A day after five people suffered injuries following arrow shots by a group of tribals at Muslim worshippers who had gone to an Eidgah (an open space for Eid prayers) at Dhalubari village under Thakurganj police station in Kishanganj, the district is limping back to normalcy, with the administration taking action to avert any attempt to turn a land dispute into a communal flare-up.
The incident took place, according to some eye-witnesses, after hundreds of Muslims went to the Eidgah on June 5 morning and spotted saffron flags fluttering atop bamboo poles with incense sticks on the base near the boundary of the prayer ground near a tea garden in the village.
"Enraged Muslims tried to uproot the bamboo poles at the illegally captured land. This led to a minor clash with the tribals who were present there. Since they (tribals) were just 30-40 in number and unable to face the Muslim crowd, which was numerically strong, they shot arrows, leaving several injured," Mohd Iftekhar, who was present on the spot, told Newsclick.
Asked if there was no presence of the police, he claimed they were deployed there but did not intervene. "Instead of trying to control both sides, they informed their superiors who reached the spot a bit late and took the situation under control," he added.
Contrary to his claim, District Magistrate Himanshu Sharma said he along with SP Kumar Ashish and other officials soon reached the spot with reinforcements to bring the situation under control.
The group of tribals pelted stones on the police and damaged their vehicles, he alleged.
"A group of tribals - who are landless - were illegally trying to capture the land, which was a government property long back but is now a private property, as per official records. We had earlier distributed land settlement documents to 32 families, accepting their demand to issue them land. But they were misguided by their leaders, who provoked them to capture that very land where there is an Eidgah. They were on several occasions told in clear terms that they wouldn’t be allowed to capture the land in question as the district administration is adamant not to let anyone vitiate communal amity," Sharma told Newsclick.
He said a few "miscreants" had erected the bamboo poles to perform some ritual at the Eidgah.
"Misguided by their leaders, a few people confronted the Muslim worshippers with an aim to turn a land dispute into communal tension, which we promptly averted by removing the bamboo poles and evicting the group of tribals from the area," he said.
He said five persons suffered injuries in the arrow attacks by the group of tribals and are admitted in hospital. They are out of danger. "One person was referred to a bigger hospital in Siliguri and he is also out of danger," he said.
Asked about the situation on the ground, he said Eid prayers were offered at the same ground on Thursday and Friday under heavy police presence. "The situation is now normal. FIRs have been filed against the perpetrators under several sections of the IPC and appropriate actions are being taken," said the district magistrate.
The police said it had got the land vacated from the group of tribals.
Asked to clarify whether ‘shoot at sight’ was ordered by him and a youth was shot in the head when locals were protesting against the police and the incident, Sharma denied the allegations, saying no such order was issued by him.
"When we got the land vacated and were escorting the tribals after taking them into custody, a strong crowd gathered there and tried to prevent us from moving. They gheraoed our vehicles, demanding that the accused be handed over to them. Left with no option, we had to use mild force (lathi-charge) to disperse the crowd. In the meantime, someone from the crowd opened a fire, which fortunately did not hit anyone," he said.
A district administration official, however, alleged that tribals enter tea gardens in large numbers at night with “sharp weapons” to “encroach” land, claiming that they were targeting the “bhoodan” land that had earlier been bought by tea garden owners at a reasonable rate.
The Muslim community is shaken by the incident. Mumtaz Naiyer, a local resident, said "Just few kilometres from my home adivasis did not allow the peaceful Eid prayers at Dhulabari near Vidhan Nagar at Bihar-Bengal border. This is the first instance of its kind on Eid. The police was there but failed to take any action,” he said, requesting the Bihar government to take “strict action against the perpetrators of this crime".
Alleging a “bigger sinister plan”, as this was the first incident of this kind in the area, he said the government needs to find out who “instigated these adivasis to commit such a crime against Muslims in this region?"