Guest Post by Samriddhi Sakunia
“I am 44 years old and to date, I haven’t seen this level of violence in my life. There is nobody who is ready to take responsibility for whatever is happening here”, said Abdul Mannan, a businessman in Kailashahar, Tripura.
For 9 days anti-Muslim violence-ravaged Tripura, the Northeastern state of India. But neither the government nor the ‘mainstream’ media wanted to treat it with the seriousness it demanded. Muslims in different parts of Tripura have been facing communal violence by mobs led by the affiliates of the ruling party. The violence was and is being sought to be naturalized by calling it a response to the violence against Hindus in Bangladesh.
It all started on 21st October when a video surfaced over the internet where a mob in the militant Hindutva outfit, the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad), with swords, stones, and sticks in their hands took out a rally against the killings of Hindus in Bangladesh. After that rally, Tripura saw massive violence against the Muslims in the State. Neither did such rallies nor did the violence against Muslims stop after 21st October. After the video went viral all over social media, reports started pouring about several mosques getting vandalized and a sense of fear gripped the Muslims in Tripura.
If you scan the pages of the mainstream newspapers or the TV coverage of that period it would appear that there was nothing wrong with Tripura. It shows however what is wrong with us, our media and the government.
Here is the timeline of the anti-Muslim violence which was first denied by the police and then later presented as routine violence:
On 21st October the house of a very renowned advocate, Abdul Basit Khan was completely destroyed and vandalized in Dharamnagar. All his work-related documents were torn apart, his house was completely destroyed, the television was on the floor, fully broken and windows and doors were destroyed as well. house this very day when Mr. the house of Mr. Basit was destroyed, Vishwa Hindu Parishad had taken out a rally in the evening.
On 22nd October members of the Bajrang Dal held a meeting at around 2:30 pm in the afternoon. Post that meeting, a crowd of approximately 150 people gathered at the Pal bazaar’s mosque vandalizing the mosque, burnt the Quran, the holy book of Islam. After a while, when everything was disrupted by the mob, police arrived at the place but by then the mob had already dispersed.
The very same night, another group of unidentified men reached Chomuni Bazaar, a locality where Muslim families reside. As soon as they gathered there, they started pelting stones on the houses of Muslims and chanted slogans like “Jai Shri Ram”. After facing these incidents for the whole night, people (on 23rd October) from that locality started to leave their homes out of fear and panic and relocate to places they thought were safer for them and their families.
“If Hindus in India unite, Muslims who constitute 15% of the population will not be able to survive for even 15 minutes,” rally leaders told the crowd. Dharmanagar, the second-largest urban locality in Tripura, was shaken up by the war cries of “Jai Sri Ram” and “Jai Bhavani”.
Between 24th and 25th October, a series of incidents took place which didn’t get much media attention. A piece of pork was thrown at Chandrapur’s mosque by members of Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal as claimed by the locals. Few mosques in the Sephaijhila district were vandalized and things inside of the mosques were destroyed as well.
After the 24th and 25th October, Police started to impose section 144 in the violence-affected areas and heavy deployment of police was done in parts of the state.
After a lot of security from the police and section 144 being imposed in different parts, people were actually started hoping for the violence to come to an end and see some peace among the communities. But that turned out to be a far-fetched dream when on 26th October, members of Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal took out yet another rally that continuously chanted “Masjid Todo” (break the mosques) leading to mob vandalizing the Chamtila Masjid in Panisagar area. After destroying this mosque, they then tried to move to the Roa area. locals claim that they got the information that the mob was approaching Roa to destroy another mosque. The Muslims present there stood together to guard and safeguard the Mosque. Upon seeing the Muslims guarding the mosque, the mob changed its way and burnt 5 shops that belonged to Muslims.
27th October was one day in that one week of violence when Tripura saw a bit of silence in the state but that silence haunted people and gave them a hint of something major that was going to happen in the state(as claimed by locals)
The update on 27th October:
21 confirmed incidents of hate crime in the past one week.
15 different incidents where mosques were vandalized.
3 mosques completely destroyed in remote areas.
0 arrests were made.
On 28th October, the Muslim community was all ready to take out a rally against the communal violence in the state but due to some changes in the plan the rally was canceled which resulted in a little bit of tension with the police imposing section 144 in that area.
On 29th October, at around 5:30 pm evening, Shibhaji Deb, a member of the ABVP in Kailashahar college.was stabbed by an unidentified person during an argument near Kailashahar police station. After this incident one madrasa teacher, Afroz Ali was attacked by some unidentified people in Kailashahar town, and a shop owned by Akbar Ali in Paiturbazar, Kailashahar was also burnt. After this, Muslim youths vandalized a Kali Mandir in that area.
On 30th October, after the news broke out to the world and spread all over the news channels of the targeted violence against Muslims in Tripura, the Tripura High Court took sup-motto cognizance of the same. The High court ordered the state government to submit a detailed report on the incidents that took place since 21st October by November 10. Orders were also given to take strict action against those who have been peddling fake news on social media.
Moving ahead, on 31st, a team of some lawyers and representatives of some human rights organizations started its visit to the violence-hit areas. It met the aggrieved parties and gathered facts on the nature of the violence. The team claimed that to the violence was to further the political interest of the Bhartiya Janta Party. Their Probe revealed that protests were held at 51 places in Tripura on the pretext of protesting attacks on Hindu minorities in Bangladesh. Violence started during the demonstrations Properties were burnt and an atmosphere of fear was created targetting particularly Muslims.
“I think the reason for being attacked is because I am a Muslim and president of Trinamool Congress Party”
Advocate Abdul Basit Khan is a well-renowned lawyer in Dharmanagar whose house was vandalized on the day Vishwa Hindu Parishad took out a rally against the anti-minority violence in Bangladesh.
“On 21st October, I was in Agartala, the capital city of Tripura for work-related purposes, and luckily or coincidentally I would say my other family members were also not in the house. At around 4:00 in the evening, Vishwa Hindu Parishad took out a rally and I knew that the rally was in my area but I was not at home, so I did not care much. As I returned home at around 7 in the evening, I was shocked to see my whole house destroyed ”, said Mr. Basit.
Continuing the narration he said, “They left nothing at all. They destroyed my house from all sides. My work-related files were all on the floor torn apart; the windows and doors were destroyed too, they broke my television and air conditioner as well. In short, they vandalized my whole house. I was informed that they came to my area, did nothing to disturb the mosque in my area, they just came to vandalize my house and nothing else”
Mr. Basit claims that he has incurred a loss of more than Rs.12-15 lakh.
Recalling the past violence that he has been a victim of and how this has become routine by Vishwa Hindu Parishad, he says, “This isn’t for the first time, I have been attacked or such attack on houses have taken place. Vishwa Hindu Parishad, in the past, has vandalized Trinamool Congress’s Party office as well. I had an idea that there was propaganda against me going on, I knew that I would be attacked.”
On 22nd October Mr. Basit filed an FIR against unidentified people who were in the rally for having vandalized his house but no action has been taken so far against any culprit
“I am 44 years old and to date, I haven’t seen this level of violence in my life”
“Keeping in view what happened in Bangladesh against the minorities, these people are creating violence here and its violence everywhere in the state. On 26th October, I went to Agartala for some work and when I returned I saw and locals informed me that my house was stone pelted when I was not at home”, said Abdul Mannan.
Abdul Manna is a businessman whose family has been a victim of incidents back to back after the whole violence broke out in the parts of Tripura. On 17th October night, a few days after violence broke out in Bangladesh, Mannan found an orange flag hung on his house’s door. Orange flag is a symbol of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal’s group.
“On 17th October I was in Agartala for work but as I returned home late at night, I saw the orange flag hanging on my door. I didn’t touch it and called the police the next morning. I didn’t make any big issue out of that incident and just let it go. Police came, took pictures, saw the CCTV footage, took out the flag and left”, said Mr. Mannan.
Things looked normal after the incident on the 17th for me and my family. He and his family tried going back to their lives but fear and sense of tension in the environment seemed to bother them until 26th October when things really took a pace for them and others in the area as well.
“On 25th midnight which is 26th October, some unidentified people started pelting stones on my house and continued doing that for a couple of hours. My house is built of glasses and the next morning as the sun rose, people started to see the broken glasses strewn all around. I called up the police; they checked the CCTV cameras and identified the man who was responsible for this crime. His name is Mantus Saptakar, he along with a bunch of men threw stones at my house. It’s been days, the police haven’t caught the culprits”, added Mr. Mannan.
After this, section 144 was imposed in the area of Kailashahar.
“They burnt my shops and I am the sole earning member in my family”
On 26th another rally was organized In North Tripura’s Panisagar. Hindu mob who organized the rally rushed towards Chamtila with an intention to again vandalize the properties of Muslims. The violent mob went on a rampage at Chamtila mosque and destroyed the mosque and interiors of it as well.
After the attack on Chamtila mosque, the mob then rushed to Roa area, the attackers targeted Muslim families, entered their houses, and ransacked the belongings. The group also set fire to about 5-8 shops in that area and all owned by Muslim men.
Amir Uddin is one of the 8 shop owners whose shops were burnt down by the mob. Amir Uddin had 3 shops in total, 2 were shops, and 1 was the godown to keep all the stocks.
“I am the sole earning member in the family, I have 13 members in the family and now I don’t have any idea how I will survive and save my family. I was standing in front of my shops, seeing them turned to ash.”, says Amir Uddin.
Amir Uddin used to sell groceries and tobacco in his other shop to make his living. He claims that while the mob wanted to demolish the mosque in the Roa area, they couldn’t do it because Muslims were guarding the mosque, and hence, the mob burnt down 5-8 shops.
“I have incurred a loss of more than 10 lakh. I had fully restocked my shop with items because the festival season was approaching. They burnt both the shops and looted the godown which had the stock. I have seen my shop burn and I don’t know how and what to feel any more”, added Mr. Uddin.
Another two shops burnt down were of Nizamuddin and Amir Hussain. Nizamuddin’s shop was of ration goods and stationary. He has a family of 8 people and this shop was the only source of income. Everybody whose shops were burnt down has now filed an FIR against the culprits but no action has been taken.
“We await justice”
“They broke the Mosque, burnt down doors windows and our holy book, Quran”
On 22nd October members of Bajrang Dal held a meeting at around 2:30 pm in the afternoon. Locals claim that Sudhanshu Das, the MLA of Fatikroy constituency was also present while the meeting was being held. However, The Leaflet(?) couldn’t verify the claims made by the locals as there is no video or whatsoever evidence to back this claim. Post that meeting around a crowd of 150 people gathered at the Pal bazaar’s mosque and started to vandalize the mosque, burnt the Quran, the holy book of Islam.
Saidul, a neighbor who stays just beside the mosque which was burnt in Panisagar area shares the horrifying experience of the violence he and his family experienced that day.
“More than 150 people gathered in front of the mosque late in the evening with sticks and stones in their hands. We locked ourselves in our home to save our family from being a victim. I cannot be sure but I think the disruption of the mosque continued till late that night. In the morning when I went outside to see the condition, the mob was already gone and police were at the site”, added Saidul.
As Saidul went inside the mosque to get a sense of what had happened the previous night, he saw everything was disrupted, though the mosque wasn’t burnt down. Everything else was fully destroyed. “Our holy book, the Quran was burnt, the door and windows were broken and they even broke the ceiling of the mosque”.
“Police being less in number failed to take control over the situation and in front of eyes they burnt my shop”
Nizamuddin, the owner of stationary of shop which was burnt down by Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal rally on 26th October along with 4 other shops informed me how the mob with ill intentions in front of the police burnt down his whole shop.
“I was at my shop. The VHP and Bajrang Dal had announced 3 days ago that they were going to do a rally in Panisagar. On 26th, we heard that they had already vandalized Chamtila masjid on their way and were headed towards us. We were there to protect the masjid, but when they saw us, they instead attacked our shops.”
He added, “The police were there but they were very less in number. The administration did not send reinforcement. I lost my stock worth at least Rs10 lakh.”
The team consisting of some Supreme Court lawyers and others who went on a fact-finding mission told me that they will soon release its detailed report in Delhi which will be then sent to President, CJI, Union Home Secretary, NHRC.
On 3rd November, Tripura Police lodged FIR against two members of Tripura fact-finding team: Advocate Mukesh Kumar and Advocate Ansaar Indori under UAPA and 7 sections of Indian Penal Code for social media posts on Tripura violence. They have been asked to delete “fabricated & false” statements& appear before the police on 10/11/2021. Advocate Ehtesham Hasmi confirmed that while two of the team members have received the notice, they are trying to figure a way out for future course of action because they are sure that other two might also receive the notice in coming days.
Tripura Police has also lodged 5 criminal cases against 71 persons who posted ‘provocative’ posts on social media. Tripura Police has been asked to submit an affidavit before the Tripura High Court on 10/11/2021. Police have also claimed that they made 4 arrests so far about who has created the violence.
(Samriddhi Sakunia, a journalist with HW News Network. She writes on Health, Education, Hate crimes and human rights.)