CANNING: The murder of an elderly villager by a gang of suspected robbers sparked large-scale violence in Canning subdivision on Tuesday morning. Fuelled by wild rumours and anger against police for allegedly taking the case lightly, a mob of thousands plundered four villages and burnt down more than 200 houses.
The administration has been shaken the most by reports that a section of attackers was ferried from Kolkata in trucks. This has been confirmed by intelligence officials, say sources. The situation is still tense and there is apprehension that the violence may spread to other parts of the district. Reinforcements have been rushed from neighbouring districts.
According to residents of Naliakhali village in Canning-I block, the victim was returning to his home in Basanti after a religious concert at Jamtala village late on Monday when he was accosted by a gang on Naliakhali Main Road. The 60-year-old religious leader was on a motorcycle with an aide when the goons fired, killing him and injuring the other person.
Samir Sen, a bus driver, was the first to see the body around 4.25am on Tuesday. “Mine was the first bus to Canning from Golabari terminal around 3.50am. At Naliakhali, I found a man lying on the road and decided to check on him with conductor Biswanath Singh. We saw that he was dead. His clothes were soaked in blood and a motorcycle lay by the side of the road. Finding nobody else around, we left and reported the matter to the police in Canning. By then, some other bus drivers had also called police but the cops made no effort to arrive,” Sen said.
The injured aide had managed to reach a safe place and got in touch with friends and relatives. By first light, a large crowd had gathered on the spot and rumours started swirling around. Initially, police didn’t treat the matter seriously enough and sent a junior officer and two constables to remove the body. The crowd barricaded them. A few more policemen were sent, but by then the mob had swollen and a rumour had spread that the killers were from Naliakhali village. The mourners blocked roads and railway tracks.
“Police stood by and watched as thousands of men stormed our village around 10am,” said Biswajit Sardar, whose two-storied building was torched in the violence. Others alleged that most of the attackers were outsiders, who hurled bombs at houses, poured petrol and set them ablaze. “Whoever dared to protest was beaten up,” said villager Sanatan Adhikari. The rampage continued for three hours.
Villagers in Naliakhali say they had no clue about the murder. “It was only at dawn, when police arrived, that we came to know of the killing,” said Shaktipada Adhikari, an elderly villager whose house near the crime scene was reduced to ashes.
Realizing that things had got out of hand, Canning officers sent distress calls to their superiors. South 24-Parganas SP Praveen Kumar Tripathy rushed with Combat Force and Rapid Action Force battalions and asked district magistrate N S Nigam to arrange for additional personnel. By late afternoon, policemen from Bidhannagar and Howrah reached Canning with water cannons. Nigam, DIG-Presidency range Dilip Banerjee and other senior officers visited the spot and decided to keep forces deployed for the next few days. It is a worry that many people involved in the violence were outsiders, say officers.
Villagers said that the violence would never have taken place had police reacted in time and removed the body in the wee hours. They also wondered how police could have allowed the mob to reach the spot in trucks and vans. According to them, a section of the mob arrived from Kolkata. This was corroborated by an intelligence officer. Nigam said that the administration had started assessing the damage and the victims would be compensated.
While Tripathy refused to comment on police inaction, Banerjee said: “We have initiated cases of murder and rioting. Several rioters have been arrested. We are probing who the killers were and whether someone instigated the mob.”