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Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Explained: Why cattle smuggling is a big issue in Tripura; how govt, civil society have reacted to lynchings

Three people were killed over suspicion of cattle-lifting in Tripura on Sunday, adding to a growing list of mob lynchings in the state in the past few years. A lowdown on Tripura's stories of mob violence and the reaction by the authorities to it.

Written by Debraj Deb , Edited by Explained Desk | Agartala |
Updated: June 22, 2021 8:15:51 am
Tripura hogged the limelight with a series of mob lynchings in 2018 over rumours of child kidnappers and kidney-smuggling rackets. (Representational Image)

Three people of Tripura’s Sepahijala district were lynched by irate mobs over suspicion of cattle-lifting at Khowai in the early hours of Sunday morning. Though the police said a few people were identified to have been involved with the incident, no one has been arrested yet.

Preliminary investigation so far has found 30-40 villagers on motorcycles had gathered to lynch the trio, the police said.

Meanwhile, human-rights activists, teachers, social workers, political leaders have all come together to condemn the incident. Many demanded a judicial probe and said people should not take law into their own hands even if the killed people were guilty.

This is not the first case of mob lynching in Tripura’s recent past, though.

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Recent cases of mob violence

Tripura hogged the limelight with a series of mob lynchings in 2018 over rumours of child kidnappers and kidney-smuggling rackets. A minister of the Biplab Deb cabinet made remarks about such a racket but later retracted his words. In the meantime, rumour-mongering had spread and a music teacher hired by the Department of Information and Cultural Affairs (ICA) to spread awareness on lynching crimes was dragged down from his publicity vehicle and killed. Two others, who had gone to visit Laxmibil village of Bishalgarh sub-division with their lady friends, were killed in the next few days as a mob mounted attack suspecting them to be ‘child-lifters’. The government had to suspend internet services for 72 hours.

In July, 2019, a person was lynched by a mob suspecting him to be a cattle-lifter at tribal village of Raishyabari in Dhalai district. An alleged thief was lynched at Kumarghat of North Tripura while another 29-year-old youth suspected of cattle theft was lynched at Gorurband village of Sepahijala district the same year.

In December 2020, a man suspected of theft was lynched at a market close to Govind Ballabh Pant (GBP) Hospital, the apex state-run healthcare facility of Tripura.

As the state continued to struggle with Covid-19 pandemic, a 55-year-old lorry driver was beaten to death in Tripura by some unidentified persons at Lalcherri village of Dhalai district in February this year.

Government reaction to mob lynchings

The incumbent government has pressed the police into action for arresting people involved in mob violence and framed rules for compensation to the victims’ families.

The BJP-led govt blamed opposition CPI(M) cadres and resorted to formal enquiries. Taking a cue from a Supreme Court order, the state government framed rules for implementing compensation for families of mob violence victims and passed the Tripura Lynching/Violence/Mob Violence Compensation Scheme, 2018.

The state government pays Rs 4 lakh to families of people who die in mob violence, Rs 2 lakh to those who were crippled with 80 per cent injuries, Rs 1 lakh in case of 40-80 per cent injuries, Rs 95,000 for damages to ‘pucca’ houses or shops, Rs 50,000 for damages to ‘kutchha’ houses or shops etc.

Are these all lynching cases?

Though all the cases were alleged to be mob lynching, the police feel not all of them are. Inspector general (law and order) of Tripura Police Arindam Nath told that while many of these cases were actually lynching incidents, a couple of them were where people tried to defend their livestock and property from thieves.

“Legally, it’s not lynching if someone is exercising their right to private defence in the night at their home. However, such cases have indeed increased recently. There might be cases where other crimes are tried to be passed off as mob lynching. We are investigating all angles”, the official said.

He also said that barring those involved in the kidney-smuggling racket scare that led to a series of lynchings in 2018, almost everyone guilty in the other incidents was arrested and produced before the court.

On Sunday’s incident at Khowai district, the official said the case involved habitual offenders, who earlier tried to mount attacks on the police during an operation. “Cows were stolen. However, it needs to be investigated if that is all in this case. People should not take the law into their hands at any cost,” he said.

Why is cattle-lifting a big issue in Tripura?

Tripura’s semi-porous border with Bangladesh is infamous for smuggling of contraband items and livestock. The state shares an 856-km long international border, parts of which are still unfenced in several patches. These patches are mostly in Sepahijala, Dhalai, North and South Tripura districts.

Before setting up barbed wire fences, cattle-lifting used to be a regular problem, especially in villages located near the border. However, smuggling rackets seem to be thriving as a BSF report from January this year cited 209 cattle were recovered from smugglers in the previous year along with other contraband items with a cumulative worth of more than Rs 41 crore.

Dhyan Foundation, a Delhi-based NGO running a shelter in Tripura, says they have around a hundred new animals coming in every month. Many of these cows are from other states, which might have been smuggled into Tripura before being taken to Bangladesh.

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How people have reacted to lynchings

While the police said many of the ‘lynching’ cases involved actual thefts, human right activist and senior advocate Purushottam Roy Barman denied the claim outright and said this is a ‘mere assumption’. He condemned the incidents and demanded a judicial enquiry and Rs 10 lakh compensation from the government for families of each victim killed by the mobs at Khowai.

Barman, who heads the Tripura Human Rights Organization (THRO), blamed the state government for failing in spreading sufficient awareness.

Leader of the opposition Manik Sarkar condemned the mob violence at Khowai in a statement and said, “It is anti-human, anti-law and anti-civilization. We condemn the incident. If those three were accused of theft, they should have been handed over to the police. I appeal to the chief minister to conduct a high-level inquiry and identify the culprits”.

Sarkar also said that the police administration has grown weak in the BJP-IPFT rule, owing to which such incidents have occurred.

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