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Dhulagiri out of bounds

Even as Dhulagari in Howrah district in West Bengal simmers after the communal clash on December 13, the police and administration are hushing up the matter. In fact, many more violent incidents have taken place there since then.

Section 144 has been imposed and the police are acting as if there is a fatwa: that no media person or Opposition party member should be let into the area.

Guardrails have been put up at the Dhulagari crossing, about 1 km from where the incident took place, and all vehicles are checked. Police pickets are there in all by-lanes leading to riot-affected areas. State police and Rapid Action Force (RAF) personnel question every visitor. Some personnel admitted that they have been asked to keep media persons at bay.

“I don’t know how it is possible to prevent the leak of pictures in this age of the internet. But we will have to stick to orders,” said an official.

If media persons manage to get in, once they are spotted talking to villagers or taking pictures, they are immediately asked to leave.

Victims of violence have been warned not to talk to the media. “I am not a permanent resident here. I come from a different district and had rented a place here and worked here. My house has been burnt down, but I am afraid to speak to you. If my name is out, I will attract the government’s wrath, and I may even lose whatever little compensation the government is giving,” said one of the victims to this correspondent.

None of the top district police officials, including the SP and the ASP, are ready to comment, and the only source of information is the West Bengal government’s Twitter handle, which, toeing government line, said on December 29 that the incident was the outcome of a dispute between two groups on a local issue.

It also claimed that 58 accused had been arrested, the situation was under control and that the government had provided relief to the people.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, too, had been denying – from the very beginning – about the communal tension. “There is no communal tension. The disturbance at Dhulagari is a result of a local issue which had been taken care of,” she said at a recent press conference.

In fact, Section 144 seems to be applicable only to media persons and the Opposition. No delegates from the BJP, the Congress and the Left were allowed inside. But elected members of TMC, including local MLA Sital Kumar Sardar, were allowed to interact with the people.

“Political leaders have not been allowed in to prevent the tension from getting worse,” said local TMC MP Prasun Banerjee.

“The CM had said that everything would be made good, irrespective of which community lost what and that the state would bear all expenses. Within a week, everything will be normal,” he said.

He, however, admitted that there was communal tension in the area and that people were initially unhappy that the local MLA had not visited the place. “Now, the party has instructed the MP to meet the people twice a month and MLA five times a month,” he said.

Banerjee ended the conversation with a political twist. According to him, the communal violence was a handiwork of a group which wanted to get back at Mamata because of her protest against demonetization.

Political observers say the state government is keeping the issue under wraps, with an eye on the minority vote bank.