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Birbhum killings: Bhadu Sheikh's murder and the history of political violence in West Bengal

Political violence has been almost a part of daily life in West Bengal since the mid-1960s.

March 27, 2022 / 05:41 PM IST
For those who are astonished at what is happening in the land of Tagore, Bogtui is only 62 km from Shantiniketan. (Illustration by Suneesh K.)

For those who are astonished at what is happening in the land of Tagore, Bogtui is only 62 km from Shantiniketan. (Illustration by Suneesh K.)

Last Monday, a minor Trinamool Congress politician (TMC) Bhadu Sheikh was murdered in broad daylight in his village Bogtui in Birbhum district in West Bengal. Within hours, a mob attacked the families of the suspected killers, set fire to their houses and burnt them alive. At least eight people died—six women and two children.

Among the people aghast at the incident and posting their views on social media were some who wondered how this could happen in Bengal, the land of Tagore and Ray, etc., etc. This reaction is laughable. For the past six decades, West Bengal has been one of the most politically violent states in the country, to the extent that a political murder here and there hardly makes news. It is only when women and children are burnt alive that an incident finds it way into the national media.

I spent my childhood in Calcutta (now Kolkata) at the peak of the Naxalite movement, when families hardly dared to venture out after dark. Some 30 years later, I met Kanu Sanyal, one of the biggest leaders of the movement. He admitted that he had been terribly wrong, that revolution could not come through killing random traffic policemen, who were victims of the capitalist system as much as a daily-wage labourer.

Naxalism was crushed with ferocious state violence after the Congress won the state elections in 1972. We will never know how many thousands of young men and women were killed and dumped into the Hooghly river or mass graves on the mere suspicion of being Naxal sympathizers.