Report on Kaligram Muharrum riot, October 2016

Kaligram, culturally rich and educated village in Bengal has not known a peaceful Durga puja for at least three decades.

The report has been prepared using eye-witness accounts by social worker and technologist Bhaswar Goswami, who hails from Kaligram village and is currently working in Bengaluru.

Durga Puja is a time for celebration, Aradhana of ‘Naari Sakti’ and a way to worship mata for the emancipation of the individuals and the upliftment of the society in Bengal. It is a time when every household buys new cloths, gifts them to family and friends and celebrate the occasion with full merriment everywhere in rural and urban Bengal. But, the same is not true for the villagers of Kaligram, which is about 75 kilometers from the town of Malda in Bengal (location on the map).

This culturally rich and educated village has not known a peaceful Durga puja for at least three decades. Every year, Durga puja is accompanied by the horrors of Muslim oppression and aggression committed in the name of Muharrum celebration. This is especially true when both the festivals fall on the same day or close to each other. Each time, the Muslim procession used to cross this Hindu village, it wreaked havoc in the otherwise peaceful village. In 2015, the village saw gruesome Muslim violence [Read here]. This year the same has repeated again.

Even before the Puja started, as the villagers of Kaligram prepared with joy and devotion for the celebration, there was a fear among the Hindu households about the possibility of Muslim disruption and the flare up of communal tension, since Muharrum coincided with Durga Puja. Local administration had issued multiple discriminatory orders like ‘Hindus cannot play music while Muharrum is underway’, ‘immersion of Durga Idols cannot be done as per practice on certain days’, etc. These orders, though discriminatory were silently accepted by the Hindu villagers in order to maintain communal harmony. Yet, despite this compromise by the local Hindu community, Muslim mob attacked the village on the evening of October 14 and inflicted huge damage to Hindu lives and property.

Here is a chronological account of the incidence:

  • 13th October, night around 9 PM: Hindus were busy taking their Durga Idol immersion procession through the village, as per Police guidance. Same night Muslims were celebrating what they call ‘Basi karbala’, a specific type of violent celebration for Muharrum practiced in Bengal.
  • 13th October, night around 10 PM: While immersion procession was passing through the village as per prior schedule, Hindus got to know that local police led by IC Chanchal PS, had diverted ‘Basi karbala’ procession with thousands of Muslims brandishing swords, lathis and other sharp weapons. This was a clear deviation from the 24 years old court settlement that mandated no ‘Basi karbala’ procession to be allowed to pass through the village for ensuring safety and security of the Hindu life.
  • 13th October, night around 11 PM: Hindus protested to the police and in return got flak from the IC Police. Moreover, Hindu women were insulted by the police administration.
  • 14th October, early morning around 12 AM: Fearing the dire consequences of ‘Basi karbala’ procession passing through the village, Hindus decided to block the road by keeping Durga Idol and not to carry on with the immersion. This made the Muslims to change their mind and divert the ‘Basi karbala’ procession through outer roads.
  • 14th October, early morning, around 4 AM: Malda police administration reached Kaligram with armed police and forced the villagers to take the Durga Idol for immersion. Villagers agreed.
  • 14th October, early morning, around 5 AM: While most of the villagers were busy doing the immersion of their mata with heavy heart, police asked 8 Hindu youth leaders (Ratan Das, Siddharta Nandi, Suman Guha, Manish Sarkar, Gopesh Sarkar, Ajit Pramanik, Ramkrishna Das, and Advocate Himadri Das) to accompany them to police station Chanchal in order to have some discussion. After taking them to the police station, all were arrested, though they had committed no wrongs.
  • 14th October, morning, around 7 AM: News about the arrest of the either people spread through the Village men and women decided to do ‘gherao’ of Chanchal police station in protest of the arrest.
  • 14th October, evening, around 5 PM: Finally, giving in to the demands of the villagers SDPO apologized to the people and released the arrested eight Hindu youth leaders without any condition.
  • 14th October, night, around 10 PM: Muslim mob gathered around the village with country made bombs, pistols, pipe guns, swords, lathis and other ammunitions, and started to loot and burn the houses. Rapid Action Force (RAF), which was deployed at the place came under attack as well. Two Police personnel got severely injured and the RAF men ran away leaving the villagers completely unguarded. Villagers called up Malda District administration in desperation, but the calls were unanswered.
  • 15th October, around 5 PM: District Magistrate, Superintendent of Police and other officials from the administration reached Kaligram with huge police force, but by then, the mob, which had already inflicted heavy damage to the Hindu property and human life, had run away. Around 50 houses looted and burnt to ashes. Two cars and one truck were also burnt. One jewelry shop & two grocery shops were looted. Cattles were taken away. Hindu women were molested. Three Hindu temples were vandalized beyond repair and their idols Hundreds of Hindus were left homeless and lost their life savings.

Now, that the Section 144 has been imposed by the administration and the central armed forces are patrolling the village, there is a temporary relief to the Hindu villagers. In the last five days, a bustling village has turned into a riot hit desert, with hundreds becoming homeless, including children and many infants, who are now living in other’s homes and consuming community food. No relief or compensation has been provided by the administration till now.

Villagers are running pillars to post in order to file FIRs and looking for ways to bring the issue to the attention of the entire nation, while there are attempts in the local media to suppress the incident in the name of maintaining communal harmony and the administration has chosen to remain a mute spectator.

Here are three video clips showing the damage to Hindu property in the attacks.

Video 1

Video 2

Video 3