Bijon Setu massacre

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Bijon Setu massacre (Bengali: বিজন সেতু হত্যাকান্ড) refers to the killing and burning of 16 monks and a nun belonging to Ananda Marga at Bijon Setu, near Ballygunge, Calcutta in West Bengal, India on April 30, 1982. Despite the attacks being carried out in broad daylight, no arrests were ever made. After repeated calls for a formal judicial investigation, a single-member judicial commission was set up to investigate the killings in 2012.

Incident[edit]

On the morning of April 30, 1982, 17 Ananda Marga renunciates (16 monks and one nun) were dragged out of taxis that were taking them to an educational conference at their headquarters in Tiljala, Kolkata. They were beaten to death and then set on fire simultaneously at three different locations. It was reported that the killings took place in broad daylight and were witnessed by thousands of people, as they were performed in public.[1]

Initial press reports and reactions[edit]

The Statesman Weekly, the leading Calcutta newspaper at the time, reported a week after the incident that "Seventeen Ananda Margis, two of them women, were done to death on April 30 morning by frenzied mobs at three places in South Calcutta in the suspicion that they were child-lifters."[2] The reporting did not include any compassion for the victims or their families, a tone that prefigured the reaction of both government and the media. Similar unsympathetic reporting appeared in the May 5th edition of the Statesman as well as contemporaneous editions of Sunday and India Today. The Minister of State for Home Affairs was quoted to the effect that the police reaction could have been improved but then went on to reassure members of Parliament that "the Government was watching the activities of the Marg [Ananda Marga members]".[2] In his study on the incident, historian Narasingha Sil concluded the government's overall attitude was that the Ananda Marga members had "got themselves killed because they were so sinfully invidious." [3]:4 The wire story sent out by United Press International added the detail that two of the nuns who were killed were "seen carrying a child near a railway station".[4]

Explanations[edit]

As part of its initial coverage, The Statesman Weekly reported the state's Chief Minister's suspicions that the attack had been staged to embarrass the party in power prior to the upcoming election.[3]:4 Ananda Marga blamed the attack on the Communist Party of India (Marxist). [5]:257 While this accusation was repeated for many years,[6][7] recent Ananda Marga scholarship now assumes the mob was motivated by unfounded allegations of child kidnapping.[8] :20

Narasingha Sil discusses at length the state of the reputation of Ananda Marga in the years and months leading up to the massacre.[3]:15 Sil describes how members of Ananda Marga had engaged in many acts of violence (including murders of members leaving the group), media coverage and government response made the group out to be far more violent than it actually was. Sil then describes how the term "child-lifter" (chheledhara) is a particularly loathsome label in Bengal and draws the parallel to how women accused of witchcraft were treated in the West.[3]:15 Sil reports how three people were beaten to death by a mob after being suspected of child kidnapping even though no report of any such kidnappings had been made to the police.[Note 1]

Historian Helen Crovetto further develops this line of thought, noting that the social services provided by the Ananda Marga may have made them more vulnerable to such an accusation.[5]:257 She detail how, in Portugal, the institutional expectation of constantly rising enrollment of children in the Ananda Marga schools and children's homes led to a reluctance to release the children back to their parents when the parents were once again able to care for them. Crovetto speculates that a similar situation in Bengal could have precipitated the accusations and mob violence. Neither Crovetto nor Sil give any credence whatsoever to the accusations.

Investigations and memorials[edit]

The National Human Rights Commission took up the investigation of the case in 1996 but did not make much headway, allegedly due to interference from the state government at the time.[10] On April 30, 1999 the Ananda Marga Pracharaka Samgha (AMPS) demanded a high-level judicial probe into the mass killing of Ananda Margis. [11] On April 30, 2004, Ananda Marga was able to hold the first rally in Calcutta commemorating the massacre without the necessity of first acquiring a court order forcing the police to allow the rally to occur.[12] A single-member judicial commission to investigate the killings was finally empaneled in March 2012.[10]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ On August 25, 2010 a woman in Chittagong was lynched by a mob after a similar accusation. The news report indicated that this was an ongoing problem.[9]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Namboodiri, Udayan (1997-05-02). "Basu Govt still suppressing facts on Margi massacre". The Indian Express. Archived from the original on 2010-03-12. Retrieved 17 March 2014. 
  2. ^ a b , The Statesman Weekly, May 8, 1982, cited in Sil (1988), pp. 3–4, pp. 1, 7  Check date values in: |date= (help); Missing or empty |title= (help)
  3. ^ a b c d Sil, Narasingha (1988), The Troubled World of the Ananda Marga: An Examination, The Quarterly Review of Historical Studies 27 (4) 
  4. ^ United Press International (May 1, 1992), Mobs in Calcutta Burn 5 Monks Alive, Stab 12, Sarasota Herald-Tribune 
  5. ^ a b Crovetto, Helen (2011), "Ananda Marga, Prout, and the Use of Force", in Lewis, James R., Violence and New Religious Movements, Oxford University Press, pp. 249–274, ISBN 9780199735631 
  6. ^ "Controversial Movement Survives Years Of Conflict, Emerges Stronger Than Ever". Hinduism Today. May 1989. Retrieved 2013-02-17. 
  7. ^ CPI-M's allegation against us baseless, malicious: AMPS, PTI, April 30, 2011, retrieved 2013-02-17 
  8. ^ Inayatullah, Sohail (2002). Understanding Sarkar: The Indian Episteme Macrohistory and Transformative Knowledge. Brill. ISBN 9004121935. 
  9. ^ Another woman falls prey to kidnap hoax in Ctg, BanglaNews24.com, August 25, 2010 
  10. ^ a b Judicial probe into killings of Margis, The Statesman, March 7, 2012 
  11. ^ Proof into killings of Ananda Margis sought, Indian Express, May 1, 1999 [dead link]
  12. ^ Police nod for Marga rally, The Telegraph, April 28, 2004, retrieved 2013-02-17 

External links[edit]