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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 aempts to convert its mulcultural society to a monolithic one. The century ’s old
tendencies to aack Bengali folk singers the Baul-Fakirs in the name of societal chasty have now become even more perilous. Polical
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 similaries in the ‘design’ of such incidents and it compelled us to
conduct ﬁeldwork on this parcular issue. To give voice to a shared experience of all those who are tortured, we extend our work on
aacks 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 arcle will focus on Pandua episode in Hooghly districtof 2010 and Murshidabad
episode of 2016 and 2019. Using our a decade long experience of documenng these issues we aempt to show a connuity 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-policized Muslim
identy. 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 democrac and secular polics 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 posion to idenfy such diﬀerences in their everyday life.
Pandua, Hooghly in December 2010
Pandua is famous for the Mazar 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-polical group Jamiyet
Ulemaye Hind (WHEN?). We came to know about certain forceful restricon being imposed on the tradional 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 Elecon, 2009 and by that me had considerable inﬂuence and polical connecons. We could understand his inﬂuence in the
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 interacon:
AAMRA: What are their objecves?
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 tradion by oﬀering the ‘Chaddar’
on the Kabar (grave) of our beloved Pir. This Mazar sees an assemblage of devotees from both the Hindus and Muslims. Their common
pracce is to bow before grave, place incense scks and oﬀering ﬂowers. Imam’s ‘Fatwa’ came in. We were told that our pracces are
Shirk – sinfully polytheisc and hence are against Islam. We were told to stop everything we were praccing for years. AAMRA: Can he
(Imam) interfere into your maers?
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 restricons 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? Polics, administraon, 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 administrave step or any judicial acon?
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 acvies. Sorry, please don’t ask anything more.
We had to conclude our interacon for the day. We talked to the Imam, he oﬀered lile me to have a quick conversaon. He accused
Khadim for grabbing the donaon 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 menoned about some donaon from rich Muslims, but
didn’t reveal anything further. As we asked about the restricons that Mosque had imposed, he ﬁrmly claimed, “I follow Islam; their
brand of Islam is false.” ‘If so, what will be your reacon 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 mulculturalism. 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 meculous study of the details of Shariya violence. We could unearth how radical Islam is aempng to
engulf popular and localized variees of Islamic pracces. In broad sense the study addresses the radicalizaon of society, administrave
inacon and people’s resistance. We have studied the villages of Teghori, Paschim Teghori and Nazirpur (under Rejinagar Police Staon,
Murshidabad) for about three mes. We have conducted detailed conversaons in a variety of forms and have also studied of the
celebraon 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 parcipated in Ursh to perform the tradional 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 aack was quite spontaneous in the village Paschim Teghori. They were able to save their Darbar from geng
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 sll 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 Shariyas aer we le the ﬁeld. At present the Pirpanthis of Paschim Teghori
who played a major role in resisng the Shariya forces have taken up the role of organizing the followers belonging to the two major Suﬁ
Tariqas of Indian sub-connent, viz. Qadiriya and Chishya have their followers.
Their myscal approach, religious performances in front of grave, use of music, musical instruments and dance are completely annoying
for Shariya followers. Shariyas see these cultural acvies as an-Islamic in nature. They had announced restricons (Fatwa) by banning
the Mazar, Dargah, Nazargah, Darbar, Akhra and Ursh. They further declared that if a Muslim parcipates in their religio-cultural
acvies, s/he will be boycoed and will be declared as no longer an Islam follower. Villages in Rejinagar witnessed a brutal
materializaon of such Fatwa.
Our aempt to establish a contact with the Imams of local Mosques including the popular Jame Masjid was inially unsuccessful. On
condion of anonymity, an Imam legimized his stand by quong Hadith. However, he also denied his direct involvement in 29th October
We tried repeatedly to talk to the Rejinagar Police Staon. Such aempts 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 destrucon according to relevant secon(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 Polical Islam to destroy and
occupy Suﬁ centers. The philosophy of monolithic and aggressive religion aempts to destroy mulculturalism in diﬀerent religious
pracces. The rise of Hindutva and brand monolithic Shariya Islam in this sense occupy a similar posion 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 acvies like circulang a Fatwa is only a minuscule part of what they do in their everyday acvies. This is possible because
of their polical connecon, which is also a major reason that administraon is oen inacve.
On 25th July 2019 Hulaspur, a village under Murshiadabd Police staon has witnessed the demolion of a more than two century old
Mazar of Pir Badar. Shaknath 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 aracon revolved around this event. Sinni and Kichudi as food itemswere distributed among
the devotees belonging to both the Hindu and Islam. Islamist forces have cricized this tradion 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 destrucon. We came to know that all of them are strongly associated with the
ruling polical party in the locality. We have been threatened by their goons while we were conducng 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 secon 144 in the region. Police had to reach the spot. They ordered not to do any harm to the Mazar. But aer 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 destrucon is an outcome of religious conﬂict. He emphasized
on the fact that local polics played a detrimental role. While the aack 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 connued:
“Here Saju Mondal is a prominent leader, a lot of Moulanas and Imams follow his leadership. For their nexus with polical leadership
local administraon praccally does not do anything. Hulaspur incident is not exceponal, 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 targeng the Suﬁ shrines and
their followers. It has became a new trend in our subconnent. We know about the brutal aack 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 essenal issues: Consolidaon of ideal Muslim prototype: While the Pirpanthis or Suﬁs have tradionally
been associated with a variety of diﬀerent ways to reach to the Gods, it is oen seen as an-Islam and hence in a process the deﬁnion of
Islam according to Sharias became further narrowed down. It is therefore, made to look like a ﬁght between ideologies, but clearly the
aack is one-sided.
2. Aack 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 aacks by fundamentalists on Baul and Fakirs, this aack is a new phenomenon. Baul Fakirs are seen as deviant as they are declared
atheists, primarily against Vedic and Quranic noons. The Pirpanthis do follow almost every Islamic pracces and yet they are targeted.
The nature of such aacks conﬁrms the fact that this is indeed an aack to consolidate identy and diﬀerence.
3. Abrupt social exclusion and violence: There is a systemac exercise of violence over Pirpanthis which range from verbal abuse to
physical torture. It is oen made legimised in the name of an-Islam pracces. Social exclusionary mechanism is oen inﬁltrated with
humiliaon as manifested in redoing Qalma, annihilaon as manifested in the aempted forceful occupancy on Khanqua Sharifs or not
allowing graveyard space to the Pirpanthis and violence as manifested in brining mass to the Mosque and targeng individuals especially
the aged Pirs. Later on the connuaon of Fatwa by labeling people as Kafer, Murtad and an-Islam is acvely perpetuated. There are
certain other prescripons 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 informaon 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 respecvely to cemetery and Idgah. The repeon of such acvies and similar of acon indicates
that these are well planned project. The primary aim is to wipe oﬀ any possibilies 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 acvies. For the last ten months RSS has been
using the plaorm of ‘All India Kirtan, Baul and Divosional Singer’s Welfare Trust’ and have organized events to engulf this space. ‘Jai Shri
Ram’ the polio-religious slogan has been chanted before the start or aer the end of each of the cultural performances. While somefolk
singers asked them, about the reasons for replacing their tradional “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 compeon between the Shariya and Hindutva forces to expand their control over the diverse cultural pracces.
Although they have diﬀerent ‘polics’ as manifested in their history and pracces, but their target is same, to conquer folk religion and
1. Mosjid na Mazar: Okusthol Panduagor; Subha Prom 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 Polarisaon in Contemporary India: The Case of Identy Polics in Post-Le West Bengal, 2019; Suman Nath, Subha
Prom Roy Chowdhury; Internaonal Journal of Conﬂict and Violence, Vol.13/2019
1. Grave of a deceased Pir.
2. The tradion of covering the grave with a decorave cloth cover (Chaddar) as a mark of devoon 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 congregaon.
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Jun 8, 2020
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