At least eight persons have been charred to death in West Bengal in eastern India, allegedly to avenge the death of a village leader.
More than seven houses were locked up and set ablaze on Monday night in Birbhum district’s Rampurhat village after Bahadur Sheikh, a leader associated with the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) party, was found dead.
Fire department officials retrieved seven bodies from the houses, while one person succumbed to their injuries later in a hospital.
Local reports said that the victims of this unprecedented “revenge killing” included children and women, but authorities are yet to identify them.
Meanwhile, Anubrata Mondal, a TMC leader in Birbhum district, claimed that he was “told” the fire was caused by a “short circuit that led to an explosion in a television”.
Eleven people have been arrested so far in connection with the violence, while the state government led by Mamata Banerjee has formed a special team to investigate Monday’s carnage.
“An hour after the news of the murder of TMC leader Bahadur Sheikh last night, seven to eight nearby houses were set on fire,” said Manoj Malviya, the director-general of police. He added that two police officials who were in charge of the region have been suspended.
Sheikh, 38, was standing near a crossroads when four bike-borne assailants hurled crude bombs at him. He was taken to a local government hospital where he was pronounced dead upon arrival.
Politicians in the state sought action against the perpetrators of the mob violence.
Suvendu Adhikari, a legislator from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), called for “immediate central invention” while accusing the state government of manipulating and lowering the number of deaths.
Members of the BJP staged a walkout from the state’s assembly after they were prohibited from raising the killings on the floor of the House.
Opposition members also demanded that Ms Banerjee resign from her position.
In a video message on Twitter, governor Jagdeep Dhankhar extended his condolences to the bereaved families, while condemning the “horrific barbarity”.
“Considerably pained and disturbed at the horrifying, barbarity at Rampurhat… This is indicative of the nosediving of law and order of the state. I have emphasised on several occasions that we cannot allow the state to be synonymous with violence culture and lawlessness,” he said.
There has been a spike in political violence in West Bengal since the state’s local elections in 2021. The latest attack came just days after two politicians, one from the TMC and another from the Congress party, were shot dead after winning local body elections.