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West Bengal: Shariyati Violence against Sufi centers

  • Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam Government College


On religious violence of Sariya followers on the Sufi followers in West Bengal Published in FRONTIER WEEKLY Url:
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West Bengal: Shariyati Violence against Sufi centers
Faruque Ul Islam, Suman Nath,
Amitava Sen Gupta & Subha Protim Roy Chowdhury
“Out beyond the ideas of wrong doing and right doing, there is a field I’ll meet you there.”
- Jalaluddin Rumi
Contemporary Bengal has seen several strategic aempts to convert its mulcultural society to a monolithic one. The century ’s old
tendencies to aack Bengali folk singers the Baul-Fakirs in the name of societal chasty have now become even more perilous. Polical
religion has become a structural machinery which by using a variety of mechanisms of conflict and compromise targets the localized
religious expressions, ‘destroys’ and constructs the monolith. Incidents in Rejinagar, Hulaspur and in some other places in Murshidabad
district of West Bengal provide us chronicles of torture. There were similaries in the ‘design’ of such incidents and it compelled us to
conduct fieldwork on this parcular issue. To give voice to a shared experience of all those who are tortured, we extend our work on
aacks on Baul-fakir in other side of border, in Bangladesh. Aamra Ek Sachetan Prayas Forum did several seasons of fieldwork on conflict
zone and have already published some reports. This arcle will focus on Pandua episode in Hooghly districtof 2010 and Murshidabad
episode of 2016 and 2019. Using our a decade long experience of documenng these issues we aempt to show a connuity and major
domains of the such conflicts in Sufi centers in West Bengal.
Orthodoxy in both sides seeks to perpetuate an illusionary dichotomy. They use it to juxtaposea highly charged, religio-policized Muslim
identy. We know that Salafism or Wahabism (also referred to as a cult of Ahl-e-Hadith) is supposed to be directly opposite to the Sufi
tone of Islam. Here in India because of the prevalence of democrac and secular polics such conflicts could not take much of an violent
appearance. Apart from the stanch followers of Shariya and Sufism (here villagers called them as Pirpanthi), common Muslims are not in
a posion to idenfy such differences in their everyday life.
Pandua, Hooghly in December 2010
Pandua is famous for the Mazar[1] of Shah Sufi Sultan. Local Muslims as well as Hindus have faith in this Pir cult, hence had a wider
appeal to the common people. A Mosque and Khariji Madrasa was built on the adjacent land by a Religio-polical group Jamiyet
Ulemaye Hind (WHEN?). We came to know about certain forceful restricon being imposed on the tradional rituals of the Mazar by the
Mosque in November-December 2010. As we started our fieldwork, we came to know that the imam of the Mosque Abdul Rauf was a
strong supporter of Siddiqulla who is a cabinet minister to Government of West Bengal at present. Siddiqulla used to work for TMC in the
Lok Sobha Elecon, 2009 and by that me had considerable influence and polical connecons. We could understand his influence in the
local polics.
Khadem of the Mazar, Lal Muhammad argued that “There is a blueprint to convert all ‘Marfa’ centers in West Bengal to ‘Shariya’.” We
had the following interacon:
AAMRA: What are their objecves?
Lal Muhammad: To spread Shariya Islam. Just a single brand of Islam.
AAMRA: What do they say?
Lal Muhammad: You should be asking me to narrate what do they do? Here in the Mazar we follow our tradion by offering the ‘Chaddar’
on the Kabar (grave)[2] of our beloved Pir. This Mazar sees an assemblage of devotees from both the Hindus and Muslims. Their common
pracce is to bow before grave, place incense scks and offering flowers. Imam’s ‘Fatwa’ came in. We were told that our pracces are
Shirk – sinfully polytheisc and hence are against Islam. We were told to stop everything we were praccing for years. AAMRA: Can he
(Imam) interfere into your maers?
Lal Muhammad: No he cannot. Common people, especially Bihari community will not bother, they will resist against this Fatwa.
AAMRA: We were told that they have also imposed restricons on entry of women in Mazar premises. What is the effect?
Lal Muhammad: Sufi Sultan was unmarried, so we limit entry of women inside Mazar, but in the outside of grave they are allowed.
AAMRA: It means that you had to compromise.
Lal Muhammad: What can we do? Polics, administraon, local network, they own everything. They are being supported by them. This
Mosque and Madrasa is also something new. They use the name of Shah Sufi Sultan to make them acceptable among the common
Muslims. They are occupying Mazar’s land every day. They have forced me to write and sign in a non-judicial stamp paper that ‘there is no
conflict between Mazar and Mosque’.
AAMRA: Did you urged for any administrave step or any judicial acon?
Lal Muhammad: No, I told you earlier, they control everything.
AAMRA: But you have people’s support like you said.
Lal Muhammad: Yes, poor people of this area do support us. They are too poor and are obviously extremely busy with their daily work.
Imam got patronized by Siddiqulla, and from Furfura.
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AAMRA: You mean Furfura Sharif, famous Sufi shrine in this district.
Lal Muhammad: Yes the famous Pirzada is also behind these acvies. Sorry, please don’t ask anything more.
We had to conclude our interacon for the day. We talked to the Imam, he offered lile me to have a quick conversaon. He accused
Khadim for grabbing the donaon money of the Mazar, in his words: “This money was captured by Khadim’s family. They didn’t to do any
social work”. We asked him about the source of money to run the Mosque. He menoned about some donaon from rich Muslims, but
didn’t reveal anything further. As we asked about the restricons that Mosque had imposed, he firmly claimed, “I follow Islam; their
brand of Islam is false.” ‘If so, what will be your reacon on Ajmer Sharif ’ we asked. He remained silent and suddenly makes his move
claiming that he has to go to Bardhaman to do some important work.
Eventually, we have studied different Mazars, Dargah, Nazargah and Ursh gatherings. From Panipet, Haryana to Kusthia, Bangladesh, we
started to experience different colours of Islam and its mulculturalism. In 2016, we reached Rejinagar, Murshidabad, where four Durbars
(Khanka Sharifs) of two Sufi tariqasiii were ransacked by the Shariya followers.
Rejinagar Shariya violence:
In Rejinagar we could conduct a meculous study of the details of Shariya violence. We could unearth how radical Islam is aempng to
engulf popular and localized variees of Islamic pracces. In broad sense the study addresses the radicalizaon of society, administrave
inacon and people’s resistance. We have studied the villages of Teghori, Paschim Teghori and Nazirpur (under Rejinagar Police Staon,
Murshidabad) for about three mes. We have conducted detailed conversaons in a variety of forms and have also studied of the
celebraon of Ursh at a place where Shariya mob had ransacked a Khanka Sharif (Darbar). Despite the an-Pirpanthi stand of local Imams
a sizeable crowd parcipated in Ursh to perform the tradional rituals. We were impressed by the women folks belonging to the family of
the Khadim. They spoke their heart out and didn’t hesitate to challenge the otherwise patriarchal ambiance of the region. Pirpanthi
resistance against Shariya aack was quite spontaneous in the village Paschim Teghori. They were able to save their Darbar from geng
destroyed. People who could not protect their Darbars- the three cases on the same day, i.e. on 29th October 2016, couldn’t say a word. It
was clear that they were either afraid of opening up, or were sll under trauma. Another Darbar nearby, was destroyed by the Shariya
followers about seven years ago has not been rebuild since then. It clearly reflects the extent of terror through which these people have
been going through for all these years. The Sufi followers were being told that they won’t be able to have a place in the local graveyard,
because they are Kafirs. They can, however, reintroduce them in the society is to redoing Qalma (to convert one to Islam).
We were informed that Pipanthis were threatened by the Shariyas aer we le the field. At present the Pirpanthis of Paschim Teghori
who played a major role in resisng the Shariya forces have taken up the role of organizing the followers belonging to the two major Sufi
Tariqas of Indian sub-connent, viz. Qadiriya and Chishya have their followers.
Their myscal approach, religious performances in front of grave, use of music, musical instruments and dance are completely annoying
for Shariya followers. Shariyas see these cultural acvies as an-Islamic in nature. They had announced restricons (Fatwa) by banning
the Mazar, Dargah, Nazargah, Darbar, Akhra and Ursh. They further declared that if a Muslim parcipates in their religio-cultural
acvies, s/he will be boycoed and will be declared as no longer an Islam follower. Villages in Rejinagar witnessed a brutal
materializaon of such Fatwa.
Our aempt to establish a contact with the Imams of local Mosques including the popular Jame Masjid was inially unsuccessful. On
condion of anonymity, an Imam legimized his stand by quong Hadith. However, he also denied his direct involvement in 29th October
We tried repeatedly to talk to the Rejinagar Police Staon. Such aempts however, remained fruitless. On 11th May, 2017 we sent e-mails
to the District Magistrate of Murshidabad and the Block Development Officer of Beldanga-II Block. We requested them to restore peace
and normalcy and to book the perpetrators of Darbar destrucon according to relevant secon(s) of Indian Penal Code. We are yet to get
a reply and we are being told that no one was arrested.
We find the Rejinagar Shariya violence is not a standalone incident. It is part of a well-planned strategy of Polical Islam to destroy and
occupy Sufi centers. The philosophy of monolithic and aggressive religion aempts to destroy mulculturalism in different religious
pracces. The rise of Hindutva and brand monolithic Shariya Islam in this sense occupy a similar posion In West Bengal, because of the
hobnobbing between ruling party and Imams, clerics have made it clear about their authority and that the rest should be submissive to it.
Clearly, the acvies like circulang a Fatwa is only a minuscule part of what they do in their everyday acvies. This is possible because
of their polical connecon, which is also a major reason that administraon is oen inacve.
Hulaspur, Murshidabad:
On 25th July 2019 Hulaspur, a village under Murshiadabd Police staon has witnessed the demolion of a more than two century old
Mazar of Pir Badar. Shaknath Jha a prominent Folk-researcher, informed us that according to the land record of 1953 the land was
donated for the Mazar by a family now represented by Md. Ashiq. This Mazar has been a centre where people belonging to different faith
could meet. People used to come to get a cure from disease. In a certain day of month of Muharram - the first month of Islamic calendar,
here Ursh was celebrated and much of the aracon revolved around this event. Sinni and Kichudi as food itemswere distributed among
the devotees belonging to both the Hindu and Islam. Islamist forces have cricized this tradion to be an -Islamic in nature. Despite of
repeated request from the local Hindus and Muslims, they have demolished it into pieces and have built a Mimber and converted it to an
Idgah. Names of Umar Seikh (Son of Samed Seikh), Rahim Seikh (son of Rabbani Seikh) and Tajem Ali Seikh (son of Ponju Seikh) have been
brought by the local villagers to be the main accused for destrucon. We came to know that all of them are strongly associated with the
ruling polical party in the locality. We have been threatened by their goons while we were conducng the fieldwork.
Md. Asiq lodged a police complain but no step so far been taken. He also filed a case at the court of Sub-divisional Magistrate at Lalbag.
The court issued secon 144 in the region. Police had to reach the spot. They ordered not to do any harm to the Mazar. But aer the
Police le, Shariya followers destroyed the Mazar. On 12 August, 2019 a Namaj was performed during Eid ul-Adha.
Akbar Seikh, the secretary of Baul-Fakir Sangha harped on the fact that this destrucon is an outcome of religious conflict. He emphasized
on the fact that local polics played a detrimental role. While the aack on baul-fakir is nothing new here, but in this case, according to
Akbar Seikh, here Shariyat-follwers wanted to create a ‘liberated zone’. Akbar Seikh connued:
“Here Saju Mondal is a prominent leader, a lot of Moulanas and Imams follow his leadership. For their nexus with polical leadership
local administraon praccally does not do anything. Hulaspur incident is not exceponal, it is the part of a grand plan to replace Marfa
by Shariya … for the last 70 years they had targeted rural folk singers the Baul-fakirs. Now they are also targeng the Sufi shrines and
their followers. It has became a new trend in our subconnent. We know about the brutal aack on Lal Shahbaz Qalandar Sufi Shrine at
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Sindh, Pakistan in 2017. The blast took place during a Sufi ritual, Dhamal, when thousands of devotees were present. 85 persons were
killed. Disgracefully here the day is not very far away.
1. Our study hints towards a few essenal issues: Consolidaon of ideal Muslim prototype: While the Pirpanthis or Sufis have tradionally
been associated with a variety of different ways to reach to the Gods, it is oen seen as an-Islam and hence in a process the definion of
Islam according to Sharias became further narrowed down. It is therefore, made to look like a fight between ideologies, but clearly the
aack is one-sided.
2. Aack on people who occupy a middle range: As the issue is addressed by Akbar Ali Sekh who has a quite long experience of observing
such aacks by fundamentalists on Baul and Fakirs, this aack is a new phenomenon. Baul Fakirs are seen as deviant as they are declared
atheists, primarily against Vedic and Quranic noons. The Pirpanthis do follow almost every Islamic pracces and yet they are targeted.
The nature of such aacks confirms the fact that this is indeed an aack to consolidate identy and difference.
3. Abrupt social exclusion and violence: There is a systemac exercise of violence over Pirpanthis which range from verbal abuse to
physical torture. It is oen made legimised in the name of an-Islam pracces. Social exclusionary mechanism is oen infiltrated with
humiliaon as manifested in redoing Qalma, annihilaon as manifested in the aempted forceful occupancy on Khanqua Sharifs or not
allowing graveyard space to the Pirpanthis and violence as manifested in brining mass to the Mosque and targeng individuals especially
the aged Pirs. Later on the connuaon of Fatwa by labeling people as Kafer, Murtad and an-Islam is acvely perpetuated. There are
certain other prescripons as well.
We are informed that in different parts of state Islamist forces are performing Eid Namaj by forcefully capturing the age-old Mazars,
Dargas, and Nazargas. It is indeed a new trend. There are informaon of such conversions in different corners of the state. For example at
Sonadanga, near Mayapur, Nadia the cross-community fair and gathering at the Mazars of Manik Pir or in Ghoraikkhetra, Nadia where an
old Mazar of Seikh Farid are converted respecvely to cemetery and Idgah. The repeon of such acvies and similar of acon indicates
that these are well planned project. The primary aim is to wipe off any possibilies of Hindu-Muslim co-existence and covert them to the
frame of Shariya model.
RSS also targets the oppressed folk-performers and offers them to become part of their acvies. For the last ten months RSS has been
using the plaorm of ‘All India Kirtan, Baul and Divosional Singer’s Welfare Trust’ and have organized events to engulf this space. ‘Jai Shri
Ram’ the polio-religious slogan has been chanted before the start or aer the end of each of the cultural performances. While somefolk
singers asked them, about the reasons for replacing their tradional “Hare Ram Hare Krishna” by Jai Shri Ram Hindutva forces replied,
that “now it is me for Sri Ram.” We have seen that a lot of folk-singers refused to follow this order.
There is indeed a compeon between the Shariya and Hindutva forces to expand their control over the diverse cultural pracces.
Although they have different ‘polics’ as manifested in their history and pracces, but their target is same, to conquer folk religion and
1. Mosjid na Mazar: Okusthol Panduagor; Subha Prom Roy Chowdhury; Sangbad Manthan (Bengali), 16 January, 2010
2. Rejinagar Shariya Violence, a Conflict Area Study: 6; Aamra Ek Sachetan Prayas Forum, 2016
3. Manufacturing Polarisaon in Contemporary India: The Case of Identy Polics in Post-Le West Bengal, 2019; Suman Nath, Subha
Prom Roy Chowdhury; Internaonal Journal of Conflict and Violence, Vol.13/2019
1. Grave of a deceased Pir.
2. The tradion of covering the grave with a decorave cloth cover (Chaddar) as a mark of devoon is known as Chaddar Charano.
3. Tariqa- ‘A path’. A term used by the Sufis for the spiritual life.
4. Mimber or minbar is a pulpit in the mosque where the imam (prayer leader) stands to recite the Khutbah or sermons or where the
speaker sits and lectures the congregaon.
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Jun 8, 2020
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Manufacturing Polarisa on in Contemporary India: The Case of Iden ty Poli cs in Post-Le West Bengal
Manufacturing Polarisa on in Contemporary India: The Case of Iden ty Poli cs in Post-Le West Bengal, 2019; Suman Nath, Subha Pro m Roy Chowdhury; Interna onal Journal of Conflict and Violence, Vol.13/2019 Notes:
A path'. A term used by the Sufis for the spiritual life
  • Tariqa
Tariqa-'A path'. A term used by the Sufis for the spiritual life.