As the charred remains of the modest house of the 17-year-old boy, who allegedly put up a blasphemous post on Facebook, stand witness to the spate of communal violence in Basirhat sub-division in West Bengal, his shocked neighbours, friends and teachers say that the post was the handiwork of some “notorious elements” and believe that the boy was just used as a tool.
The single-storey house in Magurkhali village of Baduria in which the 17-year-old boy lived, was completely ransacked and partially torched by an angry Muslim mob. As the family of the boy, whose identity is being safeguarded for safety and security reasons, fled to take shelter out of West Bengal, the house has now been kept under lock and key, but the sense of fear and anguish still remains high among residents of the village. The damage wrought by the mob is clear from the torched and scattered remains visible from outside the house.
Gita Ghosh (name changed), who lives right opposite the house where the boy resided, still shudders at the thought of what had happened on 2-3 July. Speaking to The Sunday Guardian, she said, “We know the boy. He had been living here for quite some time now; he can never do something like this. We had never even heard of him getting into a scuffle with anybody here, let alone instigating a communal flare-up. We are clueless how he got that photo and we doubt he created it on his own.”
Ghosh, who was witness to the entire incident, added: “We have also heard that he told his uncle that he himself did not know how that post appeared on his Facebook page. He was scared and, therefore, ran away. Had he been here, he would have been killed. His jethu (paternal uncle) was pleading with the mob to forgive him, but they did not listen to him and barged into their house, ransacked it and set it on fire.” The boy was subsequently arrested by the West Bengal police. According to his neighbours, the boy belongs to a very modest background. He lost his mother at an early age, while his father used to live in a nearby village and worked as a daily wage labourer. The boy was living with his paternal uncle to study in the nearby Rudrapur Radhabhalav Government High School. He had recently passed his Madhyamik (Class 10) exams with good marks and got re-admitted to the same school this year.
His teachers and school principal also said that they never had any complaints about the boy. Sampurna Nandan Ghosh, principal of the school, told this correspondent: “He was a nice student, he was regular in school and I have never received any complaints about him till date. I have never heard of him having any scuffle with his friends. Even we were shocked and could not believe when we came to know that he had done something like this. There may be some conspiracy behind it.”
Ilyas Mazumdar, one of his friends and neighbours, is scared and apprehensive that even he could be attacked for being his friend. “I know him (the boy) very well. We joked about many things, but his intentions were never to create any conflict. But now, I am scared for my life. I don’t go out after sundown because they might come back again,” Mazumdar said.
Magurkhali village is mostly inhabited by Muslims and the house of the boy in question is surrounded by Muslim families, barring the one right opposite the house. The Magurkhali Milan Masjid, a mosque in the village, is barely 20 metres from the house in which the boy lived. His Muslim neighbour, Namza Biwi, told this correspondent, “What we saw is beyond our imagination, but we don’t think that he (the boy) could have created an image like that. It has to be somebody else and even if he had posted it, he did not do it with the intention to create riots. We knew him. He was a decent boy and also had several friends from this village who were Muslims. He could not have done it alone.”
Omar Sheikh, Namza Biwi’s husband, said that Hindus and Muslims have always lived like brothers and sisters in the village. “Why would we attack and try to kill somebody with whom we have lived all our lives? We also have Hindu friends and we have shared a good rapport with them. This place was never like this before. All those who had come were outsiders and nobody from our village had done anything,” Omar Sheikh said.
However, the situation in Baduria is normal now, with police patrolling and peace marches being conducted regularly. Schools, colleges and banks have also started reopening, while the transport system is becoming normal.