How Asansol flames were lit Provocative chants cited as trigger
Asansol: The second biggest city in Bengal derives its name from the Asan species of trees ( Terminalia elliptica) found on the banks of the Damodar. The tree's bark is fire-resistant but several parts of Asansol this week fell prey to the flames lit by an inflammable cocktail of infiltration by outsiders, pinpointed provocation and rumour-mongering.
Life is now returning to normal in the cosmopolitan city after multiple days of communal clashes in which at least one person was killed.
The Telegraph, which followed the journalistic convention of not reporting sensitive details that can be misused to ignite passions while explosive situations are unfolding, collected the following information after spending two days in Asansol and speaking to several people.
Provocative chants: An organiser of a Ram Navami procession conceded that provocative chants by some people while the rally was passing through a Muslim-dominated area may have played a role in triggering the clashes.
"I still remember that some people in the rally were shouting ' Jai Shri Ram,' followed by cries like 'maro, maro'.... The body language was not right, either. In retrospect, I think, these chants triggered the clashes. I also think that we should not have included the area in the procession's route," said the organiser of one of the 150-odd Ram Navami rallies in Asansol on Tuesday.
As many as 146 rallies went off peacefully but not four in Asansol North, which falls on one side of GT Road, which cuts through the city.
Cushioned in the safety of a 1,200sqft-plus apartment while armed police marched outside, the organiser kept repeating that what had happened in Asansol since Tuesday was "not right".
The possibility of provocative chants having been the possible triggers popped up during conversations with several other residents.
Some residents - both Hindus and Muslims - referred to an audio CD that had been played in several processions as another cause.
"In some Ram Navami rallies, I heard people shouting 'Pakistan jao, Pakistan jao'," said Anjum Jamal, a Raniganj resident who has businesses in Asansol and Varanasi.
Strangers: As in Raniganj, so in Asansol. The rally organiser who spoke to this newspaper said that when some of the participants rejected requests to scale down the chants, the organiser realised that several of them were strangers.
"When the scream of ' maro, maro' after each 'Jai Shri Ram' became too loud, I requested them to stop.... I told them to say ' Bharat Mata ki jai' but they would not listen and I realised that things were getting out of control. Within minutes, bricks started raining on the rally.... Some Muslim brothers, known to me for years, tried to intervene, asking 'Kya kar rahe ho (what are you doing)?' but it was too late by then. People started running helter-skelter," the organiser recounted on Friday afternoon.
The news of the clash spread and affected other rallies, which finally prompted the authorities to stop the processions midway on Tuesday evening.
Some Trinamul leaders claimed goons from neighbouring Jharkhand had been brought in to create trouble.
Rumour-mongering: Some youths, whom this correspondent met near a deserted Sufi More in Railpar area, were showing amateur videos on smartphones to accuse the Bengal administration of inaction and of siding with the Muslims.
The boys - all of them speaking in Hindi - shared several conspiracy theories that echoed themes usually associated with the Sangh parivar.
A young man on a motorbike, with a saffron flag mounted on the handlebar, sped off after receiving a call alerting him to the arrival of a police team somewhere to arrest a group.
" Charon taraf afwahein fail rahe hain (Rumours are being spread everywhere)," said a man running a tea stall near Sufi More. This is the primary reason Internet services have been suspended till April 4.
Fear hung heavy in areas like Hajinagar, Srinagar and OP Road - the main Muslim mohallas in Asansol North. All the shops were closed and men sat outside their homes, casting a suspicious eye on visitors.
"We want peace as that has been the way of life here for years.... But there is fear now and we can be under attack anytime," said Marghub Rahi.