Tehatta, Nov. 14: A young IPS officer allegedly opened fire this morning from a rooftop and killed a protester after the lawman was chased through a maze of lanes by a crowd upset by a request to shift the site of a puja from a sensitive sliver of state-owned land in Nadia.
Accounts from the ground suggested that the incident was not a clash between members of two communities as was being portrayed initially. The flare-up appeared to have been triggered by the collapse of a consensus reached at an all-party meeting last week at Tehatta, 155km from Calcutta.
The officer's wife and infant son also came under a mob assault at his home, 600 metres away from the house where he took refuge, but it was not clear if the two attacks took place simultaneously or one followed the other.
The protester who died has been identified as 52-year-old Ashok Sharma, a saw mill worker. Six persons were injured and six police vehicles torched after the firing.
All participants had agreed on November 8 at the all-party meeting that the Jagaddhatri Puja would be shifted to a spacious alternative site within earshot because the dates of the celebration coincided with a sombre occasion of another community whose prayer ground borders the government land, officials said. The first step for the consensus was taken at a meeting between members of the two communities last year.
However, a day after the all-party meeting, some representatives of Teen Murti Club that organises the puja informed the administration that they had been unable to persuade other members to agree to shift to the alternative site, 55 feet away. The dissenters said a theological school was near the new site and expressed fears that they would again be asked to shift the venue, sources said.
A section of the organisers, supported by several other puja committees in the vicinity, called a 24-hour bandh today to protest the administration's request to shift from the original ground.
Matters began spinning out of control when a crowd blocked the Natna crossing on the Krishnagar-Karimpur state highway.
When sub-divisional police officer Shailesh, a doctor with an MBBS degree who switched to the IPS, reached the spot and tried to lift the blockade, a section of the crowd of around 500 threw stones at him, the officer said. "The protesters had agreed to lift the blockade. But one section suddenly started throwing stones at the police. I had to order a lathicharge to disperse the crowd," Shailesh said.
The 33-year-old officer from Uttar Pradesh had taken over as SDPO, one of the early assignments in an IPS officer's career, a little over three months ago in July.
Witnesses said a brick hit the SDPO and the protesters hit him with lathis. "Shailesh was leading the police contingent and some people attacked him. As he was outnumbered, the officer tried to run away but the mob chased him. He and his bodyguard ran through a maze of lanes and bylanes and finally entered the house of Tufan Ghosh (an employee of a movie hall)," said an official.
Television footage showed a helmeted figure drawing his service revolver and firing at the crowd from the rooftop. SDPO Shailesh denied he had opened fire. "I ran for safety and took shelter inside a building. Since I am new to the area, I am not very familiar with the locality. I went to the roof along with my bodyguard to check the situation. I was carrying my service revolver but never fired," he said.
According to an official, while SDPO Shailesh was fleeing, he got a call from his wife who apparently informed him that some people had barged into their bungalow on the state highway.
"His wife informed him that she had no option but to run to the terrace and hide their one-year-old son under the water reservoir to save him from the intruders who were armed with stones, petrol bombs, pipe guns and sharp weapons. Shailesh's wife was standing on the stairway leading to the terrace with a lathi," said the official.
A shop owner said "SDPO saheb had to run for safety because a large crowd was chasing him".
Another official said the crowd had gone to the SDPO's house after he opened fire but the official hastened to add that both places were not too far apart and the protesters could have split into groups and carried out the attacks.
"When the crowd saw Sharma falling to the ground, they rushed to the SDPO bungalow-cum-office. The mob entered his bungalow and assaulted his wife who was with her one-year-old child. A house guard present in the bungalow saved the boy but the child suffered a shard wound in his forehead," the official said.
At Writers' Buildings, chief secretary Sanjay Mitra, home secretary Basudeb Banerjee, DGP Naparajit Mukherjee and ADG (law and order) Surajit Kar Purakayastha held a meeting to discuss the Nadia incident. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee was at home today.
The administration had initially denied the police firing. However, after the meeting, Purakayastha confirmed the firing but added that it was in self-defence. The government has ordered a magisterial probe. In the 18 months of the Mamata Banerjee government, this is the fourth instance of police firing.
Residents said Sharma, who died in the firing today, was a member of the Aikyatan club which also organises Jagaddhatri Puja in Tehatta. He is survived by his wife and two sons. Some people said Sharma was a BJP supporter but the party did not corroborate the claim till this evening.
Political parties are making a beeline to the region, whose three Assembly seats are still held by the Left. Trinamul general secretary Mukul Roy visited the district hospital where the six injured persons are admitted.
A CPM delegation led by Rabin Deb visited Krishnagar, the district headquarters, this evening. Leader of Opposition Surjya Kanta Mishra will lead a Left Front team to the spot tomorrow.
The BJP, which accused the police of being "trigger-happy", will meet the governor as well as send a team to Tehatta. ( )