Over the weekend, the Ram Navami celebrations in Bengal descended into the mayhem of murder and rioting. As per reports, a policeman got his hand chopped off.
I do not know the specific facts of this situation. This article is not about that. Rather this article is about the reaction on social media to the violence in Bengal. Not surprisingly, most people on social media were angry and disturbed about the situation.
This article is about dissecting that sentiment. Sadly, there are some truths about Bengal that people from outside the state need to know. I am sorry I don’t have good news to deliver.
Broadly speaking, the reaction on social media contained the following two themes:
(1) A sense of outrage over the violence in Bengal.
(2) A sense of shock over the violence in Bengal.
Now, the outrage part I totally agree with. But the shock part. I wish I could share your sentiment.
To a Bengali, here is what your shock and surprise over political violence in Bengal sounds like: You sound like someone who has landed in Europe in 1944 and is surprised to see so much violence around. Did you not know there was a World War raging since 1939?
So this article is intended as a primer for those from outside Bengal. The state of West Bengal hasn’t caught fire *now*, it has been burning for decades. You just didn’t know about it. Because the establishment could never find a way to blame BJP and Hindutva groups for Bengal’s political violence, they never told you about it.
But now that BJP has become a force to reckon with in Bengal, I expect you to hear more and more about the state in the coming days.
So, here is a short list of stories of political violence from Bengal that you never heard because the establishment media hid it from you. Read on if you dare.
In 1997, on the floor of West Bengal Assembly, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, then the Home Minister in the state, admitted that there had been 28,000 political murders between 1977-1996.
Shocked? We are just getting started.
That’s 1500 political murders a year or about 4 political dissenters that were murdered per day. Per. Day.
In Bengal, dissent was not just dangerous. In Bengal, dissent was death itself. The consequence of “dissent” was not getting trolled on Facebook or Twitter, followed by an instant celebrity status on the Thinkfest circuit. Dissent meant death.
You just never heard of it. Because for media and intellectuals and academics, there was no BJP to blame in Bengal until now. The river of blood had to be ignored.
Did I say ‘blood?’ My mistake.
In many cases, there was no blood. A former CPIM MP disclosed that Pinarayi Vijayan, now the Hon. CM of Kerala had once exhorted his comrades to adopt the ‘Bengal model.’
The ‘Bengal model’ consisted of picking up political dissenters and burying them alive with a sack of salt. See? No blood!
Sometimes, of course, there was blood. That is when the comrades would enter the house of a political rival, cut their bodies open and then make their mother eat the rice soaked in the blood of her sons.
I warned you before. The story of Bengal is not to be read by the faint of heart.
There is this famous landmark in Calcutta called “Bijon Setu.” I know it well. As a child, I would cross it often when we went to Calcutta for summer vacations at my grandmother’s house.
As an adult, I learned about what had happened at Bijon Setu. One fine morning in 1982, seventeen people (monks and nuns of the Ananda Marga sect) were burned alive on that big bridge in Calcutta in broad daylight. No arrest was ever made, of course.
How many such famous landmarks in Calcutta and the rest of Bengal are witnesses to forgotten massacres?
Here’s another. You may have heard of Jadavpur University. A great institution. Pride of all Bengalis. But you may not have heard the name Gopal Sen. He was one of the Vice-Chancellors of the university. One time he took a stand against an examination boycott called by Communist students.
Vice-Chancellor Gopal Sen was murdered, then and there, right on the campus of Jadavpur University.
Now you know why I am never fooled by liberal claims that Communist students at JNU are harmless children. Because I have been to Bengal.
I must apologize. I shouldn’t imply that Communists murdered the VC of Jadavpur University. Despite the murder happening on a well-populated campus, there were absolutely no witnesses and no leads for the police. It remains a complete and total mystery who murdered the Vice Chancellor in front of literally hundreds of people.
In 1993, there was a protest march to the famous Writers’ Building in Calcutta, home of the State Secretariat. There, right in the heart of Calcutta, the police opened fire and 13 people were killed on the spot. Mamata Banerjee must remember this incident rather well. After all, she was the one leading the procession.
This is the level of political violence that has been the norm in Bengal. Sometimes dissenters were buried alive, sometimes they were murdered and their blood was fed to their mothers. Sometimes, as in Marichjhapi, thousands of people were rounded up on an island in the Sunderbans, cut off from food and water for weeks and then the armed police would march in, massacre everybody and throw their bodies into the surrounding water.
Feeling numb yet? Just remember that all these big intellectuals and media houses, who track the minute to minute availability of Tunday Kabab in local Lucknow restaurants, never told you these stories.
Welcome to Bengal, where blood is cheaper than water.
And by the way, still feeling angry about that Lenin statue in Tripura? It goes without saying that what happens in Tripura is a corollary of Bengal politics.
My appeal to you is to stand up and question these intellectuals and the deliberate, dishonest silence they have maintained all these years. Take Rajdeep Sardesai, a well-known master of “political context.” He says that you don’t need to cover with intensity the murder of Bajrang Dal worker Prashant Poojary in Karnataka in 2015 because the murder had a “political context.” Go ask him whether the fall of Lenin statue in Tripura can be similarly “contextualized” and forgotten.
These people that were ruthlessly massacred in Bengal were your fellow citizens. Their stories deserve to be heard. And I dare say their stories deserve to be heard before we worry about a statue. Ask those who claim to be doing the “Journalism of Courage” why the story of political violence in Bengal was never a part of the ‘national mainstream’ until now.
For me, one of the most ironic moments was this recent bit on ABP News. In this, both the ABP news reporter and the anchor in the studio are worried that BJP’s Sunil Deodhar might be making unfounded baseless allegations about a skeleton being found in Manik Sarkar’s house back in 2005.
Which is weird, because the discovery of the skeleton was never in dispute; it was an accepted fact as reported by the Telegraph here. This is even more ironic when you realize that ABP group actually owns The Telegraph.
So what happened? Why was ABP News wondering whether the discovery of the skeleton was a baseless allegation?
I’ll tell you what most likely happened. Neither the ABP anchor nor the ABP reporter could believe that such an explosive piece of news could have remained practically unknown for so many years. A skeleton, allegedly that of a minor girl, found in a Chief Minister’s house? No way that media would have ignored such a piece of news. Except it did.
Indeed, our news media is compromised to such an extent that even the individuals in the media can sometimes fail to imagine how corrupt it is.
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or not be an Assistant Professor at IISc Bangalore.