On October 8, 2019, a family of three – Bandhu Prakash Pal, his pregnant wife and 8-year-old child – was hacked to death in West Bengal’s Murshidabad. A construction worker, Utpal Behara, has been booked for the crime. Behara had reportedly entered the victims’ house armed with a knife. The police have stated “financial dispute” as the motive behind the murders. However, the past week leading up to the arrest was marred with misinformation. Several attempts were made to add communal and political colours to the crime.
BJP politicises the murder
Initial local reports carried details of the primary investigation where the police were hinting at personal enmity as the possible motive behind the murders. According to Anandabazar Patrika, the family was killed at around 12 pm on October 8 by an unidentified man who had entered the victims’ home with a knife. The cops initially suspected that a dispute over property triggered the murders. To them, the crime seemed like an “act of revenge”.
A Bengali report in The Indian Express also stated that the police were investigating the possibility of a known person’s hand behind the heinous crime.
Less than two days later, the BJP appended a political angle. Attacking West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, BJP MLA Babul Supriyo tweeted, “Does mother, land and people mean anything to you?”
बंगाल किस तरफ बढ़ रहा है?? #MamataBanerjee आपके लिए ‘माँ, माटी,मानुष’ कोई मायने रखते भी है क्या? क्या यही बंगाल चाहिए था हमें? जहां हम दुर्गा और काली माँ की उपासना करते है और दूसरी तरफ एक माँ को उसके बच्चे समेत मौत के घाट उतार दिया जाता है।#WestBengalhttps://t.co/ksnGHMbIrQ
— Babul Supriyo (@SuPriyoBabul) October 10, 2019
Newly-inducted BJP member and MP Gautam Gambhir suggested that the family was linked to the RSS. “Hope that assoc[iation] with RSS does not deter @MamataOfficial from taking action,” wrote the former cricketer.
An entire family incl an 8 year old boy killed in the most inhuman & barbaric way. Law&order in Bengal has deteriorated so much that massacres are now being carried out with absolute impunity.Hope that assoc with RSS does not deter @MamataOfficial from taking action #Murshidabad
— Gautam Gambhir (@GautamGambhir) October 11, 2019
Another BJP MP from West Bengal Arjun Singh directly blamed the TMC for the murder of an ‘RSS’ worker.
इस बार #tmc गुंडों ने बंधुप्रकाश,उनकी गर्भवती पत्नी और बेटे की हत्या कर दी।उनका गुनाह – आरएसएस कार्यकर्ता होना।जय श्री राम का नारा सुनकर गाड़ी से उतर चिल्लाने और धमकी देने वाली मुख्यमंत्री @MamataOfficial क्यों खामोश हैं इस पर?बंगाल तालिबानी शासन की तरफ बढ़ रहा है।#bengal pic.twitter.com/xei085rCiE
— Arjun Singh (@ArjunsinghWB) October 10, 2019
BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya also attacked the Mamata Banerjee government.
इससे ज्यादा जघन्यता क्या होगी?
मुर्शिदाबाद (प.बंगाल) में #RSS के कार्यकर्ता श्री प्रकाश पॉल, उनकी गर्भवती पत्नी और 8 साल के बच्चे की नृशंस हत्या कर दी गई! जहाँ आम आदमी की जान सुरक्षित न हो, उस राज्य की कानून व्यवस्था को अच्छा कैसे माना जाए?
ये क्या हो रहा है दीदी आपके राज में? pic.twitter.com/WqGLtZwOt3
— Kailash Vijayvargiya (@KailashOnline) October 10, 2019
The party’s state president Dilip Ghosh, national spokesperson Sambit Patra and BJP Mahila Morcha national social media head Priti Gandhi were among the other BJP members who introduced a political angle to the crime.
Social media gives communal overtones
Social media users also did not deter from adding their own versions to the incident – a Muslim perpetrator link to the crime. The founder of fake news portal Postcard News, Mahesh Vikram Hegde, claimed that ‘peacefuls’ lynched an ‘RSS karyakarta’ in West Bengal. ‘Peacefuls’ is a derogatory term used to refer to Muslims.
In Mamata Banerjee’s West Bengal, Peacefuls lynched:
* 35 yr old Bandhu Prakash Pal
* His six year old son Angan
* His 8 month pregnant wife Mondal Pal
* Bandhu Prakash was an RSS Karyakartha
But this is not lynching/intolerance because
* ONLY HINDUS WERE KILLED pic.twitter.com/TnHqNy77eP
— Mahesh Vikram Hegde (@mvmeet) October 10, 2019
Several users followed by the office of railway minister Piyush Goyal also brought in communal overtones to the murders. One Rakesh Krishnan Simha (@ByRakeshSimha) wrote that a ‘jehadi mob’ murdered an unborn baby in Murshidabad.
This beautiful family of a primary school teacher was brutally murdered yesterday along with an unborn baby by a jehadi mob in Murshidabad, Bengal. The deceased:
1. Prakash Pal
2. His pregnant wife
3. His 6 year old son pic.twitter.com/i1rIfUgbMv
— Rakesh Krishnan Simha (@ByRakeshSimha) October 9, 2019
Madhu Kishwar alluded a hate crime, suggesting that the large Muslim population of Murshidabad was somehow connected to the murders.
Not strangled but brutally hacked to death in Bengal as their bodies clearly show. They were living in heavily Muslim majority area. If only they were Muslim, their deaths would have been etched in world history like that of Pehlu Khan https://t.co/qhBP7qAEOT
— MadhuPurnima Kishwar (@madhukishwar) October 10, 2019
Another user tweeted ‘radical Islam’ while claiming that an RSS worker was slain in Bengal.
A RSS Swayamsewak was killed along with his pregnant wife and 8 years old son in #Murshidabad
Today a Hindu, tomorrow a Christian Buddhisth Yahudiyo & all others😡
— 🇮🇳🚩ॐ राहुल पटेल ॐ🚩🇮🇳 (@RAHUL9262514) October 10, 2019
A parody account of journalist Pushpendra Kulshrestha, infamous for spreading misinformation along communal lines, tweeted, “We are defamed even for cutting a lemon. They kill an entire family and no one talks about it.”
हम नींबू भी कुचल दें, तो हो जाते है बदनाम।
वो पूरे परिवार को रेत दें, तो भी चर्चा नहीं होती।।
ध्यान रहे.. आप भी कतार में है। #मुर्शिदाबाद_हत्याकांड
— Pushpendra Kulshrestha (@Nationalist_Om) October 13, 2019
A user Judhajit Senmazumdar (@Judhajit_S) followed by the office of Piyush Goyal shared images of a ‘shradhanjali’ offered in the child’s name in California. Tweeting with the hashtag ‘Ram Mandir Nirman’, he wrote that the child’s sacrifice will not be wasted.
Sacrifice of that 8 years old kid and his bereaved family from #Murshidabad will not go waste! Yes, it has shaked the world & no wonder 100s joined hand at the heart of California to condemn and offer Shradhanjali!@KailashOnline @BJP4Bengal pic.twitter.com/ffIh3vgoZL
— Judhajit Senmazumdar (@Judhajit_S) October 16, 2019
Media gives credence to political and communal fervent
Most media outlets carried reports which furthered the unverified ‘RSS’ angle. Incidentally, initial reports of the crime did not mention the victim’s alleged political affiliation but the same was highlighted only after the BJP made the assertion more than 24 hours after the crime was committed.
An October 10 report by ANI merely said, “In a gruesome incident, three people, including a child, were murdered by unknown miscreants in their house on Thursday in Jiyaganj area of Murshidabad…The investigation into the matter is underway.”
However, a subsequent report by the news agency referred to Pal as ‘RSS worker’.
India Today had published a PTI report on October 9 with no mention of Pal’s purported political links, however, an independent report published by the news organisation the next day carried the unconfirmed claim by BJP as a fact.
The reportage by India Today’s Aaj Tak, however, took it a step further. The channel broadcast a discussion on – ‘Will Bengal’s politics be designed with the blood of children? Red with blood, Didi’s Bengal!”
— रोहित सरदाना (@sardanarohit) October 10, 2019
Several other news organisations gave credence to unverified claims – Hindustan Times, The Lallantop, India TV, Swarajya, Navbharat Times, Jansatta, The Frontline, DNA, Outlook, Prabhat Khabar, Oneindia and Nai Dunia. Right-wing website Opindia also carried a story with similar assertions.
Hateful tweets by journalists
Vikas Bhadauria’s tweet on the incident contained graphic imagery hence was taken down by Twitter. The ABP News journalist, however, construed this as ‘lynching’ of his right to expression. Bhadauria was defending a tweet where he had claimed that the triple murder was a hate crime, committed in an area with negligible Hindu population.
.@TwitterIndia is muzzling my pen and journalistic freedom. It has forced me to delete my tweet on the gruesome murder of RSS worker in Murshidabad, an incident reported widely in media. My account was restored conditionally. This is nothing but lynching my right to expression. pic.twitter.com/Y0GmuSP4t2
— Vikas Bhadauria (ABP News) (@vikasbha) October 11, 2019
India TV’s executive editor Sushant Sinha also portrayed the murders as a hate crime. In a tweet which garnered nearly 10,000 likes, Sinha attacked certain sections of the citizenry who, as per the journalist, would be unaffected by the death of the child and celebrate the death of his parents. “They won’t see the dead body of a child but that of a Sanghi…They would be happy seeing the corpses of the entire family covered in blood,” wrote Sinha.
जिन लोगों के लिए ॐ लिख देने से विमान हिन्दू हो सकता है उनके लिए संघ से जुड़े व्यक्ति का मासूम बेटा भी संघी ही होगा।और जितनी नफ़रत उनके दिलों में भरी है,उन्हें बच्चे का शव नहीं एक संघी का शव दिख रहा होगा।कुछ तो खून से लथपथ पूरे परिवार के शव को देखकर अंदर से खुश होंगे#Murshidabad
— Sushant Sinha (@SushantBSinha) October 10, 2019
After West Bengal police clarified that the murders were not linked to any political or communal angle, editorial director of Swarajya R Jagannathan questioned the investigation. This came despite the statements of the victims’ family being in tandem with those of WB police.
Why would you want to believe tje WB police when you would not do so for the same police in say UP? https://t.co/3wIjsSWfMD
— R Jagannathan (@TheJaggi) October 10, 2019
Attacks on liberals
The incident also drew sharp criticism for ‘liberals’. Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad wrote, “Hope liberals will find it ghastly enough to empathize with the bereaved family.”
Deeply condemn this barbaric act of murder of RSS worker, his wife and child in West Bengal.
Hope liberals will find it ghastly enough to empathize with the bereaved family if not condemn and criticise it outrightly. https://t.co/18cGTJtC1w
— Ravi Shankar Prasad (@rsprasad) October 10, 2019
Times Now broadcast a show targetting the 49 celebrities who had written an open letter to the Prime Minister, expressing concern over mob lynching in the country.
Man, his pregnant wife & son butchered in @MamataOfficial‘s Bengal.
49 celebs slam ‘saffron terror’, but now sit in total silence.
— TIMES NOW (@TimesNow) October 10, 2019
Republic TV’s Major Poonia also called upon liberals.
RSS member,his pregnant wife & 8 yr kid brutally murdered in Murshidabad,Bengal
-Sickular leaders r silent ?
-No intolerance/Lynching debates ?
How come death of Hindus is less painful than death of a Muslim/other religion ?
Aren’t they HUMAN🤔?
Every-life Counts ! pic.twitter.com/huu9J7j3pp
— Major Surendra Poonia (@MajorPoonia) October 10, 2019
Those critical of the government were attacked by social media users as well. The Twitter handle Friends of RSS (@friendsofrss) which is followed by top leaders of the BJP, including the PM Modi, wrote, “Will the Award Wapsi gang and the intellectuals who have coined the word lynching say something?”
मुर्शिदाबाद में RSS के स्वयंसेवक बंधु प्रकाश, उनकी गर्भवती पत्नी और बच्चे को गला रेत कर मार दिया गया। वे कौन लोग थे वो जिन्होंने 8 साल के बच्चे को भी नहीं बख्शा? क्या इस निर्ममता पर अवार्ड वापसी गैंग और लिंचिंग शब्द गढ़ने वाले बुद्धिजीवी कुछ बोलेंगे? pic.twitter.com/mnTeuyP9HQ
— Friends of RSS (@friendsofrss) October 9, 2019
What does the police investigation say?
In an October 11 Twitter thread, West Bengal police had clarified, “Prima facie it seems to be a case of personal enmity and it has nothing to do with politics.”
CID has been asked to get associated with investigation. Prima facie it seems to be a case of personal enmity and it has nothing to do with politics.(3/3)
— West Bengal Police (@WBPolice) October 11, 2019
The police had also mentioned that Pal was in “serious financial crisis.”
Subsequently, media reports came pouring in that the family has denied RSS links. India Today also reported that Pal’s brother-in-law, Diptiman Sarkar, said that an RSS member offered him financial help however he rejected the man’s assistance and told him that his brother-in-law was never associated with any political party.
After the family’s statements, the BJP was on the back foot over the triple murder. The party’s state chief Dilip Ghosh denied that he ever said that the murders had a political motive. Days before, Ghosh had tweeted, “…political violence continues unabated even during Durga Puja.”
After a week-long investigation, West Bengal police arrested Utpal Behara from Bandhu Prakash Pal’s hometown and ruled out any political angle to the crime. “According to police, Pal also worked as an insurance agent and 20-year-old Behra had bought two life insurance policies from him. Behra told his interrogators that Pal gave him the receipt for the first policy but was dodging to give the receipt for the second,” reported The Hindu. The police also claimed in a tweet that Behara confessed to his crimes.
Persistent and sincere investigation of the Jiaganj PS murder case of Murshidabad has resulted in a person confessing the crime and his arrest. He had financial transactions and animosity with the deceased person. Prayer of police custody is being made before the court..1/2
— West Bengal Police (@WBPolice) October 15, 2019
Misinformation continues unabated
The tragic murder of a family over a personal financial dispute was politicised by the TMC’s main opposition in West Bengal. BJP’s unverified claims were given credence by the media which also added communal fervent to the crime. Supporters of the party made massive attempts on social media to allude that the perpetrator was Muslim.
Incidentally, none of these online influencers, media organisations and politicians has posted clarifications on the premature, hateful assertions which were laid to rest by West Bengal police. In fact, a few have continued to propagate misinformation. A report by Swarajya post the details released by the police still refers to Bandhu Prakash Pal as ‘RSS worker’. A tweet Gaurav Pradhan continues to give the crime a communal colour by suggesting that the family was hatched to death because Pal objected to the construction of a mosque in the area.
FACT : Lebutola is surrounded by Muslims, besides his house there is 17 Katha land that they wanted to build Mosque. He wrote letters to stop. that got leaked. And the masjid committee hatched him to death full family
— #GauravPradhan 🇮🇳 (@DrGPradhan) October 15, 2019