On Thursday, June 20th, an altercation had broken out between members of a Bengali regionalist organisation named Bangla pokkho and a Bihari lassi hawker in Kolkata’s Gariahat area, for which both the sides have blamed each other.
According to Bangla Pokkho, the hawker had misbehaved with them and assaulted one of their female activist. While rejecting all such allegations, the hawker says that he was abused and assaulted by those from Bangla Pokkho for not being able to read Bengali language.
Bangla Pokkho is an organisation which claims to fight for the right of the Bengali people and Bengali language within the Indian Union. The organisation is founded and headed by Garga Chatterjee, a person who often represents West Bengal’s ruling party, TMC on national television news channels.
In a viral video, a lady who identifies herself as the daughter of the lassi hawker can be heard pleading to apperantly aggressive members of Bangla pokkho to pardon her father for not being affluent in Bengali language. While in the same video, the Bangla pokkho members led by Garga Chatterjee are seen talking to the daughter of the lassi hawker in threatening manner, and constantly reminding her that “this is not UP, Bihar.”
According to the Bangla Pokkho’s version of the incident, their activists were distributing some propaganda pamphlets at Gariahat Market on Thursday evening when the lassi owner misbehaved with them and assaulted one of their lady activist. They have accused the lassi owner of being an “Anti-bengali outsider.”
However the lassi hawker and other shop owners of the market have a completely different version of what transpired. In another viral video, the lassi hawker and other shop owners of the market are seen sharing their version of the incident.
According to the lassi hawker, on Thursday evening the Bangla Pokkho activists were distributing some pamphlets in the market which they also offered to him, but he refused saying that while he can speak bengali language, he can’t read it. This refusal, he says infuriated the Bangla Pokkho activists who first abused him using racist slangs and later put their hands on him.
The hawker claims that he did not assault anyone, but the lady activist of Bangla Pokkho herself slipped and fell on the road, but later falsely accused him of pushing her. He says that Bangla Pokkho activists returned to his shop on four different occasions on Thursday following the initial altercation.
The other shop owners of the market, most of whom are Bengali, have also come out in support of the lassi hawker. The Bengali owner of the very next shop to the lassi hawker, is seen in a viral video saying that Bangla Pokkho is solely responsible for what happened and that the lady activist had fallen out of her own mistake but later “started doing drama.”
The Bengali shop owner further in the video says that there is no distinction between Bihari and Bengali traders in the market. He says there had never been any incident of clash between the traders of two communities over lingual or ethnic reasons..
The lassi hawker was on Thursday night taken into custody for allegedly assaulting the Bangla Pokkho lady activist, but was subsequently released. The daughter of the lassi hawker in the first video is heard saying that her father has been arrested for not knowing Bengali language. This means that even the arrest of the lassi hawker did not satisfy the Bangla Pokkho activists, who still returned back to the shop to create a ruckus.
The Bangla Pokkho founder, Garga Chatterjee can himself be seen in the video constantly telling the girl “this is not Bihar” and showing her the copy of the FIR, which has been filed against her father.
Political pundits believe that Mamata Banerjee’s TMC is increasingly taking a regionalist line to counter BJP’s Hindutva. This was evident by Mamata Banerjee’s recent statements where she identified her opponents and those raising “Jai Shree Ram” slogans as outsiders. With state sponsored attempts of fuelling regional sentiments, it remains to be seen if after Maharashtra and Gujarat, we are heading towards a native versus outsider dispute in West Bengal.