Bengal: Residents Leave Bhatapara In Anticipation Of Poll Violence

Debayan Dutta
·9-min read

If the walls had lips, they would scream of the horrors witnessed, because the victims...the victims have nothing more to say.

Most of the Muslims residing in Bhatpara and Kankinara‘s labour colonies have left because they fear that there might be instances of violence like 2019, as the consistency goes to polls on 22nd April. Those who stayed back, say that there’s nothing left to loot except for their lives. Most of them are victims of the 2019 Bhatpara clashes.

“Don’t break my heart”, a teary-eyed Memjit Ayyub, whose house was destroyed during the 2019 poll violence in Kankinara tells The Quint when asked about those days. He continues, “Showing my face on the media has not helped me in any way. I have been running pillar to post, but there has been no luck.”

In 2019, Bhatpara and the adjacent Kankinara witnessed at least 24 cases of rioting and arson during and after the Lok Sabha polls. Bombs were hurled at the shanty towns along the railway lines, which had ultimately displaced hundreds of families, and left at least eight dead and several injured.

A local shows her damaged house and narrates her experience
A local shows her damaged house and narrates her experience

Locals allege that the situation had started to become communally tense after the 2018 Ram Navami procession which had led to minor clashes between Hindus and Muslims, and it finally led to the violence in 2019.

While locals blame the Trinamool Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, especially ex-TMC MLA from Bhatpara and now BJP MP from Barrackpore Arjun Singh, it is the victims of these clashes who are still struggling to rebuild their lives.

Political violence is as much a part of Bengal politics as is election rallies. It had started as the TMC sought to overthrow the Left government in 2011, which had led to cadre wars across Bengal. And when it succeeded, the vacuum that it had created, made the perfect ground for the BJP to plant its seed. As the BJP gained strength in Bengal, political violence also took on a communal hue.

Also Read: Violence-hit Bhatpara sees deserted streets as tension persists

Settlements in Bhatpara and Kankinara are mostly segregated along labour lines comprising of migrants from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand who settled here before Independence to work at the Jute Mills. The population comprises of roughly 85 percent Hindus and 15 percent Muslims, many of whom are not connected to the jute mills but have lived here for generations.

Living in Constant Fear

Most of the houses along Kankinara’s Darba Line and Tina Godown remain empty. When asked, the locals said that some of them had left during the violence, never to come back. Many others left recently in the fear that this election might also trigger violence in the area, so they have packed whatever belongings they had and left. They will come back after the elections if the atmosphere is calm.

Noor Jahan, a housewife and resident of Tina Godown says that there have been rumours floating about the possibility of post-poll violence if the BJP loses from here. Line Number Six’s Ruksar Parveen alleges that BJP workers have “threatened to set the local Muslims on fire this time.” These claims could not be independently verified by The Quint.

“So why are you staying back? Why haven’t you left with the others?”

A young domestic help, Shitara Parveen says that most of them have left and only a few of them remain. They are forced to stay here because they have nowhere to go.

Shitara Parveen
Shitara Parveen

"“The miscreants had entered our house and forced my mother, younger sister and I to leave. They said that if we don’t leave, they will rape us. They all live here but that day they had their faces covered. They still pass comments like ‘Last time we looted your house, this time we will loot (rape) you. We are scared to go out after 7pm.”" - Shitara Parveen, Domestic Help

Noor Jahan adds, “We must stay here. We are poor people who work here to earn a living. If we don't work, we will die of starvation.”

Mohammad Hakim was sitting at his doorstep waiting to meet someone when a bomb came flying towards him. His back was injured. He says that the only reason why he’s still here is because the police have assured him that they will be protected.

Aramat Ali, a local millworker points towards the houses around and says that most of the affected families have not bought much since their houses were ransacked during the violence. They are living on the bare minimum so that they can escape anytime.

While the Muslim dominated labour lines live in fear of Hindu (mostly BJP) miscreants, in five number line railway siding which is a Hindu settlement, the fear is exactly the opposite.

Amar Shaw
Amar Shaw

An emotional but enraged Amar Shaw said that he doesn’t want to point fingers because he still has to live in his house and doesn’t want to invite any more trouble.

"You will go and publish this news, and then we will have trouble living here. We dont have the money to shift anywhere else. We have not received any help. Only selective people have received help. I will die but I won’t leave from here." - Amar Shaw, Tea shop owner

Shaw had managed to escape with his family and his neighbours during the violence to take refuge in a nearby school. He lost his wife to a shock-induced cardiac arrest when they learnt that their house and all their savings were looted.

Shaw had started a tea shop with the money he had received after he retired from the Bhatpara Reliance Jute Mill. He was saving up for the marriage of his two daughters, one 33 and one 25, but all that was lost.

"The only option I have left for the marriage of my daughter is to sell my tea shop. The compensation given by the government is not enough." - Amar Shaw, Tea shop owner

Meanwhile, Geeta Devi has rented a house far away from the settlements so that she could take refuge there if clashes broke out again. Sita Devi, a domestic worker says that she must lull her kids to sleep with lies that everything is okay whenever they are scared. Devi says that if clashes happen again, she would stay here because “there is nothing left to loot anymore.”

In Dust and In Rubble

Ayyub’s son got injured during the bombing in June 2019. While he rushed his youngest son to the hospital, his house was ransacked and bombed beyond repair. He now lives in a rented house along with his wife, children and niece.

The scars on Memjit Ayyub’s youngest son
The scars on Memjit Ayyub’s youngest son

"I have nothing left except for my life, so what will I escape for?" - Memjit Ayyub, Jute Mill worker

Reluctant to talk to the reporter, he did not want to relive the past. He further alleged that the media only used them for publicity purposes but when it came to offering him help, no one did. He doesn’t want to beg, he says, “God has given me two hands, I will work and earn a living for myself and my family.”

Ayyub and his wife’s damanged home
Ayyub and his wife’s damanged home

Ayyub's niece, Nasheera Khatoum, says that she saw the miscreants loot her house, the money saved by her parents for her wedding, in front of her. “This is our house now,” is what they told her.

Ayyub’s wife Rukssana says that it was her neighbour who had bombed their house. They haven’t yet received any help from the government. This was the case with many of the affected. While a fair number of them had received a sum of 25,000 rupees from the state government, the others hadn’t received anything. Some of them, mostly the affected Hindus allege that they had also received 5000 rupees from Pawan Singh, Arjun Singh’s son and the sitting Bhatpara MLA.

While some residents have installed steel doors to protect whatever is left, the others live without doors, lights, fans or beds. Their lives are far from normal, and they have been living with whatever they are left with.

Some of them haven’t been able to repair their tiled roofs (where the bombs had landed) and have resorted to putting plastic sheets in its place. Their houses flood when it rains.

One of the victims uses plastic sheets to cover her damaged roof.
One of the victims uses plastic sheets to cover her damaged roof.

Razia Begum’s son injured her leg in the bombing when he had gone out to have tea. While she rushed him to the hospital, miscreants looted her house. With no help from anyone, she spent 1.5 lakh rupees on her son’s treatment through her savings and loans.

Shaira Bibi, Shitara Parveen’s single mother had to pull her youngest daughter out of school because they couldn’t afford it after the losses they suffered during the violence.

Meanwhile, Nasiba Bano, a jute mill worker chose to leave Darba line for good after the violence as she could not sleep out of fear for her and her daughter. She lives more peacefully in another part of town.

"I would be on duty at the Jute Mill and my daughter would be making rotis at home. Men would often hoot, tease and pass lewd comments while passing by the window." - Nasiba Bano, Jute Mill workerA Sense of Harmony

Ayyub says that he still visits his neighbour, who had allegedly bombed his house, and they share a meal together.

"The neighbours son kept coming to my house to play with my son and vice versa. Neither of us shooed the other away. Because kids don’t understand a communal divide. It is because of their love that we settled our differences." - Memjit Ayyub, Jute Mill worker

Most of the locals that The Quint spoke to, said that the tension and violence in the area are more political and less communal. Despite them saying that there is a sense of (superficial) harmony in the area, people are still suspicious of each other. Rumours of violence and communal hatred keep them on the edge, even though people like Ayyub vow to “love his neighbour till death”.

However, the memories of 2019 remain etched in the walls of Bhatpara and Kankinara. A sense of helplessness prevails in the eyes of those affected. Like Ayyub's parting words, “The financial aid can help fix my house, but it can’t fix my broken heart.”

Also Read: Ki Bolche Bangla: Year After Riots, How Will This Locality Vote?

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