In May 2020, Telinipara saw massive communal riots at the peak of the nationwide coronavirus lockdown.
In May 2020, as the nation grappled with coronavirus lockdown, the locality of Telinipara in West Bengal's Hooghly district, faced another tragedy. Full-fledged communal riots, between the Hindu and Muslim communities, spanning across three days, engulfed the area. At the time, The Quint, was one of the few organisations that covered these riots. We reported how the genesis of these riots was stigma faced by the Muslims who were constantly told that they "spread corona". Why did people feel so? Well, as we learnt then, this notion was spread by the skewed (and bigoted) coverage of the Tablighi Jamaat in Delhi by many in the legacy media.
With elections in Hooghly around the corner, we went back to Telinipara, for this episode of our Ki Bolche Bangla series. We spoke to some people we met last time and some people we couldn't to see if the riots are an electoral issue for them.
'No Hope From Administration'
When we visited Telinipara last year, due to police intervention, we couldn't meet a lot of Hindu families. Therefore, this time, we started by visiting the Hindu areas first.
The lines of burnt down houses that we had seen last time had now given way to brightly coloured one-storey shanties with one or two bedrooms each.
Here, we met Prakash Jaiswal, who explained to us that his house was the "border area" between the Hindu and Muslim localities.
Prakash recalled the day of the riots and how his family had to run helter skelter to save their lives. But what he remembers most from that day is the alleged insensitivity of the police towards his family.
“We kept appealing to the police to let us go and douse the flames that had engulfed our house. But they didn’t allow us”, says Prakash.
A wedding photographer, Prakash lost his camera and other equipment during the riots. He says he's taken a loan to buy all his equipment again. He further says that he was given 10,000 rupees as compensation for his house, but the amount didn't even begin to cover his expenses.
When asked what he wants from the upcoming election, Jaiswal says that he wants to be "treated equally".
“There were Muslim houses on the other side. They were rebuilt completely by the government. And we just got 10,000 rupees and were told to rebuild our house”, explains Jaiswal, a claim that could not be independently verified by The Quint.
"I would never want this to happen again. This happening once ruins a person. I would not want this to happen to anyone", he concludes.
Peace, But An Eerie Disquiet
As we moved from Prakash's part of the locality to the Muslim areas, we met Shaheena. A young girl who's just completed her graduation, Shaheena says that her burnt house was restored by the government and that she also received 5,000 rupees.
However, Shaheena's worry now is different from the others that we spoke to in Telinipara. All her identification documents were burnt during the riots. She now has no form of government identification. This she feels might cause trouble in the event that something like the CAA-NRC comes into effect.
"All the documents that I have for proving my stay in India is now gone. They say go here, go there and then we’ll make it for you. We are doing that. We are trying", she says.
The riots, however, will not decide Shaheena’s vote as she says that such incidents “cannot be stopped” in Telinipara.
Her claims are further amplified by Jahangir Ansari.
We met Jahangir last year as well. At the time, he showed us his burnt house, along with which all the jewellery for his sister's upcoming wedding was also burnt. He'd also narrated the taunts he had to face as a Muslim when he'd go to the market or anywhere else in the locality, explaining that the comments started coming after the news of the Tablighi Jamaat broke.
A year later, Jehangir has rebuilt his house with help from friends and charity. It cost him 82,000 rupees. His sister is also married now. However, everything is not as it was before.
“We weren’t living here after the riots. We went away, but once we got back from the rehabilitation camp, no one was talking to us. We stopped talking to the people in the house behind us because they burnt down our house. The house infront of us does not talk to us either. So now no one is talking about the riots”, he says.
However, there is talk of such a situation happening again.
"We are hearing that..I mean people say…that there might be riots after the election. The atmosphere here is such…the people here are saying that if BJP doesn’t win then there might be riots. Anything can happen during counting", says Jehangir.
Jehangir's fears are echoed by 60-year-old Kamrunnisa, who we also met in 2020. At that time, she'd told us that her husband's leg had been grievously injured during the rioting.
The subsequent year, however, has not lessened Kamrunnisa's problems. Her husband has now been moved to different locality, lest violence breaks out again. He's completely bed-ridden. His leg has not recovered.
"We want nothing to happen here. We want all religions to stay together. But we still hear that something will happen. Why will something happen? Don’t you have a life? Next time something happens, we’ll jump into the gunfire. Ask them to kill both of us. Where will we go? Who will save us?", she asks.
'Nothing Can Stop Riots Here'
Back in the Hindu colony, Prabhunath Thakur seems to agree with Jahangir and Kamrunnisa.
Thakur, a senior resident of Telinipara, explains that such situations develop every 2-3 years. He says that a similar riot also happened in 2017.
"All this keeps happening here. But there is only a lot of chaos. This is the first time everything got destroyed", says Thakur, whose house was also burnt down in May 2020.
Like the others, Thakur says that the riots will not decide his vote. Instead, he will vote on issues like joblessness, housing, pensions and more. Why? Because "even the administration cannot stop the riots".
“There is no one to stop things from happening here. There’s no one from the administration to stop either. The police car comes and goes straight to that (Muslim) side”, he says.
"This will never end. Look now, a toto wala will get hurt and 10 people will gather and this will happen again", he says.
Jehangir, on the other hand, says that he's trying to sensitise those around him to not fall in the trap of communal politics.
"There is trouble everywhere and I hope it doesn’t happen here. I keep telling my friends that keep politics away from our friendship", he says.
"There is no point in riots. There’s only loss. If it’s a loss for me, it’s a loss for you. If you burn my house, someone will burn yours."
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