Puja restrictions triggers violence

An annual fair where Indians and Bangladeshis meet and exchange gifts on the occasion of a Kali Puja at a village in the neighbouring country descended into chaos...

An annual fair where Indians and Bangladeshis meet and exchange gifts on the occasion of a Kali Puja at a village in the neighbouring country descended into chaos and violence as BSF personnel allegedly prevented residents from moving closer to the fence along the frontier in the Hemtabad block of North Dinajpur district on Friday. Some BSF personnel were forced to flee and the situation was brought under control by police.

For decades, a “Milan Mela” or a fair has been organised on either side of the border fence between Makorhat in the Hemtabad block and Gobindapur in Thakurgaon district of Bangladesh. The fair is held on the occasion of a Kali Puja at Gobindapur. “Usually, the puja is organised in the first week of December. On that day, thousands of Indians and Bangladeshis reach the fence to meet their family members and relatives who live on the other side of the border. They exchange greetings and gifts. Every year, we eagerly wait for this day,” said Parul Roy, a resident of Raiganj who attends the fair every year. According to him, along with residents of neighbouring villages, people from other parts of the district and South Dinajpur, Siliguri, and even Bihar visit the fair to meet their relatives. The fair could not be held in the past two years on account of the Covid-19 pandemic. On Friday morning, around 25,000 people gathered at Makorhat. As the day rolled, the Bangladeshis, too, walked up to the fence in groups. However, on our side, the BSF prevented us from going to the fence while our relatives and friends waited on the other side. The BSF is well aware of the annual practice and yet, no one was allowed to reach the border road next to the fence for hours,” said Basanti Roy.

Around 12.30pm, a section of the Indian residents approached the BSF personnel with a plea to allow them to reach the fence. This led to an altercation and soon, the residents started jostling with the security personnel. The residents alleged that the BSF personnel beat them with batons. “I was walking towards the fence, carrying my son. A BSF jawan suddenly ran towards me and beat me up. My son, too, was hit by the baton,” said Ajmal Hossain, who had been to the location. Some of the residents shoved the BSF personnel and tried to snatch their sticks. A section of others chased the security men with sticks, which made them flee. Women confronted the BSF personnel, asking why they were being prevented from reaching the fence.

Police personnel present at the spot intervened and brought the situation under control. The residents then reached the fence with gifts which were tossed across the border. The Indians also in turn received similar packets from across the border.  Elderly residents said BSF had never resorted to such highhandedness during the fair before. “The BSF cooperates with us and allows us till the fence on this day. Today, we suspect, they stopped the crowd so that the exchange of gifts does not continue for a long time. This led to the chaos,” said a septuagenarian of Makorhat. The interactions along the fence continued till late afternoon. From 4pm onwards, the people gradually left for their homes.   Sana Akhtar, the North Dinajpur district police chief, said: “Overall, the fair was peaceful today.”BSF officers could not be contacted. Sources said the border force was probing the incident.

Source: The Telegraph

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