Even as pockets of Bengal simmered in communal violence triggered by Ram Navami processions, a poor village in Malda district held out unorchestrated lessons of harmony between Hindus and Muslims.
Dozens of Hindu villagers, including devout Brahmins sporting the sacred thread, not only participated in the last journey of a 73-year-old Muslim woman, but also participated in the last burial rites at Uttarpara village in the Chanchol block on Tuesday.
When Arfun Bewa died at 4 am at her residence, about 385 km to the north of Kolkata, there was anybody in the family to perform her last rites. Her only son, Nurul Islam, a migrant labourer, lives in Delhi.
Her neighbours, including some of the Hindus, came forward to help. They organised the rites and carried the body to the burial ground about a km away. Members of both communities offered soil to the deceased (al-Dafin) following custom.
“Arfun Bewa used to love us like her own son. I had lunch in her house several times. In my childhood, I used to play in her courtyard. It was my responsibility to arrange her last rites,” said Subhasish Chakraborty, a Brahmin who wears the sacred thread.
Chakraborty said the woman’s family is very poor. Her son lives far away and her daughters were married in poor families. “It was not possible for them to organise the last rites,” he added.
Despite its notoriety for being a hub of fake currency trade and illegal poppy cultivation, the district of Malda, located along the Indo- Bangladesh border, has offered lessons in spontaneous harmony quite a few times in the recent past.
In April 2017, Muslim youths at Sheikhpura village in the Manikchak block carried the body of their Hindu neighbour Biswajit Rajak, 35, for a good three km to the crematorium and even chanted “Hari Bol” (equivalent of Ram Naam Satya Hai) following Hindu tradition.
In November last year, Muslims at Khanpur village came to the rescue of a Hindu girl and contributed money to complete her marriage.
“In this part of Bengal, there are no divisions between Hindus and Muslims. Members of one community participate in religious celebrations of the other. We also participate in the last rites of the other community,” said Sayan Chunaria, a villager at Uttarpara.
“My brother is coming from Delhi and my elder sister, Jahanara, has set off from Jharkhand. Members of the Hindu community did almost everything before I could reach home. I have seen Brahmins carry the body of my mother,” said Rabina Bibi, younger daughter of the deceased.
“I have participated in the last rites of many Hindu neighbours. There is no wall that divides us,” said Bhujua Sheikh, a neighbour of Arfun Bewa.