|A vandalised room at the monks’ residence. Picture by Sanat Kumar Sinha
Howrah, Sept. 22: A Belur Math establishment was attacked last night by a mob protesting the death of a student, replaying a trial by muscle less than 10 days after a school was vandalised in Dum Dum.
However, police acted with more alacrity on Saturday night than they had done on September 12 and picked up 13 of the attackers in Belur.
Sarthak Majumdar, 18, was a student of a polytechnic, Ramakrishna Mission Shilpamandira, run by the Ramakrishna Mission since 1954. The boy’s body was found on the steps of a pool on the premises of the institute.
The protesters thrashed a Belur Math caretaker, scaled the wall of the monks’ residence, near the temple premises, and smashed windowpanes and furniture.
Senior monks said they could not recall any such attack before. The Math, at Howrah’s Belur, has existed since 1898.
On September 12, a mob had vandalised the Christ Church Girls’ High School in Dum Dum following the death of a Class V girl. That mob had held teachers hostage until the police arrested the principal.
Last night, around 10pm, the teacher-monks first heard screams demanding to know where the “head maharaj” lived. The mob of about 50 then started kicking the doors of their living rooms and hurling stones at the windows, and later overturned furniture and flung them around.
The monks — some were in the middle of prayers and some were reading on the Shilpamandira compound, to the left of the Math’s main entrance — contacted seniors on the temple premises, who immediately informed police.
“They had come looking for the head maharaj. They asked the cooks and the caretaker to identify his room. But our men lied, saying they didn’t know as they had joined recently,” said Swami Dibyananda, the secretary of the Shilpamandira.
“We don’t recall such an incident happening here,” said Swami Subhakarananda, one of the senior monks. “At such hours of the night, this is the last thing we could have expected at Belur. It was very scary.”
This afternoon, chief minister Mamata Banerjee called up the monks and assured them protection.
“The student’s death is very sad but none of the monks of the institution had anything to do with it…. We will fully cooperate with police investigations,” said Swami Dibyananda.
The mindsets behind the attacks on the school and the Math appear uncannily similar.
Like the Dum Dum vandals, the Belur attackers did not want to wait for an inquiry to determine the cause of Sarthak’s death before going on the rampage.
Sarthak, a first-year student of electronics and telecommunications, could not be found last afternoon after playing a football match against the electrical engineering department. The match had ended around 3.30pm.
Polytechnic authorities suspect Sarthak drowned in the pond, close to the ground where the match was played.
“He had gone there to clean up along with other students. No one reported anything unnatural, but some college employees spotted his clothes and bag on the edge of the pond. But he could not be traced. That raised suspicion,” said Swami Dibyananda.
Assuming Sarthak had drowned, the authorities trawled the pond with a fishing net but drew a blank. They then informed the fire brigade. Shortly after, someone spotted the body near the steps leading to the pond.
Sarthak’s family said the polytechnic authorities had dialled his mother, Nibedita, at their Bhadreswar home at 4.05pm and again at 4.25pm to inform her that he was missing. Nibedita then phoned husband Gautam, an Eastern Railway employee posted at Sealdah station.
“I didn’t give it much importance. But when I was leaving office around 5.30pm, I got a call from the college. I asked them if my son was alive, but they disconnected the phone,” Gautam said.
When he reached the college with brother-in-law Debasish Kundu, they were told that Sarthak’s body had been sent to the Howrah District Hospital. Sarthak was the younger of Gautam and Nibedita’s two sons. The elder son studies in a Behrampore engineering college.
Gautam alleged that he saw injury marks on Sarthak’s body but the police refused to take his complaint.
Nishat Parvez, the deputy commissioner (headquarters) of the Howrah commissionerate, said: “We did not see any outer injury marks. Nothing can be said conclusively till the post-mortem report reaches us…. The family has every right to lodge a complaint if they think there is foul play.”
Debasish allegedly accompanied the mob that attacked the monks’ residence.
Within 15 minutes of the complaint, a large contingent from the Bally, Belur and Nischinda police stations, led by their officers-in-charge, reached the college. Ajey Ranade, the commissioner of Howrah police, was there in person.
Unlike the Dum Dum case, the police picked up some of the attackers, including Debasish (see chart). The charges carry a maximum punishment of seven years in jail. A court has granted them bail.
Many of the arrested are football players from two clubs.