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Jan 07, 2016 - Swapan Dasgupta
Last Sunday morning, even as the country's attention was focused on the terror attack on the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot, another drama was unfolding in the Kaliachak area of Malda district in West Bengal. A mob, whose numbers are estimated at anything between 50,000 and over a lakh, first attacked the local police station, drove out the small police force, set fire to all the records in the thana and then proceeded to attack shops and set fire to as many vehicles it found in the vicinity. Although no one was killed in the mob violence — it can hardly be called a riot since there was no retaliation — the damage to property was considerable.
The Muslim mob had gathered at the call of an obscure organisation, was apparently protesting against some disgusting comments by a Hindu extremist made a month ago in Uttar Pradesh, for which the culprit had been promptly arrested and jailed. Offensive as those comments undeniably were, there was no reason why the Muslims of Malda — one of the many Muslim majority districts of West Bengal — should feel exceptionally aggrieved, enough to direct their ire at the local administration. But then there was no reason why a Muslim gathering in Mumbai's Azad Maidan in August 2012 should have felt so particularly agitated over the fate of the Rohingyas in Myanamar to go on the rampage in an Indian city. On that occasion too — when a martyr's memorial was vandalised — the mobilisation had been at the call of an obscure organisation, albeit one with a history of promoting radical Islamism.
Subsequent police inquiries have suggested that the violence in Kaliachak had been masterminded by criminal elements — particularly those involved in contraband drugs trafficking and the distribution of counterfeit currency — that have made the area its centre. It would seem that the area has increasingly become a no-go area for the local police because the criminal groups have taken full advantage of the West Bengal government's known reluctance to do anything that could be interpreted as offending minority sentiments. This is the same logic that explains the ease with which criminal networks thrive in some Muslim ghettos in Kolkata and neighbouring South 24-Parganas. In the 1980s, a diligent police officer was lynched by a criminal mob in Kolkata for daring to take his law enforcement job a bit too seriously. And Kaliachak had witnessed open-air gunfights last year as criminals waged quasi-political turf battles.