Bardhaman Hindus harassed at Gajon festival
by Sandhya Jain on 19 Apr 2013 8 Comments

As if the violence at Nadia and North and South 24 Parganas were not enough, the start of the holy Navratras saw Hindus of Bardhaman district being harassed during the sacred Gajon festival in honour of Shiva Mahadeo.


The small village of Ketugram in Katwa Sub-division, where Hindus comprise a majority of 80 per cent and Muslims 20 per cent, has a centuries-old tradition of celebrating the last few days of the Bengali calendar year in the worship of the supreme deity Shiva. This overlaps with the auspicious Navratras, the festival of Devi.


A highlight of the celebrations involves the ritual bath (snan) of five Utsav murtis of Shiva in the Ganga at Uddharanpur, 10 km from Ketugram. The murtis are accompanied by the entire village in a joyous procession, to the beating of traditional drums. At the river, devotees bathe the murtis and immerse themselves in the river, before returning to the village.


At some stage, a mosque came up en route the traditional route of the procession, and began to pose problems in recent years on account of growing fundamentalism in the region. Last year, the festival was disturbed by some hooligans, and so the administration called a peace meeting between the groups before this years’ ceremony.


On April 11, the additional district magistrate chaired a meeting between leaders of the two communities, and along with other senior officials and police officers finalized the route of the procession. To accommodate the afternoon namaz, the procession was permitted to begin only after 1.05 pm after namaz concluded.


The next day, April 12, the procession started after 1.05 pm. But as it passed by the mosque, which is a stone’s throw away from the local police station, brickbats were hurled upon the devotees, without any provocation. As the panicked villagers began to run helter-skelter for safety, they found to their utter chagrin that the police led by senior officials began to rain tear gas shells upon them. This was followed by a lathi-charge. The real culprits who attacked the innocent devotees on the way to the Ganga were not touched.


The procession thus came under attack from two sides. The people scattered in disarray, and the five murtis of Mahadeo were lost. Soon some miscreants began to loot and ransack nearby Hindus shops, while the police remained silent spectators. One shopkeeper, Madhu Majee, went to the police station to protest, and was brutally attacked by the anti-social elements. Again, the police looked on passively.


It was only when the looting ended that the police finally imposed Section 144 in the area. The Rapid Action Force was quickly deployed to avert a possible Hindu backlash, though no move was made to protect the Hindu community when it was under attack!


To add insult to injury, the administration barricaded the village to prevent news of the atrocity from leaking out. Nobody from outside is allowed to enter the village, and nobody inside the village is allowed to leave. 


For the first time in memory, the Hindus could not complete their annual religious ritual.


Hindu Samhati leaders say that some local policemen and panchayat leaders played a very unhealthy role in the incident. Four Hindus were arrested (Tapan Sengupta, Mithu Dasgupta, Nadu Hajra, Mithun Dey) though the Hindu community was subjected to unprovoked assault. Four Hindus were injured in the incident (Arun Hajra, Kheru Hajra, Madhu and the 65-year-old mother of Naru Modak). Not a single person has been arrested for attacking the procession, till date.


The stalemate was partially broken by a few families of Ketugram village that had computers and internet connections; they managed to convey the story of their persecution to the Hindu Samhati. Once they got through to Samhati leaders, they went and informed the police that they planned to invite president Tapan Ghosh to the village.


This prompted the administration and police to try to restore some semblance of normalcy. Accordingly, on April 14, the local MLA from the Trinamool Congress, Sheikh Shahnawaz, district magistrate Omkar Singh Meena, and the addl. SP descended on the village and called the Hindu and Muslim villagers for a meeting at Aikyatan Lodge to seek an amicable solution to the impasse.


The Hindus demanded suspension of the mischief-making police officer; immediate and unconditional release of all Hindus arrested; permission to complete the interrupted ritual bathing; resumption of the procession to the Ganga along the traditional route with the accompaniment of 100 dhak (drums) including in front of the mosque; and a guarantee that henceforth the procession would continue to use the traditional route every year as well.


This positive assertion by the Hindu community for its legitimate demands resulted in promises of peace and amity from the other group. To diffuse tensions, the administration agreed to all demands and asked the villagers to fix a date for completion of the snan.


But once passions cooled, the administration back-pedalled on the early release of the arrested Hindus. It remains to be seen if the procession will be allowed to be completed in its original glory.

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