KOLKATA, India (AFP) – Indian soldiers were called out to quell riots in Kolkata on Wednesday after thousands of stone-pelting protesters demonstrated against violence by the state government’s Marxist loyalists.
As street clashes that have killed one person continued into the evening, a strict night curfew was slapped on four areas of the city, police chief Gautam Mohan Chakraborty said.
“Free movement of the residents in these areas will be restricted,” said Chakraborty. “Even an individual will have to take permission to move out of his home.” The curfew runs from 10:00 pm (0430 GMT) to 6:00 am.
Police fought running battles with around 5,000 mainly Muslim demonstrators who threw stones and bottles and torched dozens of vehicles including an ambulance in the heart of the capital of communist-ruled West Bengal state.
At least one person was killed and 36 were injured in the clashes and more than 200 people were arrested, police said.
The protest was called by a Muslim group angered over violence in the state’s majority-Muslim Nandigram district, where 34 people have died and thousands have been left homeless since January.
The rural area was earmarked as a petrochemical hub for Indonesia’s Salim Group but protests by villagers, unwilling to give up their land, forced the government to scrap the plan.
Since then villagers on one side and communist party members and police on the other have been battling for control of the area.
The state’s ruling Marxists, allies of the central government, called out the troops in Kolkata after police fired tear gas to break up the protests.
“Six army columns have been called into the troubled area,” state Home Secretary Prasad Ranjan Roy told reporters.
“There is tension. Right now we have an uneasy calm,” city deputy police commissioner V.K Goyal told AFP. “We had to (earlier) resort to using baton charges and teargas shells,” he said.
Earlier this month, Marxist squads loyal to the state government “recaptured” Nandigram and were accused of murder and gang raping women when they muscled their way into Nandigram.
The violence has prompted a fierce debate over the human cost of setting up hundreds of special economic zones (SEZs) designed to lure foreign investment to India.
Some 60 percent of Indians depend on agriculture for their livelihood and farmland conversion is a political hot potato. The federal parliament in New Delhi saw noisy scenes over the issue for the third day running.
“The villages were deserted. Many people are in refugee camps,” opposition leader Lal Krishna Advani said in parliament.
“It was such a spectacle that I felt miserable,” he said of the area.
The All India Minority Forum, which called the Kolkata protest, said it was also demanding the expulsion of controversial Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen for “blasphemy against Islam.”
Nasreen has incensed conservative Muslims for writing the novel “Lajja” or “Shame”, depicting the life of a Hindu family facing the ire of Muslims in Bangladesh. The book is banned in Muslim-majority Bangladesh.
The author was forced to flee her homeland in 1994 after radical Muslims decried her writings as blasphemous and demanded her execution.