Ban on Durga Puja: An assault on the core of Hindu civilisation [Part III]

This piece has been co-authored by Shanmukh, Saswati Sarkar and Dikgaj.

 |  18-minute read |   23-11-2015
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In the prequels [read Part I and Part II] to this piece, we have shown that the worship of Shakti (strength or valour) as Goddess has inspired principal Hindu resistances across ages and throughout the civilisational land of the Hindus. It is perhaps this worship that has  inspired Hindu women to militarily defend their civilisation against invaders, along with, and many times leading their male counterparts. In contrast, Abrahamic religions exhibit a deep-rooted aversion towards worship of Goddess in any form, and provide theological sanctions for disrupting Hindu public worship and festivals, which has in turn inspired dastardly attacks on the same since the beginning of India’s subjugation to foreign powers (Islamic and British). In this part, we show that the tradition of denial of the right to practise religion in general, and worship the Goddess in particular continues till date. In the concluding part, we show that the denial of religious freedom to Hindus is the outcome of active collusion of India’s political class with Abrahamic fundamentalists, or complicity of silence in the face of grave atrocities. The state of the affairs is in sharp contrast to the values that India’s genuine freedom fighters had lived, fought and died to defend. The anti-Hindu nature of the Indian polity  may in future alienate Hindus vested in the freedom to practise their religion from the polity.        

Section D: Attack on Goddess worship and public Hindu festivals in contemporary Indian subcontinent 

Having described the historical and the theological context for the attack on Hindu festivals and public worship, we now document some instances of such assaults in Pakistan, Bangladesh and indeed, India itself. We focus on the situation from 2010 onwards.

Section D.1: Pakistan

Pakistan has been home to numerous Hindu temples, of which only 360 remain, with an even smaller number functioning; thousands of temples have been destroyed since 1947 [6]. Attacks on miniscule Hindu community during public worship are also very common. On March 18, 2014, Hindus celebrating Holi were attacked with acid by Islamist goons [7]. During the same festival, Islamists attacked the Hindu community centre and a temple and burnt them down in Larkana [8]. The Hindus live in abject fear and are terrified to celebrate their festivals [9].

Section D.2: Bangladesh

The situation in Bangladesh is even worse, as far as attacks on Hindu festivals are concerned. The Daily Star has chronicled how the Hindu festivals have been targeted in a systematic manner [10]. In [10], Jyotirmoy Barua, an advocate of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, says, "Attacks on temples and festivals have become a common phenomenon. Durga Puja is the prime target for vandalism and creating panic among the locals. The practice has become so widespread now that the Hindus plan to keep backups in case their idols fall under attack by the majority. One might task, what about law and order in the country? I don't know which country you are thinking of but I do know now that no law in this country will be able to prevent this happening in the coming years". Continuing, in the same article, he writes [10], "In the last two weeks in 15 districts, at least 22 Durga Puja pandals were vandalised by the local Muslims. reported on September 27 that 82 out of 408 puja pandals at Rajshahi have been declared as risky (important) by the police! This is the scenario in most of the districts. Even after 43 years of our independence, religious festivals of minorities face threat of being attacked by the Muslims".

Just in the last few years, there have been many attacks on the Durga Puja marquees and many of them have been by policemen themselves.  These attacks are almost a regular feature, with attacks coming on the Durga Puja mandaps and idols every year. Garga Chatterjee, in his article in DNA [17], calls it "The Annual Durga Idol Desecration Festival of Bangladesh". He writes, "So widespread is this pre-Puja idol desecration phenomenon that one Puja organiser said in sad resignation that instead of hitting arbitrarily, idol-destroyers should pre-specify each year which puja mandaps will be targeted. Already, the pre-Puja idol-breaking campaign has picked up. There’s a good geographical spread this year — five in Kishoreganj district, six in Rishipara of Gopalpur, three in Joari Bajar of Natore, four in Garua of Faridpur, three in Protapnagar of Sherpur and so on. Care is taken to attack late in the idol-making process and do a thorough job so that the idol cannot be repaired or replaced. The ‘unindentifiable’ strike with the regularity of monsoon thunderbolts — only the timing and location varies"; [17].

On October 17, 2010, the Daily Bhaskar reported, "Witnesses said at least 10 people were injured when around 15 drunk men attacked Hindus devotees, who were dancing at a pavilion in Minabazar area of Tanbazar early Saturday.  

They stabbed organising secretary of the Puja celebration committee of the area, Ankan Saha Rana, 35, and member Sumon Das, 24, when they attempted to stop the drunks. In Sunamganj in northeastern Bangladesh, six policemen including a sub-inspector were withdrawn from a police station for attacking devotees at a temple in Tahirpur Upazila (sub-district)."

On October 10, 2012, BDNews24 reported the attacks on Hindu temples in Chittagong region (Cox’s Bazaar) which were vandalised during Durga Puja [16]. BDNews24 says, "Unidentified miscreants damaged idols of Hindu Goddess Durga in several makeshift temples in different parts of Munshiganj and Narail districts in the wee hours of Wednesday". It also quotes Keshob Chakrabarty, the head of Sirajdikhan Battola Puja Committee as saying, "Miscreants broke all the idols immediately after those were installed and the temple was razed to the ground".

The US State Department Report on "International Religious Freedom" mentions attacks on Durga Puja in 2013 [14]: "Attacks against Hindus continued throughout the year. For example, on October 15, residents observing Durga Puja in Damurhuda, Chuadanga, said (Islamic Chatra) Shibir attacked a shrine set up for the ceremony".

On September 29, 2014, BDNews24 reported on the fear of the Hindus of Chittagong in Bangladesh, which was manifest when it quoted the organisation in charge of hosting the Durga Puja festival [15]. "The organisation's joint general secretary Shyamal Kumar Palit recalled hate attacks on Hindus at Banshkhali after Jamaat-e-Islami leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee's war crimes conviction."  On September 30, 2014, the Daily Star reported: "Bangladesh Puja Udjapon Parishad (Bangladesh Puja Organising Committee) stated that miscreants attacked and vandalised at least 23 altars in 14 districts although law enforcers had claimed that adequate security measure were in place."

"Five mandaps (altars) in Kishoreganj came under attack on September 18," the parishad president Kajal Debnath told the Daily Star; [13].

On October 18, 2015, the DNA reported that Kajal Debnath said that ahead of the puja, sporadic incidents of attacks on idols were also reported in 16 other places despite an assurance of security during the festival [11]. Even the Huffington Post reported on October 19, 2015 that "three idols of goddess Durga were vandalised ... by unidentified miscreants in southern Bangladesh, the latest such incident as the country prepares to celebrate Durga Puja".

"Organisers of the Durga Puja site at Babulia High School grounds at the Sadar Upazila said three idols were damaged early today," BDnews24 reported.

"Organising committee chief Arvind Mandal said that the idols were guarded until early morning after artisans provided finishing touch the previous night. 'Some of the committee members were at the site the whole night, but left in the morning. It is then that unidentified miscreants vandalised the idols,' he was quoted by the online portal as saying;" [20].

Section D.3: India

Given the increasing rise of Islamism and anti-Kafirism across the world, it is only to be expected that the attacks on Hindu festivals, and in particular, Durga Puja, would increase in India too. Such indeed has been the case.  

The Shakti (Durga, Kali and their other forms) Puja, as may be expected, has been attacked viciously by the Islamists, Christian fundamentalists and their allies. In just the last few years, the following attacks on Durga Puja have been recorded.  

  1. In 2008, Bangladeshi infiltrators attacked Bodos during Durga Puja. This was chronicled in [27], where the BJP spokesman, Prakash Javadekar, had pointed out, "The Bangladeshi settlers, who had illegally infiltrated into the country, concentrated in Darrang and Dalgaon area. In many villages, these infiltrators had outnumbered locals resulting in such village attacks. The attackers even hoisted Pakistan and Bangladesh flags and attacked hundreds of vehicles carrying Durga Puja idols, he said"; [27].
  2. In September 2010, Islamists launched organised violence on a Durga Puja pandal (makeshift structure) in Deganga Bengal, followed by arson and loot of properties of local Hindus. As senior journalist Kanchan Gupta then reported, "Starting September 6, Haji Nurul Islam (local TMC MP) and his thugs, who met with resistance when they tried to demolish the main Durga Mandap that has existed for long, ran riot in Deganga block of West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district, a short distance from Calcutta. Hindu homes were ransacked, Hindu shops were set on fire, Hindu temples were desecrated. All this happened while the district administration and the police twiddled their thumbs. In West Bengal, the Marxists are loath to take on the mullahs; for the Trinamool Congress, the mullahs are powerful allies in Ms Mamata Banerjee’s quest for power at any price. Humiliated and simmering with rage, abandoned and forsaken by their own in West Bengal and elsewhere, the grieving Hindus of Deganga decided not to celebrate Durga Puja, the most important festival in the Bengali Hindu calendar, this year. The Durga mandaps in Deganga wore a deserted look, the joyous sound of dhaak, the traditional drum, was not heard, and an overwhelming sense of mourning prevailed. Fear played spoil sport, too: If the September riots were any indication, Muslim belligerence was not to be taken lightly. Meanwhile, in a demonstration of crude triumphalism, Haji Nurul Islam and his goons, with the full support and blessings of the Trinamool Congress, have built and inaugurated a new mosque right in the middle of Deganga market. The high-volume and high-pitched azaan is more a taunt to the Hindus than a call to prayers for the faithful"; [80]. Yet another report on Deganga riots echoes the same: "Rapid Action Force was called out as members of two communities clashed in the Basirhat sub-division of North 24 Parganas, about 150km from Kolkata, leaving at least 24 persons, including the officer-in-charge of a police station, injured. Reportedly, clashes started around 11pm on Monday and continued intermittently till Tuesday morning when members of one community started digging the pathway leading to a Durga temple at Chattal Pally village in Deganga police station, sources said. "When repeated requests to stop the digging failed, we called the police," said one of the victims, adding that the clashes started only when the police intervened. Some people reportedly led by local ruffians — Maqbur Rehman and Mintu Sahji — attacked shops selectively and ransacked a couple of religious places, sources said, adding that a mob of about 500 persons resorted to massive stone-pelting, injuring three policemen. Officer-in-charge of Deganga, Arup Ghosh, received head injuries and suffered fracture in his hand.  District Magistrate V Kumar said precautions had been taken and curfew had been clamped in the area. Paramilitary forces had been called out to assist the RAF, sources said, refusing to give further details. Two temples of Kartickpur and Deganga Biplabi colony were desecrated by the mob, sources said. "When we protested, they chased us with swords and hurled bombs. The police intervened but were hopelessly outnumbered," Anil, a local who was also injured in the clashes, said. A particular community wanted to stop the 25-year-old Durga Puja in the area but failed in the face of resistance from the other community, sources said, but added that in recent times, the administration, in its bid to woo the minorities after the 2009 general elections, "simply looked the other way leaving us at their mercy". The clashes spread to Kartickpur, Kadambagachi area as four stationary buses were torched. Traffic on the Deganga-Kadambagachi-Basirhat route came to a standstill even as the police resorted to lathicharge to control the crowd. The mob attacked shops at Beliaghata market as well, police sources said, adding, "the situation was tense but under control"; September 12, 2010, [81]. Another said: "Nights have never been so cruel for the residents of Deganga village in North 24 Parganas, which has seen one community’s members perpetrate terror on another for days together. To make matters worse, the violence - taking place just 45 km from Kolkata - is backed by local MP Nurul Islam." "Either kill us or give us a reason to live with dignity. They have torched our houses and shops, looted everything we had," cried Uttam Saha of Saha Communications, who lost goods worth Rs 4.5 lakh to the bedlam on Monday. Niranjan Sarkar of Kartickpur said, "I myself saw Nurul Islam shouting at his men, who came in trucks from Beliaghata, Sashan and Basirhat, to ravage the temple.” Overcome with rage and humiliation, he added, "They smashed the Kali and Shani idols after desecrating them". …"Incidentally, things would not have come to such a pass had the administration moved earlier. The culprits earlier belonged to the CPI(M), which had some kind of control over them. But after 2009, they have joined the Trinamool and the party, on account of its communal politics, has given them the licence to riot," claimed Anadi Pradhan. "They would return on Id," he said. …Earlier, the row reached a flashpoint when members of one community dug up the pathway leading to a Durga temple at Chattal Pally village, barely 100 metres from the Deganga police station. They attacked the other community members, when they were requested to stop the digging. The land, which originally belonged to Rani Rashmani of Kolkata, is now disputed. Part of it is used as a graveyard and another part by the Durga Puja committee for the past 40 years. A narrow road slices the two pieces of land. "This is the biggest of the 40-odd Pujas that take place in the area. We have even been awarded by the police station for conducting peaceful Puja," said Arun Sadhukhan. The rioters looted at least 250 shops, torched 50 houses and desecrated five temples since Monday afternoon as punishment for raising objections to digging the pathway leading to the Durga Puja pandal. "They did not only burn the Kakra Mirza Nagar Kali temple, but also desecrated the Mother goddess," complained another resident; [82].
  3. In Kannauj, Durga Puja procession was attacked by Islamists and curfew was imposed in the area [26]. The newschannel Zee News is quoted as saying, "SP Kalanidhi Naithani said the prohibitory orders were imposed following tension here over yesterday's clash at the Lakhan tri-section after some people allegedly opened fire and hurled brickbats at a procession for the immersion of Durga idols;" [26].
  4. Similar attacks on Durga Puja processions were reported from Allahabad, Bulandshahr and Raebareli. India Today [30] reported on October 22, 2015 that "clashes also erupted in Bulandshahar, where over a dozen people who were part of a procession sustained injuries. Krishna Veer, a police constable was also left injured in the violence. Similar clashes broke out in Allahabad and Raebareli, leaving five people injured".
  5. In Hooghly district, Durga idols were vandalised during Durga Puja as chronicled in IndiaFacts [25]. In Nandlalpur, in Maldah District, the procession to immerse Goddess Durga at the Charianantapur Ghat was attacked by the Islamists on October 30, 2015 [71]. In Harua village, PS Pursurah, Hooghly district, twenty five Kali idols were beheaded by the Islamists on November 8, 2015 [70].
  6. The other Abrahamism is not to be outdone either. Christianist terrorists have long targeted the Hindus and Bengalis in the North East. In particular, the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT), a self-confessed Christianist group, has carried out several attacks on Durga Puja [28]. In 2008, the NLFT set off bombs in Agartala during Durga Puja as a strike against Hindus. Further, in 1999 and 2000, the NLFT had issued bans on the Durga Puja [29]. As Abhinav Prakash, a research scholar of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) has written, in 2014, "an evangelist Christian magazine, Forward Press, reprinted the 're-interpretation' of the Durga Puja story, which was first published in an obscure hate magazine named Yadav-Shakti. The story asserts that Durga Puja has its origin in the Aryan invasion of India. According to it, Mahishasura was a just and valiant defender of a buffalo-rearing tribe, which is equated with the Yadavs of today. The Aryans failed to defeat him in open battle, so they hired a prostitute called Durga to seduce and kill him by treachery. Durga honeymooned with Mahishasura for several days and killed him on the ninth day. Thereafter, the Aryans committed a large-scale massacre on the tenth day, which is now celebrated as Vijayadashmi. While the original story was just a perversion of the sacred lore with wild speculations peppered with 'maybe', 'there might have been', it metamorphosed under the poisonous pen of Forward Press and was presented as an authentic historical account. In 2011, it was used a poster in JNU by AIBSF during Durga Puja"; [18].

While Shakti Puja has borne the brunt of attacks from Islamists and Christians, other Hindu public worship and festivals  have not been spared either. These follow from the injunctions left by Islamist scholars such as Hamdani, as recorded in the prequel to this article (Part I). In Kashmir, Hindu Yatras and festivals have been routinely attacked. The Amarnath Yatra has been subjected to repeated attacks by Islamist terrorists, with many fatalities and injuries [22], [23], [24]. Then, in August 2014, Hindus were denied permission to conduct the Kousar Nag Yatra [19] (we describe this episode in detail later). 

The Hindu festivals in the districts of West Bengal where Muslims constitute a substantial component of the demographics have encountered similar destiny. On January 28, 2015, Saraswati idols were broken by Islamists during an immersion procession at Bhawanipur More of Kharagpur in West Medinipur district (near Golbazar market). The procession was taken out by scheduled tribe youth of the Adivasi dominated area Singhpara of Debalpur, who were attacked with swords and iron rods. A severely injured ST child of nine years was rushed to and admitted in Kharagpur Sub-Divisional Hospital (was kept at 1st floor Bed No. 23) and FIR lodged immediately at Kharagpur (Town) police station against five known Islamist miscreants, who were later identified by the Adivasi Hindu boys. Complainants have subsequently been harassed by police, administration and local TMC councilors, many of the complainants are absconding now [83]. As often, local media did not follow this incident up.

Nonetheless, this is quite consistent with the trend reported in the following (translated) report from Bartoman, a leading Bengali newspaper in West Bengal:

"Islamists are targeting Hindu religious and social festivals in different villages of Murshidabad district through Talibani fatwas issues at regular intervals. Often times, they are succeeding owing to the inaction of police. The Bharat Sebashram Sangha of Beladanga has been a recent victim. The head of the Sangha, Swami Pradipananda Karthik Maharaj has received threats from some Islamist militant organisations. The gravity of the situation can be comprehended from some recent events that we describe next.

The Karthik contest is a traditional local festival in the Dolua village of Beladanga, Murshidabad. It is celebrated every year during Karthik Puja. This year Islamic fundamentalists have issued a fatwa that processions with Karthik idols shall not be permitted through the village. This led to tension. Local Hindus demanded that the police and the administration intervene. Karthik Maharaj had to step in, and the situation was temporarily resolved. Local Hindus however fear that the traditional festival of Karthik contest will have to be eventually discontinued because processions with Karthik idols will not be permitted. Earlier, in 2010 March, a fatwa was issued that Saraswati Puja must be stopped in the Beladanga Jhautala High School. Everyone surrendered to the fundamentalists and silently accepted the fatwa. In the same school, it was later demanded that a separate room must be provided where the four Muslim teachers can perform their daily namaz. Hindu students demanded that they be allowed to perform their annual Saraswati Puja if Muslim teachers are allowed separate facilities for performing namaz. Then a crowd of about 10,000 gathered and assaulted the students. The properties of 30 Hindu families livimg in the village were ransacked. Roads were blocked using trees to prevent the arrival of police. In 2012, processions for Laxmi Puja immersion were obstructed by fundamentalists who insisted that the procession can not proceed through the road in the village. The participants of the processions had to leave relinquishing the idol on the road. Later police did the immersion. Similarly, attacks were organised in 2011 on the annual Chaitra Sankranti fair in Panchkhupi. 

After retirement, a teacher in the Amtala High School had planned to place a statue of Swami Vivekananda in the school courtyard, using his personal savings. He was thwarted by the obstructionist activities of Islamic fundamentalists. This incident has happened this September. Statues of renowned individuals were installed on the walls of the Mapukuria and Natunpara schools, utilising the funds that were not used in the  complete education mission. Those statues were all destroyed.

In the last three to four years, fundamentalist fatwas have stopped the annual Saraswati Puja in at least five schools. In Raghunathganj, women of the local Ghosh family were decorating their courtyard with the traditional Alpana. They were stopped from doing so on the pretext that such decorations were against Islam. Not only in villages, even in Baharampur town, in a condo complex, three Muslim families objected to Hindu women blowing the conch every evening. This year interferences were attempted in the organisation of the local Durga Puja too.’’       


[All references can be found in Part IV of this sequence.]


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