Bengal communal clashes provided the perfect cover for mobs to loot shops and ransack homes

Both Hindus and Muslims find themselves homeless and insecure in Raniganj and Asansol.

Husna Begum, 45, trembles at the memory of the afternoon when she thought death had come knocking on her door. The resident of Raniganj in West Bengal’s Paschim Bardhaman district was at home on March 26 when communal clashes broke out in the town.

“We live in a joint family of 50 people with our relatives also living in the same compound,” she said. “We were seven women present inside the house as all the male members and my children had gone out for work. The women were busy cooking food and completing their household chores when suddenly we heard people banging on our door and screaming, ‘maro, maro’ [beat them]. We were petrified.”

Peeping through the window, Begum saw a large crowd of men armed with sticks, rods and cans. “Filled with liquid, presumably, kerosene,” she said. The women prised out the red roof tiles at the back of the house and climbed out to safety.

Since then, they have been staying with relatives in Rajbandh, which is a predominantly Muslim area. Their house in the Hill Basti locality stands gutted. The mixed locality, which is home to both Hindus and Muslims, has about 200 houses. Around 20-25 houses belonging to Muslims were looted, damaged and set ablaze that morning. The families have fled to other areas.

Husna Begum's house has been reduced to burnt rubble. Photo: Gurvinder Singh
Husna Begum's house has been reduced to burnt rubble. Photo: Gurvinder Singh

Twenty kilometres away, Gita Devi, 32, has a similar story to narrate. Devi is a resident of the Chandmari area of Asansol, West Bengal’s second-largest city, which includes the former mining town of Raniganj. It lies 200 km north of Kolkata.

On the evening of March 27, Devi’s husband had not returned from work yet. She was at home, with her five-year-old child, who was asleep. Around 5.30 pm, all of a sudden, she heard loud sounds – stones were raining on her home. As she looked outside, she realised a mob was attacking houses in her locality. “I took my small child and rushed out for safety,” she said. Most other families in Chandmari, which is predominantly Hindu, did the same. Some of them found refuge in a community hall.

A few days later, when Devi returned to the neighbourhood, she found 50-60 houses, including hers, had been ransacked and burnt down. “I had saved around Rs 20,000,” she said. “The money was gone. Nothing was left.”

Gita Devi, in the middle, holding her son. Photo: Gurvinder Singh
Gita Devi, in the middle, holding her son. Photo: Gurvinder Singh

What sparked the violence

Since March 25, when Ram Navami celebrations began, West Bengal has seen a series of communal clashes. The festival has emerged as a flashpoint in recent years after Hindutva groups began to organise large-scale rallies with men wielding swords and tridents marching through towns. Hindutva groups have defended the display of weapons as tradition, but the unprecedented scale of the rallies has led many to see them as a form of aggression. This year, the administration in Asansol prohibited the display of weapons.

“Such rallies only began four years ago,” said Mohamed Mashooq, who runs a small light decorations business in Rajbandh, the area in Raniganj where the Ram Navami procession came into conflict with Muslims. “For over 60 years, the Hindus have been bringing out large processions called Mahaveer Jhanda on the day of Lakshmi Puja and no violence has happened.”

The violence on March 26, he claimed, was planned. As the Ram Navami procession passed through Rajbandh around 11 am, “the people participating in it began to chant inflammatory slogans. They were also playing an audio CD of anti-Muslim songs which were quite derogatory for our community.”

He added: “We were still patient and urged them to stop playing the songs but they refused to listen and instead began pelting stones at us.”

The leaders of the Hindutva organisations that had organised the rally denied this. “The clash broke out when Muslims attacked the procession,” said Sourish Mukherjee, spokesperson of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. “Bombs and stones were hurled at us.”

The deputy commissioner of police of Asansol-Durgapur, Arindam Dutta Chowdhury, almost lost his right hand when a bomb exploded near him. He has been transported to Coimbatore for plastic surgery.

The same afternoon, barely half a kilometre from Rajbandh, Mahesh Mondal, a worker from Bihar, was relieving himself when he was attacked by a sharp weapon and killed.

Rajbandh crossing where the clashes started in Raniganj. Photo: Gurvinder Singh
Rajbandh crossing where the clashes started in Raniganj. Photo: Gurvinder Singh

How the violence spread

On March 27, even as the police was trying to control the violence in Raniganj, violence erupted in Asansol North, as another Ram Navami procession wound its way through a Muslim neighbourhood.

“I heard people from the procession shouting ‘Pakistan jao, Pakistan jao’ [Go to Pakistan],” said Mohamed Khalid, a resident of Asansol North. “Soon the stone pelting began from both sides leading to communal clashes.”

Most residents blamed the police. Given that tensions were expected around Ram Navami, they said it should have been better prepared to control the violence.

“Nobody came to our rescue,” said Madhuri Devi, a resident of Chandmari area. “The attackers vandalised our houses and set them on fire. Vehicles were also torched. We were left to fend for ourselves.”

On the evening of March 27, the teenage son of the imam of the Noori mosque in Rail Par area went missing. His half-burnt body was found the next day.

Another death took place on March 29. As the police sprayed tear-gas to control mobs in Bhadka area, in the ensuing chaos, a vehicle hit Pratima Devi, a 45-year-old woman who was standing on the street. She died of the injuries.

On March 31, when West Bengal Governor N Tripathi visited Chandmari, the residents ran after the policemen accompanying him – they wanted an explanation for why the police had failed to protect them.

Laxmi Narayan Meena, the police commissioner of Asansol-Durgapur, insisted the police had acted swiftly to contain the violence. “The allegations of negligence by the police are completely false and baseless,” he told “It is due to our efforts that the situation is under control.”

Internet services in Asansol remain suspended till April 4. Parts of Asansol continue to be under Section 144, which prohibits more than four people gathering in a public place.

Both Hindu and Muslim residents said they continue to feel insecure.

The losses

Not only have homes been lost in the violence, a large number of commercial establishments have been looted and burnt.

The worst hit is Hatia municipal market, a few meters from Rajbandh where the clashes erupted first. Around 500 shops here were ransacked.

“We were conducting business as usual last Monday when suddenly we heard a commotion,” said Biswanath Sahu, a rice wholesaler. As he saw a mob rushing in the direction of his shop, he fled. “We didn’t get time to close our shop and collect the cash,” Sahu said, showing his burnt cash box. The day the clashes broke out, it contained Rs 5 lakh, his earnings over an entire season, he claimed.

Biswanath Sahu showing the burnt cash box. Photo: Gurvinder Singh
Biswanath Sahu showing the burnt cash box. Photo: Gurvinder Singh

In the same market, Naushad Siddique, 35, burst into tears as he stood amidst the ashes of the five bangle shops owned by his family.

“Political leaders are trying to portray it as a communal flare-up for their own vested interests,” he said. “But I strongly believe that it was a pre-planned crime with the sole intention to loot. Both Hindu and Muslims doing business here have been equally targeted.”

Naushad Siddique in Hatia Bazaar. Photo: Gurvinder Singh
Naushad Siddique in Hatia Bazaar. Photo: Gurvinder Singh
Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

The next Industrial Revolution is here – driven by the digitalization of manufacturing processes

Technologies such as Industry 4.0, IoT, robotics and Big Data analytics are transforming the manufacturing industry in a big way.

The manufacturing industry across the world is seeing major changes, driven by globalization and increasing consumer demand. As per a report by the World Economic Forum and Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd on the future of manufacturing, the ability to innovate at a quicker pace will be the major differentiating factor in the success of companies and countries.

This is substantiated by a PWC research which shows that across industries, the most innovative companies in the manufacturing sector grew 38% (2013 - 2016), about 11% year on year, while the least innovative manufacturers posted only a 10% growth over the same period.

Along with innovation in products, the transformation of manufacturing processes will also be essential for companies to remain competitive and maintain their profitability. This is where digital technologies can act as a potential game changer.

The digitalization of the manufacturing industry involves the integration of digital technologies in manufacturing processes across the value chain. Also referred to as Industry 4.0, digitalization is poised to reshape all aspects of the manufacturing industry and is being hailed as the next Industrial Revolution. Integral to Industry 4.0 is the ‘smart factory’, where devices are inter-connected, and processes are streamlined, thus ensuring greater productivity across the value chain, from design and development, to engineering and manufacturing and finally to service and logistics.

Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, artificial intelligence and Big Data analytics are some of the key technologies powering Industry 4.0. According to a report, Industry 4.0 will prompt manufacturers globally to invest $267 billion in technologies like IoT by 2020. Investments in digitalization can lead to excellent returns. Companies that have implemented digitalization solutions have almost halved their manufacturing cycle time through more efficient use of their production lines. With a single line now able to produce more than double the number of product variants as three lines in the conventional model, end to end digitalization has led to an almost 20% jump in productivity.

Digitalization and the Indian manufacturing industry

The Make in India program aims to increase the contribution of the manufacturing industry to the country’s GDP from 16% to 25% by 2022. India’s manufacturing sector could also potentially touch $1 trillion by 2025. However, to achieve these goals and for the industry to reach its potential, it must overcome the several internal and external obstacles that impede its growth. These include competition from other Asian countries, infrastructural deficiencies and lack of skilled manpower.

There is a common sentiment across big manufacturers that India lacks the eco-system for making sophisticated components. According to FICCI’s report on the readiness of Indian manufacturing to adopt advanced manufacturing trends, only 10% of companies have adopted new technologies for manufacturing, while 80% plan to adopt the same by 2020. This indicates a significant gap between the potential and the reality of India’s manufacturing industry.

The ‘Make in India’ vision of positioning India as a global manufacturing hub requires the industry to adopt innovative technologies. Digitalization can give the Indian industry an impetus to deliver products and services that match global standards, thereby getting access to global markets.

The policy, thus far, has received a favourable response as global tech giants have either set up or are in the process of setting up hi-tech manufacturing plants in India. Siemens, for instance, is helping companies in India gain a competitive advantage by integrating industry-specific software applications that optimise performance across the entire value chain.

The Digital Enterprise is Siemens’ solution portfolio for the digitalization of industries. It comprises of powerful software and future-proof automation solutions for industries and companies of all sizes. For the discrete industries, the Digital Enterprise Suite offers software and hardware solutions to seamlessly integrate and digitalize their entire value chain – including suppliers – from product design to service, all based on one data model. The result of this is a perfect digital copy of the value chain: the digital twin. This enables companies to perform simulation, testing, and optimization in a completely virtual environment.

The process industries benefit from Integrated Engineering to Integrated Operations by utilizing a continuous data model of the entire lifecycle of a plant that helps to increase flexibility and efficiency. Both offerings can be easily customized to meet the individual requirements of each sector and company, like specific simulation software for machines or entire plants.

Siemens has identified projects across industries and plans to upgrade these industries by connecting hardware, software and data. This seamless integration of state-of-the-art digital technologies to provide sustainable growth that benefits everyone is what Siemens calls ‘Ingenuity for Life’.

Case studies for technology-led changes

An example of the implementation of digitalization solutions from Siemens can be seen in the case of pharma major Cipla Ltd’s Kurkumbh factory.

Cipla needed a robust and flexible distributed control system to dispense and manage solvents for the manufacture of its APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients used in many medicines). As part of the project, Siemens partnered with Cipla to install the DCS-SIMATIC PCS 7 control system and migrate from batch manufacturing to continuous manufacturing. By establishing the first ever flow Chemistry based API production system in India, Siemens has helped Cipla in significantly lowering floor space, time, wastage, energy and utility costs. This has also improved safety and product quality.

In yet another example, technology provided by Siemens helped a cement plant maximise its production capacity. Wonder Cement, a greenfield project set up by RK Marbles in Rajasthan, needed an automated system to improve productivity. Siemens’ solution called CEMAT used actual plant data to make precise predictions for quality parameters which were previously manually entered by operators. As a result, production efficiency was increased and operators were also freed up to work on other critical tasks. Additionally, emissions and energy consumption were lowered – a significant achievement for a typically energy intensive cement plant.

In the case of automobile major, Mahindra & Mahindra, Siemens’ involvement involved digitalizing the whole product development system. Siemens has partnered with the manufacturer to provide a holistic solution across the entire value chain, from design and planning to engineering and execution. This includes design and software solutions for Product Lifecycle Management, Siemens Technology for Powertrain (STP) and Integrated Automation. For Powertrain, the solutions include SINUMERIK, SINAMICS, SIMOTICS and SIMATIC controls and drives, besides CNC and PLC-controlled machines linked via the Profinet interface.

The above solutions helped the company puts its entire product lifecycle on a digital platform. This has led to multi-fold benefits – better time optimization, higher productivity, improved vehicle performance and quicker response to market requirements.

Siemens is using its global expertise to guide Indian industries through their digital transformation. With the right technologies in place, India can see a significant improvement in design and engineering, cutting product development time by as much as 30%. Besides, digital technologies driven by ‘Ingenuity for Life’ can help Indian manufacturers achieve energy efficiency and ensure variety and flexibility in their product offerings while maintaining quality.


The above examples of successful implementation of digitalization are just some of the examples of ‘Ingenuity for Life’ in action. To learn more about Siemens’ push to digitalize India’s manufacturing sector, see here.

This article was produced on behalf of Siemens by the marketing team and not by the editorial staff.