One of 31 people wounded during three days of violence between Hindus and Muslims in West Bengal died at a Kolkata hospital on Thursday, while fresh communal clashes were reported near the Indian state’s border with Bangladesh, police said.
Riots broke out Monday in West Bengal’s North 24 Paraganas district, about 70 km (43.5 miles) from state capital Kolkata over an inflammatory message posted on Facebook, prompting local authorities to deploy hundreds of security personnel to control the situation.
Among more than 30 injured people, at least six were in critical condition, police said Thursday.
“A handful of police officers, including the district’s Superintendent of Police Bhaskar Mukherjee, are among those injured,” Surajit Kar Purakayasta, West Bengal’s director general of police, told reporters.
Mukherjee was hurt when a mob attacked him and torched his vehicle, Purakayasta said.
The man who succumbed to his injuries on Thursday was identified as a 65-year-old Hindu, Kartik Ghosh, police said. Elsewhere, new clashes erupted in Bashirat, one of several towns in the district along the Bangladesh border that have seen violent confrontations this week between members of India’s Hindu majority and minority Muslims.
About 400 personnel of the Border Security Force (BSF) have been deployed in the district to maintain order, Purakayasta said.
“Prohibition orders have been imposed in Baduria and adjoining areas of Basirhat and Internet services have been suspended in the troubled district,” North 24 Paraganas District Magistrate Antara Acharya told BenarNews.
She was referring to newly declared police powers in the district banning groups of people from gathering in public with the intention of staging protests that could foment violence.
“Security forces are also making public announcements to maintain peace in the region,” she said.
The clashes between the two communities were triggered by a Facebook message posted last week by a 17-year-old high school student who had allegedly altered the image of Islam’s most sacred mosque in Mecca and claimed it was an ancient Hindu temple.
The boy, who cannot be named because he is a minor, was arrested Monday on charges of hurting religious sentiment and causing enmity between groups. Amid news of his arrest, Hindu and Muslim mobs clashed with each other in the Baduria, Basirhat, Haroa, Swarupnagar areas of the district, which borders Bangladesh, Purakayasta said.
Kartik Ghosh was a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological mentor of India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said an RSS leader who blamed the violence on goons belonging to the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) party.
“It was mainly TMC goons who were rioting. They dragged Kartik out on the road and stabbed him repeatedly,” Jishnu Basu, a senior RSS functionary from West Bengal, told BenarNews.
However, state Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee rejected the accusation and blamed India’s BJP government of politicizing the violence while warning leaders of the district’s Hindu and Muslim communities of strict action for instigating mobs.
Meanwhile on Thursday, the BJP formed an investigative team made up of senior party members to visit the violence-hit district and submit a probe report.
“Both, the BJP and TMC are only trying to create their vote bank. The BJP is trying to appease the Hindu community and the TMC s trying to appease the Muslims,” a resident of Baduria, which has been at the epicentre of the violence, told BenarNews while requesting anonymity.
On Tuesday, Banerjee accused the state’s constitutional head, Gov. Kesharinath Tripathi, of acting like a representative of the BJP, saying he was attempting to protect right-wing fringe elements who started the violence.
Refuting this charge, Tripathi said: “The governor cannot remain a mute spectator in the affairs of the state.”
“She [Banerjee] is trying to emotionally blackmail the people of West Bengal,” he added.
For its part, the BJP said the violence was fallout from Banerjee’s “appeasement” of the Muslim community, which forms about 27 percent of the state’s population.
“It is a serious cause of concern that major political outfits, in order to gain political mileage, are fanning communal sentiments. It is eroding the social fabric of West Bengal, where different communities have lived in peace for decades,” Samir Kumar Das, a professor of political science at the University of Kolkata, told BenarNews.
Paritosh Kanti Paul in Kolkata contributed to this report.