A six-member fact-finding team led by former Patna High Court Chief Justice Narasimha Reddy said that West Bengal Police allowed the violence to go on during a Ram Navami Shobha Yatra (march) in the Hooghly district. The interim report of the Fact-Finding Committee headed by Justice L Narsimha Reddy said that the “riots were pre-planned, orchestrated and instigated.”
While speaking to the media, Justice Narsimha said, “There was a concerted effort to attack the Ram Navami procession. The rally started peacefully. At certain localities, police deployment was there. Once the rioters started throwing stones, the police coolly walked away. At residential localities, rioters entered forcefully entered places and broke the glass windows of the residents of the particular section who were busy celebrating Ram Navami.” He further said, “We are not allowed to visit violence-hit areas. Even in areas where they have not implemented Section 144, we are not allowed to go. I think the police department knows that after visiting those places we will get to know what exactly happened there. We are not allowed to meet victims. No one from the police is answering our calls. We feel that police did not take any action in stopping the recent violence and allowed it to happen”. He further stated that police in West Bengal are acting like dictators in this incident.
This revelation was not just made by the fact-finding team headed by Retd Justice L Narsimha Reddy. Earlier, the Calcutta High Court had also come down heavily on the Mamata Banerjee government and observed that violence orchestrated on the occasion of Ram Navami was prima-facie ‘pre-planned.’ It made the observations while listening to a plea by BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari to transfer the probe in the case to the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
A 2-Judge Bench of Justice Hiranmay Bhattacharyya and Acting Chief Justice TS Sivagnanam heard the matter. “Internet suspension usually takes place when there has been an external danger or infiltration etc,” the court asked.
“But for a religious procession, we don’t understand why (internet was suspended). Sudden violence is when people are walking and there is an altercation etc. But your (State’s) reports prima facie show these (violence) were all pre-planned,” Acting Chief Justice TS Sivagnanam added. “There are allegations of stones being hurled from rooftops. Obviously, it is not possible for anyone to take stones up to the rooftop within 10 to 15 minutes,” he further pointed out.
These scathing observations have been made by the High Court and the fact-finding committee first and foremost squarely indict the West Bengal government and the police for letting the violence carry on unabated but also busts the narrative of Mamata Banerjee and the entire ecosystem that blamed Hindus for the violence.
OpIndia has accessed the full interim fact-finding report by the team led by Retd Justice Narsimha Reddy and the details contained therein prove clearly that the violence against Hindus on Ram Navami was pre-planned and most importantly, a direct result of instigation. The report has been summarised below in 17 points and 5 demands that the committee has made.
1. The most important aspect of the report is the indictment of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Saying that the violence on Ram Navami was pre-planned, orchestrated, and instigated, the report says that the direct trigger for the violence was the “grossly inflammatory speech of the Hon’ble Chief Minister of West Bengal”.
The report says, “The Committee has come across several user-generated videos and media reports also reporting multiple videos, which confirms that the peaceful Ramnavmi procession was targeted and the rioters were exhorted to stop and target the procession. In this context the Committee has seen a video of the Hon’ble Chief Minister Mama Banerjee, that is being played across TV media channels, wherein the Hon’ble Chief Minister just before the processions on Ram Navami while sitting on dharna, made a call through a communal speech that any procession passing through ‘Muslim areas’ (as spoken verbatim) will be seriously acted upon. Thereafter, as per the facts and evidence discussed below in this report, it would appear that communally charged mob violence broke out against people taking part in the peaceful Ram Navami processions and at the same time the state police were found completely missing in action to control rioters”.
2. Calling Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee “grossly biased and prejudiced”, the report details how while she failed to control the communal violence and safeguard innocent victims, she went on to claim in a biased manner that the “route undertaken by the Ram Navami procession had been changed at the last moment. The report debunks this claim by the Chief Minister and writes, “Whereas, upon discussion with several victims and participants, it is learnt that the said route had not been changed and also that the route had been intimated to the state police well in advance and was also approved by them”.
3. The report reveals that the Hindus had sought additional security because of apprehensions of communal violence since even in the previous year, Hindus had come under attack in Howrah in the 100-metre stretch.
The state police failed to provide such security in advance and also failed to secure the life and property of procession takers knowing fully well the sensitive nature of the area. “Because of the state’s utter failure, the procession takers were attacked under heavy stone pelting which is visible on record through several self-made videos”, the report says.
4. In a scathing comment, the committee report says that it appears that the police deliberately functioning in a partisan manner, “by choosing not to provide security or take action against rioters to prevent violence, apparently under political compulsions which have resulted in unparalleled violence against innocent persons who had merely intended to celebrate a widely revered festival as common and peaceful citizens”.
5. Even after the violence, the report says that the Chief Minister of Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, continued to make partisan and biased statements where she blamed the Hindus for the violence without inquiry, giving the rioters a clean chit. “The video is particularly disturbing as the Chief Minister of the State without proper enquiry and investigation had effectively given clean chit to a particular community claiming that they cannot do any wrong during the time of Ramzan, thereby blaming the Hindus for the entire chain of violence that had taken place”. This speech, the report says, was a trigger for further violence and riots.
6. The report goes on to talk about how Mamata Banerjee instigated the Muslims further by urging them to take the law into their own hands to teach the Dangabaaz (Hindus, according to her) a lesson. “This video is particularly disturbing as it appears the elected head of the State of West Bengal, who is also the heir of law and order of the State has been explicitly inciting communal violence b making communal comments in her public speeches to win the confidence of the minorities”, the report says.
7. In another scathing comment, the report says that Mamata Banerjee was “influencing the course of the investigation and instigating mob violence on a religious basis through hate speech”. The report also says, “such videos in circulation amount to communal hate speech invoking religion and making a call to violence and kilings”.
8. The most important part in the report alludes to Mamata Banerjee’s speech where she spoke about “Allah”. “In the aforementioned vídeos in circulation, the Chief Minister can be clearly seen addressing a gathering where she is provocating a particular community by invoking the name of Allah and asking them to “khatam” finish the procession takers who she is labelling as”dangabaaz”/ rioters”.
9. Indicting the state police, the report says that the fact that MLA Biman Ghosh was also injured in the violence despite having CISF security speaks to the intent of the state police where they were supporting the illegal and communal elements throughout the course of the violence.
10. Talking about the chequered history of West Bengal, the report says that “All of these acts discussed ought to be seen in the light of a chequered history in West Bengal of attack and desecration of Hindu Temples, including an instance of this Committee having visited such vandalised temple in its visit to Islampur in February 2023”. It talks about the fact that the people of Bengal live under constant fear of the state machinery and their sponsored goons and this is proved by the fact that the victims of the violence during Ram Navami did not even file police complaints because they were scared of the constant threat to themselves and their family. The police, the report says, have not helped the victims, but rather intimidated them with the threat of false cases.
11. Most importantly, the report says that the West Bengal police are making false arrests. “There had been arbitrary arrest and the police have been trying to hide their inaction under the garb of Section 144 of the CrPC and sub-judice subject matter before the Hon’ble High Court”, the report said.
12. Talking about the complete breakdown of law and order in the state, the report specifically mentions certain police officers and their failure to maintain law and order in the state. “The role of Shri Amit P. Javalgi, IPS, Commissioner of Police, Chandannagar and Shri Praveen Kumar Tripathi, IPS, Commissioner of Police, Howrah has been found to be lacking in the control of violence and riot control. There was a very delayed response by the police in the areas where violence was reported. Further, not allowing the committee to visit riot-affected areas only shows the complicity of these senior police personnel in appeasing communal elements creating violence at an unprecedented scale that can also be seen through numerous user-generated videos and personal accounts of affected victims”, the report said.
13. The report reveals that when the committee sought permission from the Commissioner of Police Howrah District and the Commissioner of Police Chandannagar to visit the riot-affected areas for assessment, the permission was arbitrarily denied. Instead, the police issued letters to the committee to not visit the affected areas. The committee on its part responded to the letters, however, when they were left unanswered by the police, they attempted to visit the area, however, they were stopped and not allowed to enter. Calling this a suppression of fundamental rights, the committee then visited a Hindu victim in SSKM hospital who was grievously injured in the violence. The report reveals that even though he was grievously injured, the police refused to file an FIR in the case.
14. It details how on the 8th of April, the committee spoke to the media about not being allowed to visit riot-affected areas. On the 9th, the committee proceeded towards Howrah where they were stopped. Thereafter, they went to meet the Commissioner who refused to meet them or listen to their voices. The committee, the report says, also offered that the police can accompany them to the areas so there are no apprehensions, however, this request was also denied.
The report says, “Since the committee was stopped from entering the areas of violence, an open offer was made to the victims that they are free to meet the committee at their convenience. Subsequent to this 24 victims of the communal riots volunteered to meet the committee in a private and cordial interaction. The fear of violence and retribution was apparent as they feared retribution in case their identities became public through media or other sources. The victims indicated that most of them were either part of a peaceful Shobha Yatra in the Shibpur locality in Howrah, on the occasion of Ram Navami or had volunteered to provide them with water and refreshments along the route on the side of the streets and they were an unarmed and peace-loving citizen. They stated that such Shobha Yatra has been organized regularly on Ram Navami for many years. They further stated that heavy stones were piled up on the rooftop of the buildings and at the moment the procession was passing through heavy stones were pelted started on the procession as well on other members present, which they suspected had been pre-planned and hideouts arranged from buildings from the opposite side and police failed to act in any manner. Thereafter, when residents moved towards their gated societies, the threat persisted and violence was being continued causing injury to peaceful residents including women, children and no less police officials as well as damage to property”.
15. One of the most shocking details that emerged from the report was the police used tear gas and lathi-charged innocent civilians inside their gated communities while not acting against the rioters. The victim who revealed these details to the committee also said that it was seen that as soon as the police left their area, a Muslim mob gathered and started indulging in violence in the area. The mob also entered gated communities to cause damage. The report says that the victim will also be submitting videos to back his claims. Victims revealed further that the police refused to respond to their frantic calls when the mob was indulging in violence despite the police station being only a few hundred meters from the area of violence.
16. The victims who spoke to the committee were in constant fear of state persecution. The report says, “During interaction with the victims, it was apparent that fear of persecution and implication in false cases was rife amongst all. It was requested by almost all victims that their identities be kept confidential. However, they still described the living scenario during the troubled times including that the state police were complicit in the violent acts that continued for a prolonged period, and they deliberately backtracked at instances that contemporaneously led to mob attacks within a span of few minutes in the same spots where the police scattered away from”.
17. In its concluding points, the committee makes the following revelations:
- The rioters and their backers acted with the active support of the state machinery.
- The damage could not have been this widespread without the active support of the State government.
- The evidence points to the active role of the police which allowed the violence to carry on.
- The police was aware of the procession being taken out from an area that saw violence last year as well. That they did not give protection despite request proves their role.
- The actions of the state police seems to have been motivated and guided by the political advantage that could come by due to the appeasement of a particular community, albeit at the command of their political masters.
The committe made the following demands in their report:
- The committee, keeping in view the ends of justice, appropriate police action in the matter by filing of the FIR’s against the culprits behind the riots.
- They demanded that the investigation of the riots be handed over to the National Investigation Authority (NIA) to ensure that the investigations are being carried out in a fair, impartial and independent manner.
- Give protection to the victims who are living in mortal fear.
- Withdraw false cases that have been filed against innocent victims.
- Extension of deployment of central forces as a confidence building measure since the people have lost faith in the police.
Several disturbing videos of the incident went viral on social media. A large contingent of police was deployed to contain the law and order situation in the area. The cops conducted a flag march, fired tear gas shells and chased away the rioters.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had insinuated that violence occurs when Hindus take out Ram Navami processions through ‘Muslim areas’ and also attempted to give a clean chit to the Islamists by invoking their Faith and Ramzan.
On March 30 this year, stones were pelted on a Ram Navami procession from the terraces of the buildings in the Shibpur area of Howrah. This led to a clash between the Hindu and Muslim groups, leading to violence and arson. Vehicles and shops were also torched during the attack.