KOLKATA: As protests erupted cross country over BJP national spokesperson Nupur Sharma and Delhi media chief Naveen Jindal's provocations about Islam's prophet Muhammad, West Bengal also faced the wrath of demonstrators, groups of whom burnt tires and buildings, blocked national highways and railway tracks and clashed with police from June 9 to 12 in the districts of Howrah, Murshidabad, Nadia and South 24 Parganas.

Sharma has since been suspended and Jindal expelled from the party. While the former made her derogatory remarks on May 25 primetime on the Times Now channel, the latter posted a disparaging tweet about Mohammad on June 1. Their Islam baiting caused a major embarrassment to the Indian government as many Gulf and west Asian governments and some in southeast Asia officially condemned the remarks made by spokespersons of the party in office, signalling that trade and jobs for Indian emigres would be jeopardised if the provocations continued.

The initial inaction of the RSS-BJP gave way to action against the offending leaders. A readout by the Iranian government of its talks with National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, later withdrawn, reportedly claimed that Doval had assured it that Sharma and Jindal would be "dealt with, at the Government and related levels, in such a way that others will learn a lesson". Yet the degradation of India's secular fabric under the BJP government is a reality, organisations including Genocide Watch and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum have warned that a genocide of Muslims is imminent in India, and the protests showed a glimpse of what could happen if this becomes the political, social, cultural norm.

The first violent incident was reported from Uttar Pradesh's Kanpur on June 3, where reportedly, mobs hurled stones at each other after Friday namaz. The police perpetrated a lathi charge, but by Friday June 10, the response to Sharma and Jindal's provocations had spread like wildfire. Violent demonstrations and clashes between mobs and police were reported from Jharkhand's Ranchi to Gujarat's Borsad, to Doda and Kishtwar in Jammu and Kashmir, to Uttar Pradesh's Prayagrag, formerly Allahabad. In Ranchi the police shot two people dead and injured more following clashes with protestors on June 10. Reports from UP indicate that nearly 400 people have been arrested so far, and many beaten and tortured in police custody.

In West Bengal, the first major incident occurred on Thursday June 9 when protesters blocked NH 116 in Howrah's Domjur for over 11 hours. Officials from the local police station visited the area and urged the demonstrators to lift the blockade. At a press conference West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee also demanded the same. "I request everyone, please do not block roads. People who feel they need to do something, they should file FIR."

She added, "In Bengal, people live together irrespective of religion, caste, creed and language. Bengal is a peaceful state. If you are agitated against the BJP, please go to Gujarat or Uttar Pradesh to protest… Four-five persons visit police stations and register your complaints. Write letters to the President. Start peaceful movements demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But please don't hurt the people who have supported you all along. How long can someone stay in a vehicle? Please lift the blockade."

The CM further said that had she wanted to she could have removed the protesters with brute police force. "But I don't want to create a fresh disturbance to put an end to one." The state president of the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, Siddiqullah Chowdhury, also appealed to the demonstrators to register their protest peacefully. "We appeal to Muslims to protest in a democratic way. We don't want protests on roads. We want people to protest indoors - in houses, in mosques - but don't want people to protest by blocking roads," he reportedly appealed.

However, their pleas fell on deaf ears. While the blockade on NH-6 was withdrawn on Thursday night, protests turned violent the following day as protestors burnt tires and set shops ablaze while closing down the railway tracks near Chengail station and obstructing traffic at several places along the national highway. Train services in the Howrah-Kharagpur division suffered a blow as many local and express trains were cancelled for the day, resuming only after 9 pm. A senior citizen, who was returning from Hyderabad, reportedly died in a stranded train.

In Domjur the police station was attacked and demonstrators also clashed with police in Dhulagarh. Local media alleged that protesters destroyed a police vehicle there before pelting stones and crude bombs towards the security officials. The Rapid Action Force was deployed in Salap after mobs put several roadside shops and a police kiosk on fire. Violent protests were also conducted in Howrah's Kalitala, Jamberia and Panchla Mor. Police clashed with the mobs to curb their violence in each of these places.

The protesters also destroyed a BJP party office in Uluberia and ransacked the houses of several local workers and leaders of the saffron party. When the police visited the area to put an end to the disturbance, they faced stone pelting. The police responded with teargas shelling that led to further violent clashes. A fire station was set on fire, while a few security officials were injured. The protesters also attacked the SDO's office in Uluberia later in the day.

Unable to bring the situation under control, the local administration has imposed Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code until June 15 in the areas that saw violent protests and have also suspended the internet till 6 am on June 13. Uluberia SDM Samik Kumar Ghosh issued the order banning "assembly of five or more people in procession or carrying any dangerous weapon or any act that is likely to cause disturbance to public tranquility and breach of peace".

Amidst the violence, several religious groups and clerics continued to call for the reinstatement of peace and law and order. In a viral video, the pirzada of Furfura Sharif Sanaullah Siddiqui was seen asking a crowd of people to remain harmonious and follow the Indian constitution. "This country is ours. Hindustan is ours, don't forget that. Do not hurt people of other religions because someone disrespected the Prophet," he said.

Siddiqui added, "Our brothers in the state administration have extended a hand of cooperation. Conduct meetings and register your protest. But don't block roads. The police will help you. There is a thing called law. The Constitution of India should not be forgotten. Till the last drop of blood in my body I will not tolerate disrespect of the Prophet. However, Furfura Sharif does not teach creating problems for people. People of other religions should not be bothered by us."

Bengal Imam Association chief Mohammad Yahiya also called for peace and urged protesters not to go down the path of violence. "We condemn everyone who is going against law and order. The state administration has done a good job by resorting to lathi charge to disperse violent mobs. We also condemn the derogatory comments towards our Prophet but blocking roads and causing inconvenience for citizens are also not right," he said.

Meanwhile, BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari demanded the deployment of the army. "Hundreds of vehicles have been either destroyed or burnt in Uluberia today. As a result, people of every community are facing inconvenience. The law and order situation in the state has gone out of control. As the leader of opposition, I have sent many videos to the Governor on Twitter. I have also mailed him asking for deployment of the army to save public lives and properties," he said on June 10. Other BJP leaders also joined him in demanding the same.

After a day of mayhem across the Uluberia subdivision in Howrah, the situation turned peaceful at night. A public interest litigation was also reportedly filed at the Calcutta High Court seeking deployment of military and paramilitary troops by a person named Niladri Saha. His lawyer, Shushmita Saha Dutta, also sought an NIA investigation in the matter. That evening, the Trinamool Congress MLA from Kulpi in South 24 Parganas, Jogaranjan Halder, was also attacked by protesters demanding the arrest of Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal. According to media reports his vehicle was attacked by a mob when he was returning from the Assembly.

June 11

By Saturday morning, the West Bengal police had arrested 70 persons, even as violence broke out in Panchla Mor early in the day. Clashes were reported between protestors and police after security officials tried to lift a two-hour-long blockade during which at least six shops were set ablaze and one house was damaged.

The police and RAF lathi charged the demonstrators, resulting in a full-fledged confrontation. The security officials were attacked with stones before they finally managed to push away the mob. At least five police and RAF personnel were injured. Although Howrah witnessed no violence anywhere else, a sense of fear and unease prevailed throughout the region.

Meanwhile, protesters took to the street and blocked NH-34 in Murshidabad's Rejinagar area. They pelted stones and hurled bombs at the police when asked to withdraw the blockade going on for two hours. The police retaliated with teargas. The clash between protestors and police injured at least 12 personnel and an anxious environment ensued throughout the district.

Violence and incidents of arson were also reported from Murshidabad's Beldanga. Reportedly the areas in and around Rejinagar and Beldanga had seen massive protests on June 10 following a controversial post by a college student calling those demonstrating over Jindal and Sharma's remarks "rioters". The local police arrested the student soon after, and the protests snowballed into violent confrontations with security personnel the next day.

The district administration meanwhile suspended internet service in many parts of the district, including Rejinagar and Beldanga. Beldanga IC Sandeepan Chattopadhyay was also replaced by Jamaluddin Mondal.

On Saturday, the people of West Bengal also saw high political drama after BJP West Bengal chief Sukanta Majumder was prevented from visiting Howrah. "Mr Majumdar was trying to travel to Howrah where prohibitory orders under CrPC 144 have been clamped. His visit could have created a law and order situation. This is a preventive arrest," a senior police officer told PTI. The BJP leader said he had been put under "house arrest".

Later in the day, CM Banerjee issued the claim that "some political parties" were behind the violence in the state. She tweeted, "As I have said before, violent incidents have been taking place in Howrah for two days now. There are some political parties behind this and they want to cause riots – but these will not be tolerated and strict action will be taken against all of them. BJP sin, people will suffer?"

Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar on the other hand blamed the state government for the violence alleging that "law breakers were allowed to have free for all". He also claimed that "inaction" by the police and state administration had caused "unfortunate endorsement of the criminality of law violators".

June 12

By Sunday, West Bengal police had arrested more than 100 persons allegedly involved in violent protests over the BJP leaders' provocations. But the situation in Murshidabad remained hostile despite prohibitory orders and suspension of the internet. A large group of protesters blocked the Kanthi-Sainthia state highway in Murshidabad's Burwan. Minor scuffles also took place between the demonstrators and the police. However, the blockade was lifted soon after without any major incident.

The protests spread towards Nadia on Sunday. Over a thousand protesters had blocked roads in the district's Bethuadahari. When asked to withdraw, they clashed with the police and reportedly attacked them with stones. On being chased, the mob damaged several houses while a section ran inside the Bethuadahari railway station and ransacked a Krishnanagar-Lalgola local train around 6 in the evening. Another mob vandalised the Dhublia railway station. 10 people were reportedly arrested later in the day for these attacks.

The situation in Howrah remained relatively undisturbed. Except for a roadblock by protestors in Barewa, the district saw no protest for the first time since June 9. "The area is peaceful. We have police presence all over the place and patrolling is being done. I will appeal to the people to maintain peace and law and order. We are alert. We have lodged FIRs in every matter which has happened, conducted raids and arrested people. We have senior officers posted there," Howrah City police commissioner Praveen Tripathi told PTI. He was given the charge along with the new SP of Rural Howrah Swathi Bhangalia the day before.

Meanwhile, political drama continued in the state with the police on Sunday restricting Suvendu Adhikari from visiting Howrah. The BJP leader was stopped at Tamluk in East Midnapore for over two hours. He was only allowed to proceed with his journey on condition that he would go straight to Kolkata and not make any stop in the violence-hit areas.

June 13

On June 13, Monday, Additional Director General (Law and Order) of Police Jawed Shamim informed the media that 200 people had been arrested so far and 42 FIRs lodged in the Howrah, Murshidabad, Nadia and North and South 24 Parganas districts in connection with the violent demonstrations against the former BJP leaders' remarks.

"The situation in West Bengal is peaceful and there is no information of any untoward incident. Our senior officers are in the districts," Shamim told PTI. He added that there had been no loss of life or serious injury in the last few days' protests and that police personnel were conducting raids and patrolling in the violence-hit areas.

"We request everyone to stop this unnecessary violence in the name of protesting," said an Imam associated with the All India Imam Muazzin and Social Welfare Organisation to the media. In another display of goodwill and non-violence, a group of protesters distributed water bottles and ORS to stranded citizens after a peaceful protest in West Midnapore's Ghatal.

Meanwhile, the Calcutta High Court has sought a report from the West Bengal government about the law and order situation in the state while hearing the PIL filed by Niladri Saha pleading for the deployment of military and paramilitary forces in the state. The court however dismissed the petition seeking a ban on processions of any kind by Muslims.