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The Bijon Setu Massacre: When 16 monks and a nun of Ananda Marga were lynched to death and burnt alive in broad daylight in Kolkata

The killings occurred simultaneously at three different locations and are said to have been witnessed by thousands of people. And yet, not a single arrest has ever been made.

The lynching of two Sadhus at Palghar has shocked the entire nation. The brutal manner in which the Sadhus were lynched and the Police refused to help them has sent shock waves throughout the country. As brutal as the incident was and the sheer horror of it, it is not the first time that the country has been forced to confront such morbidity. There is another incident that occurred thirty-eight years ago that rivals the brutal Palghar lynching in its brutality, if not exceed it. Over the years, that incident has come to be known as the Bijon Setu Massacre.

On the 30th of April, 1982, 16 monks and a nun of the Hindu organization Ananda Marga were murdered and set on fire in broad daylight near Ballygunge in Kolkata. They were dragged out of their taxis which was to take them to an educational conference at their headquarters in Tiljala, Kolkata. The killings occurred simultaneously at three different locations and are said to have been witnessed by thousands of people. And yet, not a single arrest has ever been made. It was only in 2012 that the West Bengal government formed a single-member judicial commission was set to to investigate the murders.

In the immediate aftermath of the lynchings and the subsequent years, the CPI(M) government continued to conceal the facts on the matter. The National Human Rights Commission had set up an investigation into the matter as late as in 1996 and yet, even then, it could not make much headway due to the lack of cooperation from Jyoti Basu and his government. By May 199, two reminders had already been sent and yet, the state government chose not to respond.

Meanwhile, an IAS officer from West Bengal, Sher Singh had offered to reveal the facts on the matter with relevant documents. He happened to be the Additional District Magistrate of 24 Paraganas when the massacre occurred. Singh, in his petition to the Central Administration Tribunal (CAT) (No.1108 of 1994) alleged that he was suspended because he refused to adhere to the Communist government’s line on the matter. Singh informed CAT that he was bound by the Official Secrets Act and therefore, could only reveal the secrets if asked by a competent authority to do so. But his petition gave sufficient hints that the Ananda Margis were murdered over a land dispute with the Communists. The CPI(M) feared that the Margis would upstage their domination in the Kasba belt which was a communist bastion at the time.

Acharya Trambakeshwarananda Avadoot, public relations secretary of the Marg, told The Indian Express that the “only success achieved by the Basu government has been the concealing of its involvement in the State’s biggest case of lynching.” According to him, the Communists wanted to eliminate the top leadership of the Ananda Marga but its goons mistakenly eliminated ordinary monks associated with the organization. Some reports claimed that the monks were slaughtered because they were suspected of kidnapping children but they admit as much that it wasn’t clear why they were suspected of such. The Police stated that the mob built a funeral pyre and threw them into it.

The Ananda Marga Pracharaka Samgha demanded a high level judicial inquiry into the matter in 1999. On the heels of the Union Government setting up an inquiry into the murder of the Christian Missionary Graham Staines and his two sons in Odisha, the AMPS in a 66 page letter to then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee urged the Government to set up a similar panel to probe “the killings of 17 Ananda Margis in broad daylight in Calcutta.” “Never had the city of Calcutta or any part of our country witnessed such inhuman, brutal and systematic massacre spreading over one and a half hours without any police intervention while the police station is at a stone’s throw distance,” the letter said.

The letter insisted that if the matter has been investigated properly at the time, “the minority community would not have been subjected to persistent attacks in the last 17 years.” Ananda Marga is known to claim that it is not associated with Hinduism, it had once sought to have itself designated as a separate religion but the Supreme Court of India ruled that Ananda Marga was not a separate religion, but simply a “religious denomination of Hinduism.” The Ananda Margis have been known to claim that Tantra were “never regarded as part of Hinduism”.

It was only in 2012 when Mamata Banerjee was elected as the Chief Minister of West Bengal that the state government formed a one-member judicial commission to investigate the lynchings. The the law minister Malay Ghatak said that the Chief Minister had consented to the formation of the inquiry commission. The investigation by the Justice Amitava Lala Judicial Commission found that on the 6th of February, 1982, important leaders of the CPI(M) of the Kasba-Jadavpur area met at Colony Bazar in Picnic Garden to discuss the Ananda Margis. Those reportedly present at the meeting were Kanti Ganguly, minister in the last Left Front cabinet; Sachin Sen, former CPM MLA, now dead; Nirmal Haldar, local CPM leader; Amal Majumdar, former councillor of ward no 108 (Tiljala-Kasba); and Somnath Chatterjee, then MP from Jadavpur and subsequently Speaker of Lok Sabha.

The Ananda Margis earned the wrath of the Communists because they were ideologically opposed to them. The first attack on the Margis occurred in 1967 at its Purulia Global Headquarters were five of them were murdered allegedly by the cadres of CPI(M). Only a couple of years later, the Coochbehar congregation of the Ananda Marga was attacked. Even after the Bijon Setu Massacre, five members of the Ananda Marga were allegedly murdered by CPI(M) cadres in April 1990. Regarding the heinous murders of 1982, Chief Minister Jyoti Basu had infamously said, “What can be done? Such things do happen”. No justice was ever done on the matter during the decades of CPI(M) rule in Bengal, nor has any been done yet.

There are others who might have suffered equally for their refusal to toe the Communist line on the massacre. In April 2017, the Justice Amitava Lala Commission visited the home of Mamata Bhattacharya, wife of slain OC of Tiljala police station Gangadhar Bhattacharya who was shot dead on October 31, 1983, to record her deposition, in Behala. According to Mamata, her husband was an honest officer and had to pay with his life since he did not support the massacre of the monks of Ananda Marga. She said that she sought help from Jyoti Basu and wanted to continue to reside on the police quarters in Kidderpore allotted to her husband but was denied.

To this day, every year on the 30th of April, the anniversary of the massacre, Ananda Margis take out a procession to commemorate and pay tribute to the monks who were brutally burnt to death in broad daylight. And yet, nearly four decades have passed and justice has still not been done in the matter. “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun,” said Chairman Mao. And the Communists in India have lived up to the maxim. Through the years, they have managed to hold on to political power by holding a gun to the head of its opposition. While they have been decimated politically, they are yet to experience the mettle of justice.

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Staff reporter at OpIndia

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