A Ground Report On What Appeasement Actually Leads To: Lynching Of A Police Officer

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Apr 12, 2021 06:38 PM +05:30 IST
A Ground Report On What Appeasement Actually Leads To: Lynching Of A Police Officer Kishanganj Police Station SHO Ashwini Kumar.
Snapshot
  • The Goalpokhar (West Bengal) police initially resisted the registration of a murder case and wanted to register a case of unnatural death. An unnatural death case would have allowed the perpetrators of the crime to go scot free.

    It was only after senior Bihar Police officers intervened that the Bengal Police agreed to register a murder case and carry out raids at Pantapara to nab the accused.

At a time when media and political attention remained focused on the deaths of four young men in firing by Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel at Sitalkuchi in north Bengal’s Cooch Behar district, the lynching of a police officer from Bihar in the Muslim-majority Uttar Dinajpur district of Bengal in the wee hours of Saturday (10 April) received scant attention.

The slain officer, 50-year-old Ashwini Kumar, who was the Station House Officer (SHO) of Kishanganj Police Station that lies close to the Bengal-Bihar border, had entered Bengal after following due procedures to raid a village and nab the kingpin of a notorious gang of bike-lifters living there.

The Raid And Lynching

Kishanganj, which borders North Dinajpur district, had witnessed a spate of bike thefts and, according to intelligence gathered by Bihar Police, the bike-lifters are from Uttar Dinajpur.

The Kishanganj police chief had instructed his subordinate officers to carry out raids and nab the criminals.

Prompt investigations by Ashwini Kumar, an upright and no-nonsense officer, who had been posted as the SHO of Kishanganj Police Station in August last year, revealed that the one Firoze Alam of Pantapara village in North Dinajpur district was the mastermind behind the spate of bike-liftings in Kishanganj.

Kumar gathered a team of eight policemen to conduct a raid and nab Alam. He then informed his counterpart at Goalpokhar Police Station about the proposed raid and requested help.

Kumar was reportedly assured by the in-charge of Goalpokhar Police Station that he would be provided an armed Bengal Police escort to raid the village. Kumar was asked to contact the Panjipara police outpost.

Pantapara village falls under the jurisdiction of Panjipara police outpost, which comes under the command of the Goalpokhar Police Station.

Panjipara police outpost is just about 20 minutes drive (barely 12 kilometres) from Kishanganj Police Station down National Highway 27 that leads to North Bengal.

Pantapara is about 4.8 km from Panjipara and accessible through narrow potholed roads as are found in the rest of Bengal. The 4.8 km journey takes over 15 minutes.

Goalpokhar is about 16 km northwest of Pantapara and lies very close to the India-Bangladesh border. This 16 km journey, once again on narrow and potholed roads, takes more than 30 minutes.

The Bihar police team led by Kumar started from Kishanganj in three vehicles, one of them a hired civilian SUV, late Friday night and reached Panjipara police outpost.

But the Panjipara police station in-charge reportedly said he would not be able to provide any escort as all the men under him were busy on poll duty. All the nine assembly constituencies in North Dinajpur, including Goalpokhar, go to the polls on 22 April.

According to a Bihar Police officer who is now camping in Raiganj (the headquarters of North Dinajpur district) to ensure that the Bengal Police do not act against the culprits, the in-charge of Panjipara outpost also reportedly told Kumar that he had not received any instructions from his superiors at Goalpokhar Police Station to provide armed escort to the Bihar Police raiding party.

Kumar tried to contact the officer-in-charge of Goalpokhar Police Station he had spoken to earlier, but due to poor mobile connectivity, he could not.

Reckoning that it would be futile to wait and the element of surprise would be lost, Kumar decided to go to Pantapara without the promised armed escort by the Bengal Police in the early hours of Saturday.

Bihar Police suspect that a mole at Panjipara police outpost may have tipped off the accused Alam or his family members.

The news of the impending raid by Bihar Police was passed on by Alam’s family members to their friend and associate Mohammed Israel, who is close to the imam of the local masjid.

Israel reportedly went over to the masjid and used its public address system to announce the raid and incite the villagers to ambush the Bihar Police raiding party.

As soon as Kumar and his team reached the village around 2 am — Kumar was in the lead vehicle — villagers armed with rods, scythes, swords and spears surrounded them.

Kumar, a courageous officer, got down from his vehicle and told the crowd that resisting the police would prove costly for them.

The belligerent crowd of Muslim men then attacked Kumar with rods and swords and killed him on the spot. Seeing the SHO being attacked, the rest of the Bihar Police team fled.

Why Goalpokhar Has Become A Den Of Criminals

The Goalpokhar area of Uttar Dinajpur is a den of criminals. And, say police, almost all the criminals and all the kingpins of crime syndicates that are active in the area are Muslims.

Uttar Dinajpur is sandwiched between the districts of Kishanganj, Purnia and Katihar of Bihar to its west and Bangladesh to its east.

Goalpokhar was earlier part of Bihar’s Kishanganj subdivision of Purnia district. In order to restore territorial links between north and south Bengal that got snapped due to Partition in 1947, and on the recommendation of the States Reorganisation Commission, the areas under the jurisdiction of Goalpokhar, Islampur and Chopra police stations of Kishanganj subdivision were transferred to Bengal in 1956.

Kishanganj town remained with Bihar.

The population density of Goalpokhar was very low in the pre-Independence period and started increasing when waves of Hindu refugees from then East Pakistan fleeing atrocities on them by Muslims started entering India and settling down here.

But very soon, Muslims from East Pakistan and then Bangladesh started entering and settling down in Goalpokhar in large numbers and completely outnumbered Hindus by 1971.

Goalpokhar I Community Development Block (Panjipara and Pantapara are among the villages in this Block) has a population of 3.26 lakh and Muslims form nearly 80 per cent of the population.

Goalpokhar I CD Block also has the highest decadal population growth rate (nearly 32 per cent from 2001 to 2011) in Bengal whose average decadal growth rate is a much lower 14 per cent.

This abnormal population growth rate is ascribed to the common practice of polygamy among Muslims and every Muslim family having, on an average, eight to nine children. The population growth is also fuelled by the illegal influx of Bangladeshi Muslims into Goalpokhar.

More than 98 per cent of the population of Goalpokhar I Community Development Block lives in rural areas. Though agriculture is the main vocation, nearly 70 per cent of the population is landless peasants and daily wage earners.

More than 60 per cent of the families in this community development block fall in the below poverty line (BPL) category.

Most of the children from Muslim families go to the many unregistered madrasas here. These madrassas are mostly funded by overseas Salafi trusts and, thus, preach fundamentalism.

Panatapara is also known for a large Islamic seminary — the Darul Uloom Markaz-e-Ahle Sunnat Ashrafia Satbhita — which follows the fundamentalist and puritanical Salafi school of Islam. The seminary wields a lot of influence over local residents.

Thanks to lack of education, zero employment opportunities, influence of fundamentalist clerics and proximity to the India-Bangladesh border, many Muslims of Goalpokhar have taken to crime.

Officers at Goalpokhar Police Station who did not want to be identified for obvious reasons say that apart from drug trafficking and cattle smuggling, crime syndicates in the area are into human and arms trafficking and, of late, stealing motorcycles from Bihar and smuggling them out to Bangladesh.

The crime syndicates are also involved in the lucrative business of smuggling liquor to Bihar, which is a ‘dry’ state.

What is a greater cause for alarm is that, according to Intelligence Bureau (IB) officials, local political patronage and police apathy have led to the establishment of sleeper cells in Goalpokhar by many Islamic terror outfits.

According to IB officials, criminals and terrorists from Bangladesh are also suspected to have taken shelter in Goalpokhar.

The kingpins of all the crime syndicates are Muslims, say the police, and enjoy the patronage of hardline clerics who also wield a lot of influence on local politicians.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) general secretary Milind Parande also highlighted all this in a statement he issued (listen to this) condemning the murder of Kumar by a ‘jihadist mob’.

How Muslim Appeasement Has Emboldened Criminals

Thanks to Mamata Banerjee’s blatant Muslim appeasement policy, the police have not been able to crack down on the criminals and crime syndicates operating in Goalpokhar.

“We are prohibited from taking any action against criminals without getting prior sanction from local politicians (belonging to the Trinamool). Needless to say, such sanction rarely comes except when it suits the politicians,” said a junior police officer at Goalpokhar.

Over the last 10 years since the Trinamool came to power, say Hindu community leaders of Goalpokhar, Muslim criminals have become brazen and carry out their activities openly.

“Even the police are scared of entering Muslim majority villages without informing the local maulana beforehand. Muslims have evicted us (Hindus) from our lands, commit crimes, harass our womenfolk and boycott us socially and economically. We are thus being forced to migrate to other places in Bengal and even outside the state. The Hindu population of Goalpokhar is dwindling very fast,” said a Hindu trader who did not want to be named.

The officer at Goalpokhar Police Station who spoke to Swarajya corroborated this. “We have to take orders from local politicians and, above all, the Muslim clerics who are all-powerful. We cannot do anything without their consent. And we cannot do anything to protect the Hindus as well,” he confessed.

Senior police officers at Raiganj told Swarajya that the inability of the police to crack down on criminals simply because they are Muslims has emboldened the criminals and the heads of the crime cartels.

“We have been expressly forbidden from taking any action against any criminal without prior approval. The ‘approving authority’ varies depending on the nature of the crime and the profile of the criminal. For petty criminals, the approval of some local maulanas is sufficient. But for the bigger ones, we have to take prior sanction from district-level and state-level politicians. Most of the time the approvals do not come through and we are told to drop the cases against them or to just sit tight,” the officer said.

Post-Lynching Developments

The ghastly murder of the Kishanganj SHO could not spur the Bengal police to launch a crackdown.

The Goalpokhar police initially resisted the registration of a murder case and wanted to register a case of unnatural death. An unnatural death case would have allowed the perpetrators of the crime to go scot free.

It was only after senior Bihar Police officers intervened that the Bengal Police agreed to register a murder case and carry out raids at Pantapara to nab the accused.

The FIR named 21 individuals and 500 unknown people for the crime.

Bihar police officers told Swarajya that it was only because the Bengal Police are now under the control of the Election Commission that the murder case was lodged and the murderers are being arrested.

“Had the Bengal Police been under Mamata Banerjee, they would have not agreed to register a case of murder and would not have conducted raids at Pantapara to arrest the accused,” said a Bihar Police officer.

Kishanganj police chief Ashish Bharti, Purnia range IG Suresh Choudhary and Bihar DGP S K Singhal spoke to their respective counterparts in Bengal and put pressure on them to act swiftly against the criminals.

The Bihar administration, it is learnt, had even threatened to complain to the Election Commission (the entire Bengal state administrative machinery is now under the EC) about the inaction and reluctance of Bengal Police in taking prompt action against the Kishanganj SHO’s murderers.

It was, perhaps, the fear of punitive action by the EC that drove the Bengal Police to action, said Bihar administrative officials.

While Alam (the kingpin of the bike-lifting gang), his brother Abuzar Alam and mother Shahinur Khatun were arrested on Saturday, Mohammed Israel (who incited villagers over the majid’s public address system) and his son Mohammed Abdul were arrested on Sunday.

Two more people who were trying to smuggle away the motorcycle (stolen from Kishanganj by Firoz Alam’s gang) that was kept hidden at a house in Pantapara were also arrested on Sunday.

Kumar’s body was taken to his native village — Panchu Mandal Tola under Jankinagar police station in Purnia district — for the last rites. Soon after the body reached the village on Saturday, his 80-year-old mother Urmila Devi collapsed and died.

The mother and slain son were cremated together on Sunday afternoon with full state honours. Kumar is survived by his wife and three minor children. His six-year-old son Ansh lit the funeral pyre.

The Purnia range IG also suspended the eight policemen, including a circle inspector, who had fled from Pantapara as soon as the murderous mob attacked SHO Ashwini Kumar.

But Defiant Muslim Clerics And Locals Warn Trinamool Leaders

Angered by the police raids at Pantapara and the arrest of Alam and the others, including a woman, for the murder of the Bihar police officer, Muslim clerics and crime lords have warned local Trinamool leaders that they would withdraw support to the Trianmool candidate Mohammad Ghulam Rabbani if the police continue to ‘act unilaterally’ and the arrested are not released.

The local police are also being pressured by the clerics and crime lords to dilute the charges against the arrested and prevent any of them from being taken to Bihar.

District police officials admitted that there is also pressure from senior political leaders in Kolkata to rein in the police and stop raids at Pantapara.

The hardline Islamist clerics and crime lords of Goalpokhar have warned Trinamool leaders that if the raids and arrests continue and if the arrested are not released soon (at least five days before the day of polling on 22 April), the Muslim community will be asked to extend support to the Congress candidate Masud Nasim Ehsan. That, they have warned, will lead to the defeat of the Trinamool candidate.

That’s why, say Bengal police officers, top Trinamool leaders are exerting pressure on the Uttar Dinajpur police to go easy on the murderers of Pantapara. The prospect of losing the Goalpokhar Assembly seat is a scary one for the embattled Trinamool.

Trinamool’s Ghulam Rabbani won the Goalpokhar Assembly seat on a Congress ticket in 2011, but defected to and won on a Trinamool ticket in 2016.

But the Uttar Dinajpur Police may have little choice this time. With the EC watching its every move, any slackness in acting against the criminals at Pantapara may invite strong punitive action.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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