The Curious Case of Rahmat Nagar and Jhingri Mohalla of Asansol

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The strange tale of two localities of the same city, partitioned by hatred, looked upon with doubt.

If you’re familiar with Asansol, the second largest city of West Bengal--rich in coal deposit and a well-known industrial belt, there is a probability that you may have heard about Rahmat Nagar and Jhingri Mohalla (a locality in North Asansol’s Railpar), two prominent Muslim localities of the region, which are often called “mini-Pakistan” by the upper-caste non-Bengali Hindu elites and the upper-caste Bengali Bhadralok community.
The general perception that strongly reigns in the lanes and bylanes of this colonial-era industrial town is that these two places are the hub of Muslim anti-social elements like thugs, pickpockets, wagon-breakers, murderers and extortionists. Most of the non-Muslims of Asansol believe that the people of these two localities are hardcore supporters of Pakistan; while some go to the extent saying that the people of these localities host terrorists from Pakistan and Bangladesh and even accuse them of exporting terrorists to other parts of the world! I'm sure you can identify at least one Muslim neighbourhood in your own city that has similar narratives built around it.
While before I write more about the Muslims of Rahmat Nagar of Burnpur or Jhingri Mohalla, Kasai Mohalla, etc. of Railpar, it’s imperative to have a look at the national political picture post the farmers’ movement in Mandsaur, especially after the Indian cricket team’s defeat in the ICC Champion’s Trophy final to arch-rival Pakistan, to understand the dynamics of communal politics of India.
Recently, 15 Muslim men were arrested for cheering Pakistan’s victory in the ICC Champion’s Cup Trophy in Madhya Pradesh, where senior BJP leaders and members of the saffron outfit’s IT Cell were recently arrested for their alleged role in spying on behalf of the Pakistani intelligence agency, ISI, and six farmers were killed brutally by the police when they agitated against the notorious Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP government in Mandsaur.

For your kind information, Shivraj Singh Chouhan is tainted in the Vyapam scam - in which most of the eyewitnesses and investigators died in mysterious situations (or we can say got killed). His government has unleashed a reign of Hindutva terror in the central Indian state and it's persecuting the Muslims and Christians using draconian laws, by imposing restrictions on religious practices and by incessantly hurling abuses at the Abrahamic religions with which the Brahminical ruling classes are not in peace with.
In BJP-ruled Rajasthan, where the farmers are slowly organising themselves into a mighty force to reckon with, police arrested few Muslim men accused by the notorious fascist terror-monger VHP of celebrating Pakistan’s victory. The BJP’s lackey police are saying that they were arrested for “disturbing peace” by celebrating the victory of the neighbouring country in the cricket match. In Karnataka, three Muslim youths were arrested on similar allegations of supporting Pakistan during the cricket match, after a local BJP leader, Ramesh Chengappa, complained so.
Muslim men, Pakistan, victory celebration are few terms that, if we juxtapose together, will validate the propaganda of the RSS that the Muslims celebrate the victory of Pakistan more than that of India because they are loyal to Pakistan and hence, they are the enemies of the nation who can be lynched anywhere for anything by a Hindutva-incensed mob; it may be their appearance, the meat they eat or their reluctance to chant “Jai Shree Ram” - the war cry of the RSS. Probably this license to kill under Modi’s government encouraged the Bajrang Dal supporters of Haryana to lynch a 16-year-old boy, Junaid, on board of a train simply because he looked like a Muslim.
A nation-wide campaign is on since the last one hundred years, which aims to portray the Muslims as a community that has no “patriotism”, no loyalty towards the “nation” with a Hindu majority and are subservient to the interests of the greater Muslim Ummah based out of the Arab world. Though the Hindu Mahasabha started this vicious campaign during the heydays of the Khilafat movement, when a large number of Indian Muslims were agitating against the British imperialism over the ouster of the Islamic Caliphate in Istanbul, it was the RSS that later took up the issue to higher planes and made this allegation the foundation of its existence and growth in India.
Since the partition of India, the RSS and other Hindutva groups affiliated with it started bidding for a Brahminical theocratic Hindutva fascist rule and to wean mass support in this regard, the organisation and its numerous affiliates started milling rumours over the Indian Muslim’s purported affection and loyalty towards Pakistan. In provinces like Punjab and Bengal, the people even started calling the local Muslims as Pakistanis, despite the latter’s decision to remain in India and not move to Pakistan during partition. By accusing the Muslims of showing loyalty towards Pakistan repeatedly, the RSS and its political mass organisations like the BJP managed to stir up communal hatred throughout the country.
Cricket became a commercial success after India embraced the neo-liberal economic system since 1992 to be an integral part of the globalised US-ruled world order and subsequently opened the floodgates for foreign corporations to set-up their shops in the country. Match sponsorships started pouring in from big global corporations like the Coca-Cola company, Pepsi, Nike, Addidas, etc. Cricket became the fastest source of making huge money and thus the cricket control body, the BCCI, became a money minting machine for many politicians, big traders, comprador crony capitalists and big mafia cartels. People who never played a single professional cricket match in their lives became the head of cricket affairs in the country. Politicians like Lalu Prasad Yadav, Arun Jaitley, Amit Shah, Sharad Pawar, etc. have kept their hold on their respective state's cricket associations for the immense financial potential of the sport and not out of any love for the game.
The neo-liberal economic regime not only wanted a nation living and dying for a sport but it also wanted to use the sport to keep the market hyperactive and the hegemonic rule of big monopoly and finance capital secure. It was for the same reason of consolidating the hegemony of the big monopoly and finance capital that severe communal riots were since instigated on a full scale to drive a wedge between the overwhelming Hindu community and the minority communities like the Muslims and the Christians. It was 1992 when the Babri Masjid was demolished by a rowdy mob led by the BJP leader L.K. Advani. Seven years later, when India became a prominent cricket team, Dara Singh, a Hindutva terrorist of Odisha, killed an Australian missionary and his children by burning them alive in the station wagon they were sleeping in one night in Mayurbhanj district. All to keep the communal tension brewing.
During those days of the 1990s, to consolidate its base and to polarise the upper-caste Hindu voters of different regions, the Hindutva fascist RSS and BJP started a bush telegraph campaign throughout the country over how the Muslim community, which actually lives a very miserable life in the ghettos of big cities and in the most inhuman condition in villages, supports Pakistan’s terrorist organisations against India. A mass uprising against Indian occupation in Kashmir was at its peak then and films like Roja were fuelling the hyper-chauvinist and xenophobic temper of the urban Hindu elites and middle-class. Opposition to the Mandal commission helped to tie a strong bond of kinship that united a large section of the upper-caste Hindus of North and West India. The campaign against Muslims, set on the stereotyping done using a particular backdrop, became quite a hit, thanks to the incessant propaganda by the Hindutva thugs and the Brahminical ruling classes using all type of platforms, especially films and TV.
Returning back to Asansol, it was in those turbulent days of the 1990s, when both Sikhs and Muslims were suspected of being terrorists that a message was amplified in the corridors of a semi-posh public school in Burnpur - “the Muslims are Pakistan supporters”. Little children, as young as six, were taught not to befriend their Muslim classmates and there was a vertical division on caste and communal lines in the schools, mostly among teenagers. The vulnerable children were injected with bigotry by their classmates, seniors, teachers, etc. in the school; at their homes they overheard their parents talking on the same lines about the Muslim community and in the TV they watched the Muslims portrayed as villains in Bollywood blockbusters. Their minds were shaped, sharpened and reserved to be used in the service of the Hindutva thugs at a later time.  

In the early and mid 1990s, such vilification of the Muslim community were installed in the minds of the teenagers and children by the RSS affiliate “fringe elements” to ensure that when these children grow up, they can carry forward the vitriol to their next generations to toxify more minds against the Muslims of the country eventually. The young Hindu minds were deprived of facts and data; they were not told that the Muslims are a community that is facing a systematic repression under the Hindutva state since the partition of the country. There was no counter-propaganda in Asansol to thwart the venomous vitriol of the RSS, despite Jyoti Basu’s government thumping chest on its secular credentials at that time. The minds of these susceptible youngsters were slowly infested, which made them become the vessels of communal hatred in the future.

The word "Katwa" is used extensively to refer to the Muslim community in Asansol, alike the whole country, since a long time. The deregotary word is believed to refer the circumcised penis of Muslim men. However, the origin of the word was from the Brahminical excommunication ritual, under which ostracised people or communities, who were considered filthy by the caste-Hindu society, were called "Katwa" and were exiled from the mainstream society. No communication was allowed to take place between the caste-Hindus and the ostracised Dalits and Tribal people. But in the 20th and 21st century, the term Katwa was permanently used to call out Muslims and became a commonly used verbiage in the daily discourse of upper-caste Hindus. The extreme communal hatred expressed by such words carved deep impact in the minds of the children then, who were encouraged by their seniors to call their Muslim classmates- Katwa.

One common thing that binds this Muslim-bashing Bengali Bhadralok of West Bengal with the Thakurs and upper-caste feudal landlords of Madhya Pradesh’s border village with Maharashtra from where 15 youth were picked up by the BJP government’s police for cheering for Pakistan during the ICC Champion’s Cup Trophy is - that no one ever witnessed the Muslim's cheering for Pakistan, no one has evidence to prove that the hapless poor Muslim people of these places are Pakistan cheerleaders; rather, they have all heard such allegations from someone they know and believed the allegation to be true at its face value. This is how fascism consolidates its rule- through legitimising hearsay and usage of seductive bush telegraphs that villainize other communities and races with all sort of concocted tales.

Almost every time I overheard two or three educated and suave non-Muslim Bengali Bhadralok or non-Bengali elites of Asansol discussing the issue of cricket, Kashmir or politics, they would certainly refer to the Muslims as Katwas and then blame the community, especially the poor people living in inhuman conditions in Jhingri Mohalla and Rahmat Nagar (many even without basic hygienic sanitation, drinking water or a square meal a day) as terrorists and Pakistan sympathisers. These Bhadralok and upper-caste non-Bengali Hindus would blame the Muslims for enjoying subsidies and reservation (!!!), without being able to provide any evidence of such utopian claim. These people who abuse Muslims are not actually RSS or VHP members. Ironically, they despised the RSS and the BJP for its communal politics at one point of time. Many of these people were seen flocking the Left Front-led rallies, raising slogans of unity, fraternity, solidarity, etc. Still, hatred brewed in their bellies against the Muslims, as against the Dalits and tribal people.
It was mid-2002, as far as I recall, a CPI(M) Branch Committee member in Court More area of Asansol told me, without knowing my 'religious' identity, that Narendra Modi (then Chief Minister of Gujarat and the kingpin of the anti-Muslim pogrom) did a recommendable job by “answering the Muslims in a language they better understood" and that Modi made the Hindus feel proud. Following this statement, he replayed the stereotype calling the Muslims of Rahmat Nagar and Jhingri Mohalla, who have settled in Asansol since the 19th century to work in coal mines, factories and railways, as Pakistani agents. The CPI(M) leader also claimed that Osama Bin Laden’s cassettes were played during Khutba in the mosques, i.e. during the time of sermons. Again, when I asked for evidence, he clearly said that he has no first-hand witness or evidence, but hearsay built his conviction. It was the time when the so-called Left led by the CPI(M) were advocating nationwide resistance against the saffron terror and communal politics. Certainly, they love overlooking the pests that infest their own core.
This cross-pollination of belief and ideology was actually an ideological victory of the BJP in West Bengal, nine years before Mamata Banerjee rose to power. At that time, Mamata Banerjee was a minister of Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government and welcomed Narendra Modi with a bouquet following the latter’s victory in the Gujarat assembly election of 2002. The saffron terrorists spread their wings within the state with the active help of Trinamool Congress since 1998. The vitriol against the Muslims became high in Asansol and the people from the minority community, who were forced due to Brahminical discrimination to live in ghettos like Rahmat Nagar or Jhingri Mohalla, were abused behind their backs and even under the nose of a so-called “Marxist” party’s rule, stereotyping of Muslims as terrorists and anti-national intensified in the industrial town. But none of the then-omnipotent mass organisations of the CPI(M) did any detoxification campaign to undo the injustice meted out to the Muslim community.
Now, after 15 years, the stereotypes and the rumours have evolved to become the mainstream Hindu narrative that even a large section of the poor Hindus subscribe to. The working class is continuously seduced with anti-Muslim diatribe by the RSS and BJP organisers of the region; the saffron bloc has managed to win a large support base among upper-caste workers of PSUs like ISP, ECL and Railways. The victory of the BJP in the Asansol Lok Sabha seat in 2014, the very seat which the CPI(M) managed to retain even during the adverse tide of 2009, showed this gradual victory of the saffron camp in wooing a large section of the working class to assemble under the Hindutva umbrella. This infesting of a labour belt by Hindutva fascism shows us that how deeply the problem of communal hatred has entrenched into the Indian society, especially in West Bengal.
As the BJP and its ideological mentor, the RSS, enjoys the loyalty of a large number of upper-caste Bengali and non-Bengali Hindus and a big portion of the Dalits and Tribals in the Asansol constituency, and as Babul Supriyo, a minister in Modi's cabinet and the MP of the town, is repeatedly attempting to instigate communal trouble and to lure the unemployed youth with money, alcohol, and power. This once-upon-a-time trade union capital of the undivided Burdwan district is now experiencing a monochromatic division and the the rift that existed between the Hindus and the Muslims of the town is widening deeply.
More Hindus of Asansol now believe that the poor and hapless Muslims who live in Asansol’s Railpar, Burnpur’s Rahmat Nagar or Dharampur are plotting terrorist plans and celebrates the victory of Pakistan in cricket matches. This was reiterated to me when I was visiting a men’s parlour for a haircut recently. The downmarket stall in a prominent place in the town was filled with non-Bengali youth with whom the owner of the stall was communicating in Hindi about how treacherous the Muslim community is and why it’s important to teach them a lesson like they did in Gujarat or Muzaffarnagar. Upon asking where he belongs to, the man replied Gorakhpur. Though I refrained from stereotyping the barber hailing from Gorakhpur by referring to a bigot from the same town who became infamous due to his notorious speeches and riot-monger role, I tried to persuade him that no one in Rahmat Nagar or Jhingri Mohalla loves Pakistan as he believes. Though it momentarily stopped him, there’s no guarantee that the thought process changed.
The fact is that there is no compulsion to support a non-government or a government team(as BCCI is a heavily corporate-sponsored autonomous, non-government entity and the Indian cricket team is owned by it and the corporate sponsors) during sports events, so no one can compel another person, who lives in the same country, to support a team that originates from that country. If that would’ve been compulsory, the Indians should have stopped watching Fifa’s World Cup or Euro Cup as India never qualified for it. It would have been an offence then, to cheer for France or England, as in my case, or for Argentina or Brazil, for the rest of Bengali football lovers, because they aren’t our country.
I personally liked the Australian cricket team in the past.
Oh! That was really long time ago when David Boon and Alan Border played!
My God! I’m growing old, too old indeed, isn’t it?
But does that makes me a culprit in the eyes of the law? Not cheering for India led by Mohammad Azharuddin but Australia led by Alan Border?
Probably it does.

As in a country where the Assembly of Karnataka can spell jail terms for journalists who wrote critically about two MLAs of the BJP and the Congress respectively, where 15 men were picked up for cheering for Pakistan in Madhya Pradesh, where the farmers of Maharashtra are sprayed with pellets by the police, where the military kills the youth of Kashmir striving for freedom from a ruthless junta rule, a fascist despotic rule smokescreened using a quasi-democratic veil, it would be too much to expect the majoritarian mob of the minority Brahminical upper-caste elites to buy logic and rational thinking. Patriotism, as defined by the Hindutva fascists, is a hot selling concept today and most brands strive to catch the market by aligning with it. Did you see the meteoric growth of the FMCG brand Patanjali under Modi's reign?
If the same upper-caste elites go to Pakistan and cheers for India, we would not be surprised to see them being lynched by a Salafist mob or arrested by a bigot police force. This is what makes us worry more, as we never wanted India to become another Pakistan or Saudi Arabia-styled theocratic fascist state. But it’s becoming one fast. One nation, one language, one religion and one leader formula of fascist Mussolini is implemented with such craftsmanship by the Modi-led BJP government that the publicly executed fascist ideologue would’ve felt jealous to see the pace with which Indian fascism is consolidating its rule over the country with unwavering support from the US-led coalition of imperialist powers that want to keep India dominated as a neo-colony.
Back to the post-18 June world, the arrest of Muslim men by the police in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and Congress-ruled Karnataka for allegedly celebrating the victory of Pakistan in the ICC Champion’s Trophy, happened only after the BJP or other Hindutva organisations reported against them to the police and the latter obliged. Back to Asansol, a similar campaign over a purported celebration of Pakistan’s victory and firing of crackers in the Muslim ghettos of Rahmat Nagar and Jhingri Mohalla was started over WhatsApp groups managed by the BJP IT cell in the city. They used these fake videos with deceitful content to provoke the Hindus against the Muslims by using the age-old propaganda style of the Sangh Parivar.
Unsusceptible minds, the politically backward section, which forms the bulwark of reaction in the middle-class and working-class section in Asansol, often falls for these propaganda and then, like a Chinese Whisper, the rumours are milled and re-milled continuously, until they blow the story out of proportion and start making ridiculous claims like Osama Bin Laden once took refuge in Jhingri Mohalla, which a Vaishya trader from Varanasi, settled in Asansol, once told me.  
The big problem that all progressive forces face in dealing with the problem in Asansol is the lack of avenues to clarify their points boldly and with enough evidence as these Muslim ghettos are so isolated that the middle-class or poor Hindus never dare to venture into these areas or try to befriend people who live in these areas. Most Hindus consider these areas “untouchable” and would never visit them to see how people live in these places and whether the residents of these ghettos truly support any “Jihad” or Pakistan?
If a non-Bengali or Bengali Hindu would visit these Muslim ghettos of Asansol or any other city and spend some time with their residents, especially the poor workers, unemployed youth and other toiled people, they will learn that the Muslims of these ghettos are normal people like them who are trying hard to meet the resources required to feed two square meals a day to their families. But the Muslims of these localities, or for that matter, of all Muslim localities, are deprived of the minimum basic rights of a citizen of this country and are only treated as a vote bank. Once you cross the bridge from Bengali upper-caste dominated Subhaspally of Burnpur to reach Rahmat Nagar, where Guddu’s pan (betel leave) stall will be the first thing to welcome you, a new world will be uncovered before your eyes.
The lack of civic facilities, the utmost poverty and lack of education leaves the youth of these localities at the mercy of their fate. The only government representatives that the people of these areas are acquainted with are the police and other repressive agencies that pick up Muslim boys randomly and shoot them or jail them forever on fabricated charges. The mainstream press and the toady journalists of the Hindutva camp concoct tales around these ghettos and help the saffron brigade in shaping the perception of the larger Hindu community of Asansol and neighbouring areas about the Muslims living in Rahmat Nagar or Jhingri Mohalla.
A communally divided society cannot stand up together to seek its rights and this is exactly what the RSS and the BJP have in their mind. The Hindutva groups have repeatedly struck at the thought process of the vulnerable Hindus with their deceitful propaganda to make them believe that the Muslims living in these locations are terror-fundraisers or hardcore criminals. As more people subscribed to this theory, which has no base than Chinese whispers, the BJP made good gains eventually and helped the RSS to increase its militia’s base in the region. Now, thanks to the BJP, the hitherto communally peaceful Asansol has turned into a hotspot for sparking communal riots among the Hindu and the Muslim community using their bush telegraph campaigns on the occasion of Bakri-Eid or an India-Pakistan cricket match.
It’s true that there are many people who live in these ghettos are criminals by profession. But was that their fault or the fault of the Muslim community or can this be called a fault of a system that deliberately pushes a large section of a particular community towards crime or menial jobs by closing the doors to other opportunities before them or by thrusting a regime of apartheid on the people? When the Hindutva camp can scream out its lungs against Muslim appeasement - can it show a single Muslim ghetto in the entire country where the governments did anything remarkable to uplift the condition of the people in comparison to their affluent Hindu neighbourhoods?
Forget Rahmat Nagar or Jhingri Mohalla, which doesn’t exist for the people of the world, but if we look into the condition of life in Calcutta’s Park Circus, Bombay’s Shivaji Nagar, Delhi’s Seelampur, everywhere the Muslims are ghettoised by the upper-caste Hindu elites and upper-middle class members, who form the core of BJP’s vote bank. The Muslims are left with no civic amenities, no employment opportunities, no formal education opportunity, and not even clean drinking water or proper electric connection due to the systematic discrimination policy adopted by the Brahminical Indian ruling classes.
There were few employment opportunities for the Muslims in places like Rahmat Nagar, Jhingri Mohalla and the rest of Railpar. They laboured in the IISCO factory, in the mines of ECL, in Railways as fourth-grade labour. But with the neo-liberal economy forcing these employment opportunities to shrink and become exclusive domains of the majority community, the Muslim population of the town was thrown from the only jobs they were hired in. Most Muslims in Asansol are forced to migrate to Middle East Asia to sell their labour there or are rendered as hawkers and casual labours. A small percentage of them takes to crime due to the lucrative baits of easy money and in the Asansol sub-division, the number of Hindu criminals still surpasses the number of Muslims.
The enmity sown between the two communities by the Hindutva brigade and few Salafist organisations working in the industrial belt of Asansol will not wither away on its own but spread the venom of hatred, mistrust and antagonisms for a long time. But those who are firmly on the path of democracy and progress must smash this conspiracy hatched by the outsiders and the enemies of the people by exposing the conspiracies and by building a bridge of confidence and trust between the communities by increasing inter-community exchanges and dialogue.
To improve inter-community dialogue the best thing will be if more Hindu youths can befriend the Muslim youths, as often the youth are used as a vessel to spread communal vitriol by the Hindutva camp. The RSS plans will seriously suffer great setbacks if more interactions can happen among the youth of the two communities and they can understand each other's aspirations and thoughts, which will eventually diminish the myths and stereotypes created by the Hindutva groups since the last three decades.
I know many people of Rahmat Nagar of Burnpur or Railpar in Asansol won’t be able to read this piece on this blog because they don't know how to read. However, I also know that they want to assert that the Muslims of these places, alike Muslims of any other place, doesn’t need any type of “patriotism” certificate from the harbingers of fascist terror and the mob lynching in India. Their hard labour, invested in building the society and keeping things on run, is in itself a living example of their contribution in the construction of India, alike their Hindu compatriots. Rahmat Nagar, Jhingri Mohalla, Railpar, Islampur, Dharampur and other Muslim dominated areas of Asansol are the inalienable arteries of the town, without which its existence will be impossible.
Rahmat Nagar and Jhingri Mohalla are also the essence of  Asansol’s cosmopolitan nature, which is also represented by Chelidanga and Mohishila. We cannot let few WhatsApp campaigns, slurs and vitriol take away the sheen of the communal harmony that Asansol exemplified in the past and it will be an arduous task now to rebuild Asansol from the debris of communal hatred that the RSS sparked decades ago. However, Asansol stood together and strong on many occasions and the city will survive these onslaughts as well to defeat its enemies and bury them beneath to look towards a brighter future.

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