Four days after BJP government sworn in, Odisha witnesses communal violence, internet ban imposed, journalists barred from reporting

Just four days after the BJP government was sworn in, Odisha’s Balasore witnessed two incidents of communal violence on the day of Bakri Eid after right-wing activists allegedly accused Muslims of “cow slaughter.” A huge police force has been deployed in the area and the internet was also suspended, as entry and exit routes were closed except for emergencies. As per reports, journalists have also been reportedly prevented from entering the area.

Odisha’s Balasore witnessed communally charged violence on Sunday, June 17, Bakri Eid. After the incidents, which reportedly happened on the day of Eid, the city has been hit with a curfew, and internet ban with entry and exit points sealed, after the administration first imposed Section 144 Code of Criminal Procedure.

Balasore SP Sagarika Nath has told the media that so far about 30 people have been detained for allegedly violating the curfew. Furthermore, about 34 people have been arrested in connection to the incident. The town also witnessed an internet ban and the affected areas have been reportedly sealed to prevent any entry or exit unless there is a case of emergency. Even journalists have been reportedly prevented from entering these areas.

Furthermore, on June 18, police forces carried out customary flag marches in sensitive areas.

What had happened on the day of the violence?

The day of the event was Eid al Adha, known as the ‘Festival of Sacrifice’ where Muslims sacrifice goats and distribute the meat to poor and needy. On the afternoon of Eid, people reportedly saw that the water in drains was in the colour of blood. The people who saw this allegedly raised suspicions that the Muslims had performed cow slaughter. There are no reports that the administration took any steps to quell the rumours of cow slaughter even as right-wing news channels were allowed to fuel the fire.

According to Pramayena News, the clash originated when members of ‘one community’ staged a protest against animal slaughter in the Bhujakhia Pir area.

The Telegraph has reported that the “protestors” are suspected to be right-wing activists. These people say they “suspected” that someone had slaughtered a cow and was selling it at the market. It further reported that after these alleged right-wing activists made “accusations of cow slaughter,” they took law into their own hands and forced entry into one person’s house violating every law in the book. When the residents protested this forced entry, violence reportedly began.

The violence reportedly also escalated into stone-pelting, leaving 10 people injured. Police personnel also sustained injuries while attempting to control the crowd.

As per reports, the curfew was imposed at night when certain individuals broke the curfew and engaged in stone pelting and vandalising certain homes and properties. Stones, sticks and glass bottles were also used to pelt houses. As per the Times News Network (TNE), some religious structures were also damaged. As per HT, police also had to fire blank rounds to control the situation.

Steps by authorities

The authorities have not confirmed whether cow slaughter actually took place or not nor have they taken any visible measures to quell such rumours.

However, a huge police force has been reportedly deployed in the sensitive areas. As per report by the Indian Express, 43 police platoons are deployed in the area, and an additional 15 are to be deployed as well. In addition to this, four IPS officers and senior police officers have also set up camp at the site. 

Meanwhile, the newly elected Chief Minister of the state, Mohan Charan Majhi told The Telegraph, “Odisha is a peaceful state. At any cost, the administration will not allow it to be vitiated.” Ironically, the chief minister himself comes with a more than tainted record on the question of communal harmony. In 2022, he has the rather questionable record of sitting on a dharna in front of the Keonijar jail demanding the release of convicted criminal, Dara Singh! Dara Singh was responsible for the brutal burning to death of Graham Steins and his minor children in Odisha in October 1999. KR Narayayan, then President of India has declared this brazen killing as “a monumental aberration of time-tested tolerance and harmony” amd added “the killings belong to the world’s inventory of black deeds.” Bajyang Dal and Viswa Hindu Parishad were indicted for the killings and following a protracted trial Dara Singh had been sentenced to death by a Sessions Court in 2005, a sentence later commuted to life by the Odisha High Court and confirmed by the Supreme Court.

Year 2022, when the present BJP chief minister, Majhi sat on a fast demanding Dara Singh’s release, the union government headed by Modi-Shah in the BJP and the BJP-ruled Gujarat government had together worked to ensure that those 14 men convicted to life imprisonment in the infamous Bilkis Bano case were summarily released without following law or procedure. This decision was overturned by the Supreme Court on January 8, 2024.

The Odisha government was recently sworn in on June 12th, after the BJP won majority in the state assembly elections, defeating the incumbent Biju Janata Party’s Naveen Patnaik. The chief minister, Mohan Charan Majhi, was sworn in as controversy laced his entry as CM as reports of him demanding for the release of Dara Singh, a convict serving life sentence for the murder of a Christian missionary, flared. Dara Singh has been accused and charged for the murders of the Graham Staines family and another Muslim. Dara Singh’s death sentence was recently averted for a life imprisonment.

As per the New Indian Express, Balasore leaders MP Pratap Sarangi and MLA Manas Dutta have also urged the public to remain calm. Pratap Sarangi is also another leader who has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. He was previously arrested once for an attack by Hindutva activists on Odisha’s state assembly. He was also a state unit leader of the Bajrang Dal during the time when the Staines family, including two minor children, were murdered.

In the run up the General Assembly elections as well the state assembly elections, the state has witnessed several incidents of cow vigilante violence. It also saw bombs thrown in at a mosque and a church, although there were no deaths. Bhadrak, another coastal area very close to Balasore, had also witnessed communal violence around Ram Navami in April, 2017, as well as another incident of such violence in 1991.



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