Baul-Fakirs Under Attack

Shariyati Violence against Sufis

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

One of the most important trends in contemporary Bengal is to strategise for converting a multicultural society to a monolithic pattern. The century long tendency of attack on Bengali folk singers, Baul-Fakirs in the name of societal chastity now turns into more perilous position political religion in structured and localised form now targets parallel system of belief and practice in own religion. And here incidents in Rejinagar, Hulaspur and some other places in Murshidabad provide a chronicle of torture in such a symmetrical pattern that concerned people had recently decided to make a field study as the topic requires more concentration for its exclusively among other contemporary discourses. Giving voice to the shared perception of all the tortured folks it is urgently needed to spread solidarity in other side of border, in Bangladesh on attacks against Baul-Fakirs. A team of Aamra Ek Sachetan Prayas Forum (AESPF) visited several times to the conflict areas.

Orthodoxy in both sides seeks to perpetuate on illusionary dichotomy they used, which juxtaposes a highly charged, religio-politicised Muslim identity. Salafism or Wahabism (referred as a cult of Ahl-e-Hadith) is supposed to be directly opposed to the Sufi tone of Islam. Here in India due to democratic and secular polity conflict was not aggravated or took a violent appearance. Apart from the hardline followers of Shariyati and Sufism (here villagers called them as Pirponthi); it is totally confusing for the common Muslims to identify their differences and why they condemn and criticse each other.

Drawing on inclusive narratives and interactions with the survivors of the Rejinagar Shariyati violence, common people and activists who resisted; AESDF anatomises how Radical Islam hypothesises to engulf Popular Islam or Sufism. This meticulous field study makes a significant and timely contribution to the discussions on radicalisa-tion of society, administrative inaction and particularly people's resistance.

Despite the anti-Pirponthi stand of local Imams, a sizeable crowd participated there and also rituals were performed. The village, Paschim Teghroi, where Priponthis resisted while preventing destruction of their Darbar, was much more spontaneous. In the area of rest three Darbars, which were ransacked in the same day (29.10.2016) people remained unspoken. Shariyati mob destroyed an old Darbar 7 years back, and here victims shared the incident with grief and grievance. Sufis are told that there will be no space in the local graveyard for the bodies of the Sufis to be buried. They are Kafirs, only way to reintroduce them in the society is to redoing Qalma (to convert one to Islam).

Piponthis are always threatened as they dare to reveal the atrocities they got from Shariyatis. The Pirponthis of Paschim Teghori, the resisting force here play the lead role to organise followers of different Sufi Tariqas. Here two major Tariqas of Indian sub-continent, Qadiriya and Chishtiya have their followers.

Their mystical approach, religious performance in front of grave, use of music, musical instrument and dance create irksome for Shariyati followers Shariyati followers believed that these cultural activities are against Islam. They announced restriction or publicised Fatwa by banning Mazar, Dargah. Nazargah, Darbar, Akhra and Ursh; if anybody (Muslim) goes there and takes part in the religio-cultural activities will be boycotted and also terminated from Islam. The said villages in Rejinagar witnessed the brutal materialisation of Fatwa.

An Imam empahsised their stand quoting Hadith and also denied his personal involvement in the 29th October incident. The practice of Different Sufi orders in this village is Shirk, he said. In Islam the Shirk means the sin of praticising idolatry or Polytheism.

The Rejinagar Police Station, refused to divulge any information. The incident of Rejinagar Shariyati violence is a continued and well-planned strategy of Political Islam to destroy and occupy Sufi centres. The philosophy of single brand always attacks multiculturalism in different religiosity. The rise of Hindutva forces doing the same in different parts of India by imposing single brand of faith. In West Bengal, the hobnobbing between ruling party and Imams, Clerics gave a clear message to the people that who are the authority of Muslim community. The unconstitutional powers they possess are largely hypothecated by the ruling party and these gave the massage to the administration to remain dysfunctional.

Here is another incident in Murshidabad District. It is Hulaspur, a village under Murshiadabd Police station which witnessed demolition of a more than two century old Mazar of Pir Badar. According to preliminary report of prominent Folk-researcher, Professor Shaktinath, a Mazar was demolished on 25 July, 2019. Land record of 1953 shows that the land was donated for said Mazar by the family of Md Ashiq. This Mazar was a centre of assemblage among local folks from different faiths. They came here in the belief that they can cure from disease. In a certain day of month of Muharram (first month of Islamic calendar), here Ursh or annual festival was celebrated and became centre of attraction. Sinni and Kichudi (hotchpotch) were distributed among Hindu and Muslim devotees. Islamist forces criticised this tradition, calling it non-Islamic. Despite request from the common Hindus and Muslims, they destroyed it in pieces and built a Mimber (Mimber or Minbar is a pulpit in the mosque where the Imam [prayer leader] stands to deliver sermons or where the speaker sits and lectures the congregation) and converted it to an Idgah. Umar Seikh (Son of Samed Seikh), Rahim Seikh (son of Rabbani Seikh) and Tajem Ali Seikh (son of Ponju Seikh) are main accused for destruction. They all are involved with the ruling party of the state. Their goons also threatened the visiting team –AESPF–when they were continuing interactions with common people.

Md Asiq made complaint to the Police station. But no step was taken. Then he filed case at the court of Subdivisional Magistrate at Lalbag. Court issued 144. Police reached the spot and announced not to destroy Mazar. But after departure of Police, Shariyati followers destroyed Mazar. On 12 August, 2019 Namaj was performed during Eid ul-Adha.

Akbar Seikh, secretary of Baul-Fakir Sangha emphasised that this destruction is religious. Politics had also played a critical role. The attacks against Bauls-Fakirs are nothing new in this part of the country. Here Shariyati-follwers want to create a 'liberated zone'. Here Saju Mondal is a prominent leader, a lot of Moulanas and Imams follow his leadership. For their nexus with political leadership local administration practically has no authority. Hulaspur incident has no exceptionality; it is almost at destroying Marfati and to establish Shariyati authority in social life, he said.

Since last 70 years they had targeted rural folk singers, Bauls-Fakirs. Now they include Sufi Shrines and followers too. People know about the brutal attack on Lal Shahbaz Qalandar Sufi Shrine at Sindh, Pakistan in the year of 2017. The blast took place during a Sufi ritual, Dhalam, when thousands of devotees were present. 85 persons were killed. Sharayati orthodoxy wants to destroy whatever tradition remains of sufism in the sub-continent.

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Vol. 52, No. 39, Mar 29 - April 4, 2020