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Vandalism, communal unrest: What’s happening in Tripura and why?

The state government alleged a few vested interest groups from outside Tripura were involved in a conspiracy to tarnish the government’s image and categorically denied reports of any mosque being set ablaze at Panisagar in North Tripura

Written by Debraj Deb , Edited by Explained Desk | Agartala |
Updated: November 2, 2021 12:36:53 pm
A paramilitary soldier patrols past a shop that was set on fire in Rowa village, about 220 kilometers from Agartala, in Tripura (AP)

Several Durga Puja pandals and temples in Bangladesh were vandalised on October 15 after social media posts showing a copy of the Quran placed at the feet of an idol went viral. In the weeks that followed, more communal violence and attacks on the members of the Hindu minority were reported in different parts of the country. To protest against these incidents, a few rallies were taken out by religious organisations in Tripura, some of which ended in clashes with the police and vandalism of houses, shops and shrines belonging to the minority community.

Incidents of violence

While Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina issued a terse warning against perpetrators of the violence on October 15 itself and her government arrested people involved in the incidents over the next few days, several social, cultural and religious organizations in Tripura – from both Hindu and Muslim communities – registered their protest and sent memoranda through Bangladesh Assistant High Commissioner’s Office in Agartala.

In protest against the vandalism in Bangladesh, rallies were taken out by organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Hindu Jagran Manch (HJM), among others. During some of these protest rallies, miscreants purportedly vandalised several houses, shops and mosques. Participants in a rally taken out by the VHP and the HJM at Udaipur in Gomati district on October 21 clashed with police as the latter denied them permission to enter localities with mixed populations apprehending law and order issues. Fifteen people including three policemen were injured in the incident. Similar rallies were taken out at Agartala in West Tripura, where a few miscreants allegedly damaged a CCTV camera in a mosque. At Dharmanagar in North Tripura, a 10,000-strong rally was taken out on October 21 by different organisations including the VHP and the HJM.

On October 26, a protest rally taken out by the VHP at Panisagar in North Tripura traversed different localities like Chamtilla, Jalebasha and Rowa Bazar. A section of the protesters allegedly vandalised a few houses and burnt some shops at Rowa Bazar. On the same day, some activists who had joined the rally allegedly vandalised a local mosque at Chamtilla village, around 800 yards from Rowa Bazar.

Later in the night, a large gathering of people showed up from minority dominated localities in Churaibari, near the Tripura-Assam inter-state boundary. The local administration dispersed the gathering through discussions. Restrictions on public movement were imposed under Section 144 at Panisagar and Dharmanagar to avoid further disturbances.

International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) members participate in a rally to protest against the alleged attack on Hindu community in Bangladesh, in Agartala (PTI)

Unidentified miscreants vandalised a local thatched-walled Kali temple at Kailashahar of Unakoti district on October 29 afternoon. Kailashahar police station officer in-charge Partha Munda said the perpetrators could not be identified but there was no tension as local Hindus and Muslims came together and rebuilt the temple’s thatched walls within a few hours.

What has the government said?

The state government has so far maintained there is no communal tension anywhere in Tripura and it has repeatedly appealed to people to maintain peace and stay away from rumours.

Minister for Information and Cultural Affairs Sushanta Chowdhury on Friday categorically denied reports of any mosque being set ablaze at Panisagar in North Tripura and alleged that a few vested interest groups from outside the state were involved in a conspiracy to tarnish the government’s image.

The minister added that police are thoroughly investigating the incident.

The chief minister has announced compensation for people affected in these cases of violence.

Rumour mongering

Rumours were circulating both online and offline over the past few days. While rumours were rife about arson attacks in mosques in North Tripura, rumours were also spread about idols and temples being vandalised in different parts of Tripura. On October 23, images of a broken Shiva idol went viral on social media and netizens sharing the post claimed that the idol was vandalised by ‘jihadis’. Police later said the Shiva idol, whose head was found broken, was in an abandoned place atop a local hillock, where one had to walk 45 minutes through thick vegetation to reach. They said there was no way to tell if it broke owing to natural causes or if it was broken and said the incident didn’t have any communal spillover in the locality.

A few days later, some people in Kamalasagar area of West Tripura district said an abandoned Kali idol was burnt by miscreants but police later dismissed the suspicions saying people often left burning candles in front of the idols after puja. The idol’s hair might have caught fire from the candles, police said. On October 26, videos claiming a mosque at Panisagar in North Tripura was set ablaze went viral on social media. Police later clarified the photos and videos were morphed and were not from Tripura.

Police warns against fake news

Tripura Police tweeted from their official handle late evening on Wednesday saying, “Certain persons by using fake social media IDs are spreading fake news/rumours on Tripura. It is informed that the law & order situation in the State is absolutely normal”. The police also tweeted that contrary to fake propaganda being spread by some netizens, no mosque was burnt at Panisagar in North Tripura.

“During yesterday’s protest rally in Panisagar, North Tripura, no masjid was burnt and the pictures being shared of burning or damaged masjid or collection of sticks etc are all fake and are not from Tripura…” the tweet read.

Tripura Police have requested people of all communities to not support and subscribe to such fake social media IDs and not spread fake pictures. “We have already registered cases and legal action will be taken against all those spreading fake news and communally-sensitive rumours,” a tweet said.

Key concerns

Tripura State Jamiat Ulama (Hind) and Tripura State Imams’ Committee – two important minority religious organizations in the state – have expressed concern that a “microscopic group of miscreants” was trying to create communal unrest and malign Tripura and the government’s image.

Submitting a memorandum to the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) on October 22, the Tripura State Jamiat Ulama (Hind) alleged different mosques and minority-dominated localities were being attacked. Seeking intervention from Chief Minister Biplab Deb and Director General of Tripura Police VS Yadav, the organisation’s state president, Mufti Tayebur Rahman, said people from the minority community in “distant areas” were scared to get out of their homes.

All Tripura Imams’ Committee said it has reports of attempts of vandalism in at least ten locations since the unrest in Bangladesh. Alleging administrative lapses in the recent incidents of alleged communal disturbances, religious leaders sought prompt action against anyone trying to create misunderstanding between communities in Tripura.

VHP Tripura chief Purna Chandra Mandal told indianexpress.com that his organistion has had no role in any sort of vandalism. He claimed a section of outsiders might have taken advantage of the huge number of activists who joined the protest rally organized by the VHP at Panisagar and created unrest. Mandal also claimed that a few youths from the minority community were armed and tried to provoke the rally.

Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) members stage a protest against Tripura violence outside the Tripura Bhawan, in New Delhi (PTI)

How have the political parties reacted?

Tripura’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Nabendu Bhattacharya on Wednesday accused the Communist Party of India (Marxist) of being involved in the incident. “We believe CPI(M) has a major role behind the recent incidents. Their main objective is to create unrest here.” Bhattacharya said his party was keeping contact with everyone, especially through the Minority Morcha, to ensure no further flare-ups occurred.

Opposition leader Manik Sarkar said, “Some condemnable incidents occurred during recent Durga Puja celebrations in Bangladesh. A few protests were organized by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) against those incidents in different parts of Tripura. Some provocative programmes are also being held in some places. The incident at Chamtilla in Panisagar under North Tripura is one such instance… I appeal to all sections of people in Tripura to make sure that the ancient Tripura tradition of communal unity and integrity is not disturbed in any way.”

Sarkar also requested police and the administration to take proactive action regarding such incidents.

Tripura ADC’s ruling TIPRA Motha party chief and royal scion Pradyot Kishore appealed for communal harmony in a video message on social media.

In the video, he said, “If anyone tries to divide Tripura on religion or spread communal disturbances, TIPRA Motha and I shall protest it.” He also warned people against falling prey to communal provocations on social media and said Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians should live together.

Tripura Democratic Front (TDF), a newly formed political party, has condemned the incidents of communal unrest and wrote to the Union Home Secretary and sought intervention from the Government of India.

AISA members stage a protest against Tripura violence outside the Tripura Bhawan, in New Delhi (PTI)

High Court intervenes

The High Court of Tripura on Friday admitted suo motu a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) based on press reports of the Panisagar incident and directed the state government to submit an affidavit within November 10 on its plan and preventive measures taken to scuttle the design of stoking communal passion or perpetrate violence.

Observing that the state owes its responsibilities to maintain law and order as well as provide citizens with the security to protect their life, livelihood and properties, the High Court commended the state government’s efforts in restoring peace and order but said the steps need to be expanded.

The High Court recommended the government to consider forming peace committees not only at district levels but also at sub-divisional and, if necessary, panchayat levels. It called upon all political parties to fully participate in the peace-making process.

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