Raina, Jamalpur, Galsi: The violence in Kolkata began right after the West Bengal assembly election results were declared on 2 May.
Abhijit Sarkar, a 35-year-old BJP worker and an idol maker in North Kolkata, was among the first victims.
His older brother Biswajit Sarkar told ThePrint that Abhijit was allegedly dragged out of his house in the afternoon by a group of around 30 to 35 people, including women, and past the canine shelter and small veterinary unit that he ran for ailing dogs picked off the streets.
“The attackers used the cable wires to make a noose around his neck and dragged him through this alley (in front of his house); three of his pet dogs went with him,” Biswajit said. “My brother and his dogs were beaten to death. They assaulted me as well but their target was Abhijit as he was a known BJP worker.”
A sobbing Biswajit said the attackers were all neighbours and “a few outsiders”, adding that his “brother’s body is still in the morgue”. The Kolkata Police told ThePrint that Biswajit was not cooperating with the probe.
On the same night at Samaspur village in Bardhaman district, some 120 km from Kolkata, veteran Trinamool Congress (TMC) worker Ganesh Malik was looking to mediate between workers of his party and the BJP, all neighbours, clashing in the village.
His wife Champa Malik told ThePrint that Malik feared for his sons present there but was also aware of the repercussions of such clashes. The 60-year-old was himself a victim of political violence and had spent three months in a hospital intensive care unit (ICU) during the Left rule in 2007.
The TMC worker left home at around 8.30 pm. Two hours later, Champa and her husband’s brother Ashok Malik found his body in a pool of blood allegedly outside BJP leader Swarup Malik’s home — his body had been hacked and his head smashed.
The two men are among the 17 political workers murdered in the post-poll violence that has rocked West Bengal since the election results on 2 May.
The BJP has borne the brunt of the violence, with the party claiming that 12 of those killed were its workers. The ruling TMC has lost four of its men, while the Indian Secular Front said one of its workers has been killed.
A top West Bengal police officer told ThePrint that the violence has now tapered off. “We are working in every district and maintaining a vigil,” the official said. “At least 17 deaths have been verified as of now; there were reports of two to three more but those were not political killings.”
A second senior police officer said they were now making arrests in the cases. “Raids are on. We have already arrested around 19 people. More will be picked up soon,” he said.
ThePrint visited, apart from the Kolkata localities, four assembly constituencies — Galsi, Raina, Jamalpur and Sonarpur Dakshin — where eight of the victims lived and found that all of their deaths had a similar script: Victory marches, taunts, stone pelting, retaliation and revenge among neighbours resulting in murder.
There was another significant factor — lack of police presence. Local police officers at the Jamalpur and Raina police stations conceded that they did not reach the places rocked by violence.
BJP bears the brunt
The BJP, which was Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s main challenger, has faced the worst of the violence.
Apart from the 12 killed, scores of its cadres are critically injured, others are in hiding, having been displaced from their houses and villages.
Among those killed was Haran Adhikari, a 45-year-old BJP worker who was hacked in front of his 70-year-old father Nakul Adhikari and 14-year-old son Deep Adhikari.
Haran’s brother Sankar Adhikari told ThePrint that he was killed just 50 m from his home, which is at Sonarpur village in South 24 Parganas district.
“They broke my brother’s neck, knee joints and nose. His face was hardly recognisable,” Sankar said. “Another brother is in ICU now.”
The attackers were the neighbours, said his father Nakul Adhikari. “They threatened my son earlier too as he used to chant Jai Shri Ram. All of them fled,” he added.
The BJP claims that many of its workers were allegedly killed across districts in North Bengal and the Jangalmahal area, and a few in Malda.
While the party has been at the receiving end, its cadre have also been accused of murders and then leaving their homes in fear.
Anatomy of violence
Bengal’s violence has a pattern. In villages, neighbour kills neighbour over difference of political ideology and old rivalries take the shape of blood feuds.
It was no different in East Bardhaman district, where the ruling Trinamool won all 16 assembly seats.
The sparks were set off early in the afternoon of 2 May when the TMC raced to a lead.
At Hijolna village in Raina, once a fortress of the Left parties, TMC cadre came out onto the streets to celebrate what was increasingly looking like a landslide win. Some of them danced in front of the homes of BJP workers.
“After the celebrations, we returned home. An hour later, a group of 10-15 men, who defected to the BJP from the CPI(M) raided our houses with sharp weapons and beat us mercilessly,” alleged Bholanath Santra, 55-year-old Trinamool worker. “My three sons, their wives, my brothers and I were critically injured. My elder son is in ICU.”
The attackers, Bholanath claimed, belong to the same family of CPI(M) leaders who had chopped off his left leg and right hand 15 years ago. The TMC worker walks with a prosthetic leg and has at least 14 stitches on his head from the latest incident.
“The family has now joined BJP,” he alleged. ThePrint visited the homes of the alleged attackers but they were deserted.
The attack set off a sequence of events that eventually resulted in a number of murders.
Series of murders
The attack on Bholanath Santra and his family prompted TMC workers in Samaspur village, some 15 km from Hijolna, to look for local BJP leaders.
By evening, clashes had erupted, allegedly outside local BJP leader Swarup Malik’s home.
It was here that Ganesh Malik was murdered.
The following day, on 3 May, as the news of Malik’s murder spread, villagers who identified as BJP workers, deserted their homes.
Not finding any BJP workers, TMC cadre allegedly went to Nabagram in Jamalpur.
At around 11 am, at least 20 Trinamool workers with sharp weapons allegedly entered the house of Ashish Kshetrapal, head of BJP’s Shakti Kendra (formed with five booths).
While Ashish was being beaten, his mother Kakoli Kshetrapal tried to stop the attackers and was allegedly hacked to death, said a local Sumanta Pagre.
On Thursday, when ThePrint visited the village, Sumanta was the only one present.
“It is known as a BJP village. I have come here to take some stuff and will leave before evening,” he said. A team of police personnel has been posted there.
Kakoli’s son, husband and brother-in-law, who were also injured, are missing now, said a police official posted there. Her hut still bears the signs of violence.
“Kakolidi’s body has been in the Bardhaman morgue for the past three days. No one has come to claim it for last rites,” said Sunil Gupta, BJP’s Bardhaman district general secretary.
Trinamool’s Jamalpur block president Mehboob Khan told ThePrint that BJP workers retaliated by killing three of his workers.
“In barely two hours of Kakoli’s death, three Trinamool workers — Bibhas Bag, Shajahan Shah and Srinibas Ghosh — were killed in the same village by a mob of BJP’s armed men,” he alleged.
On 4 March, TMC workers allegedly extracted revenge by lynching to death 20-year-old Balaram Majhi at nearby Sripur village. Balaram was a BJP Yuva Morcha member, while his father, Mrityunjai Majhi, is an active BJP worker.
They also allegedly vandalised the home of BJP joint district secretary Joydeep Chatterjee at Galsi and assaulted his wife and son. “Police officials asked me to leave home. I am in hiding,” Chatterjee told The Print from an undisclosed location.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)