On Monday evening, Trinamool Congress panchayat pradhan deputy from nearby Barshal village, Bhadu Sheikh, was murdered in a bomb attack in Paschimpara (western district) of Bogtui where he lived. In India, such killings are committed by “miscreants”, a term which makes the killers, whether in a crowd or in a more “cautious” attack, look like vandals, eve-lighters or shoplifters.
An hour after Bhadu Sheikh’s murder, the village in Birbhum district was alive with the sound of bombs – “like in a war”, according to an unnamed resident – and the distinct sound of houses crackling in the fire. At 3 a.m., four burnt bodies were taken to Rampurhat Government Medical College in the local municipality. In another half hour, seven charred bodies were recovered from a burnt-out one-story pukka house belonging to Shona Sheikh, a Trinamool worker and one of those named in the FIR in relation to the Bhadu Sheikh murder. Almost all other houses in Purbapara (eastern district) of Bogtui belonging to Phatik Sheikh, Banirul Sheikh, Mahirul Sheikh, Sheikh Lal, Nek Lal and Palash Sheikh were burnt down. Among the eight burned alive were six women and one child.
Such “low-level” incidents of carnage – deaths “not even double digits” – are not uncommon in West Bengal, let alone in India. But such is the current political climate, that violence along “community lines” is the only one that seems to cause outrage and concern. In Bogtui, these “usual” traits were absent.
For starters, the names of victims and alleged perpetrators – 11 people have been arrested so far – are filled with “sheikhs”. So this is not a mini Muzaffarnagar riot.
Then there is the issue of whether the original killing of Bhadu Sheikh as well as the alleged “revenge massacre” are linked to the same political group: the ruling party in the state. As well timed, State Cabinet Minister and Kolkata Mayor Firhad Hakim on Tuesday afternoon said it was a plot to tarnish the state itself with an image of ‘”anarchy”. TMC General Secretary Kunal Ghosh did his part to point out that it wasn’t even
But Bogtui is not a local West Side Story production. It doesn’t matter to those who died or to those who fear for their lives that Tuesday’s massacre was “politically linked” or the sad result of a “village dispute”. The fact that West Bengal’s policy of intimidation and protection – hafta by another name – has, over the decades, seeped into every nook and cranny of life in its villages and towns has ‘normalized’ this violence by giving it a “non-political” aspect. ‘.
With no opposition to speak of – hence the all-too-frequent and untimely gestures of Governor and former BJP MP and MP Jagdeep Dhankhar being part of the ‘Centre vs. State’ ritual of slagging – every attempt to rule law and order collapse or “political attacks” on the dock are brushed aside as a hopeless conspiracy fabricated by the opposition. What are the credentials of the TMC as
Bogtui has been locked down since Monday, with residents afraid not just to open their mouths but to be
As locals mutter something about a toxic rivalry within TMC for ‘control’ – Bhadu Sheikh, allegedly under the tutelage of TMC Birbhum District Chairman Anubrata Mandal, controlled the illegal sand and sand operations stone in the area and allegedly intimidated candidates from other parties in the February 27 municipal elections – Mandal said the fires started “probably from a television set that had shorted out in one of the houses”. His party did not follow this line of inquiry into faulty circuitry. But what happened in Bogtui will become just another “incident” in Bengal, steeped in culture.
The Union Home Office wants a “report within 72 hours” of the massacre. The brave people of Kolkata will, of course, balk at the idea of presidential rule and flatter themselves that they are the “only Gallic village” resisting a communal empire of Delhi. While the heartbreaking images of Ukrainians under siege will make them want to do something, anything, from the safety of their homes 220 km from Bogtui.