WEST BENGAL – Communal violence between Hindus and Muslims in West Bengal, India, has been erupting more frequently for several years now, becoming more apparent starting last year.

The most recently covered incident was the communal riots in December 2016 during the Muslims’ celebrations of Milad-un-Nabi (The birth of Prophet Muhammed) in a village at Howrah’s Dhulagarh area, west of Kolkata.

Allegedly on December 12, the day of the celebrations, and the following days a mob from the celebrating Muslims attacked and ransacked Hindu homes and shops unprovoked. When police arrived on the scene, the rioters attacked them with bombs. According to several reports, the attackers were non-local Muslims.

This incident came after another big riot that broke out in October over the Durga Puja immersions and Muharram tazia processions, after Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, banned immersion of idols of Goddess Durga on Dashami (the last day of Durga Puja immersions) and the day after because the processions would coincide with the Muharram processions.

Despite the graveness of the situation and the continuing instability in West Bengal, the events has been surprisingly underreported and with low media coverage of the situation. Local reports seem to be predominantly on the right, characterising the situation not as a case of ethnic cleansing, but as the result of Banerjee’s policy of appeasement of the Muslim minority.

The Indian right wing Swarajya Magazine attributed the escalation of communal disturbance and violence to what it saw as a desperate attempt to stay in power by appeasing to the Muslim minority and playing along communal lines.

For those on the right, Banerjee’s allegedly blatant appeasement policy has emboldened the minority to attack Hindus in several places in Bengal.

A slightly different side of the story is presented by a few newspapers including The Huffington Post India and The Times of India that highlighted some aspects from the opposing perspective.

According to these reports, Muslims in the area have been forced to flee as the Hindus charged at them. Interviewed Muslims claimed that they are treated as second class citizens subject to abuses and threats. Some even claimed that the Hindus disrespected their religion and hurled stones at their processions.

There does seem to be some light in these dark times in West Bengal. Signs of communal harmony amidst such disturbances have also been reported. In October in the Muslim majority village of Dharan, the Muslim community helped in organiszing the Durga Puja for their Hindu friends and neighbours after several years of no Puja celebrations of any form in the village.

– Lamyae Elkoussy, Correspondent (Politics)

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