KOLKATA:Communal tensions have rocked the South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal over the past three days leading to destruction of homes, shops and crops.

Reports say the murder of a religious leader sparked violent clashes in the Canning sub division of the district. Maulvi Rohul Kuddus of Ghutiyari Shariff was returning from Jaamtala Haat on the night of February 18 when an unidentified gang fired at him. One of his aides Abdul Wahab who was riding pillion on the motorcycle escaped with minor injuries but Maulvi Kuddus died on the spot.

His body was discovered the following morning. By the time police arrived at the scene, Abdul Wahab had informed some people about the incident. Soon, shops and homes in Gopalpur, Naliakhali, Goladogra and Herobhanga were ransacked by a mob. Hindus living in the area were attacked and their homes burnt down. The cops tried to restore calm but the arsonists did not spare even police vehicles. Two senior police officers were injured.

The protesters blocked the roads at Bhangankhali, Priyor More and Natunhat. As the situation spiraled out of control, Rapid Action Force personnel were deployed in the district. Villagers reported that several of the attackers were brought in trucks from other parts of state. Residents of Naliakhali said that a large number of outsiders damaged their temple and five women were molested.

The villagers alleged inadequate response by the police to the intruders as they were grossly outnumbered. They now blame the administration for lack of response and relief measures after the clashes.

The police have so far arrested 46 people from the surrounding areas. The probe into the alleged murder of Ruhul though is yet to make headway. Curfew has been imposed. The bigger worry for the administration though is to scotch rumours that the violence in Canning has led to sporadic clashes in other parts of the state.

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has appealed for calm. “I appeal to the people to keep the peace at any cost. I assure that administration will take necessary actions against the culprits. Government will start a special investigation on this murder case and find out the real facts whether any groups was behind it or not,” she urged.

Muslim leaders have alleged that from the past few years Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Hindu Sanghati workers have been continuously campaigning in the area and spreading hatred against Muslims in the South and North 24 Parganas.

Four months ago, Maulana Rejaul Karim was shot dead in Hatuganj under the diamond Harbour police station of South 24 Parganas, where too local residents had pointed fingers at the VHP and RSS workers. Police, however, has so far not been able to trace the real culprit or the motive behind the murder. With the murder of another Muslim cleric in the same district, the region is on boil now.