Eleven mosques, six shops and two homes were damaged in the northeastern state of India – Tripura – in response to attacks in Durga puja mandaps in Bangladesh by Muslim activists. The communal riots in Panisagar, North Tripura district were a result of Hindu nationalist organisations attempting to gain advantage from the attacks on Durga puja mandaps in Bangladesh and communally polarize the situation for electoral benefits. The state government was duty bound to check the ongoing attempts towards communal polarization, however, it neglected its duty until it was too late. Noting that the attacks on mosques were not resulting in communal polarization, and it resulted in adverse publicity in international media, the state police initially denied that any mosque was damaged. The state government belatedly warned that strict action would be taken against those indulging in communal incidents. Instead of taking action on the rioters, the state took strong action on the journalists and peace activists who were reporting the violations.
Causes of forming Fact Finding Team:
Since second week of October, Tripura the third smallest state located in the north eastern region of India has been in the news for witnessing a series of communal incidents where the shops and mosques of Muslim inhabitants had been vandalized by the right wing organizations subscribing to the Hindu nationalist political ideology. The news was disturbing not only for the people of Tripura but also for the entire country. The incidents attracted the attention of both national and international fora. As the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism documents cases of communal violence, a fact-finding team consisting of Adv. Irfan Engineer and Prof. Shahiuz Zaman Ahmed visited the places of communal incidents in Tripura from 9thto 12th of November, 2021 to study the situation and prepare a report. This report is prepared on the information the team gathered from the ground.
In order to collect information and first hand data the team visited the affected areas of Udaipur, Maharani, Panisagar, Kailashahar, Kamarghat and different corners of Agartala, the capital city of Tripura. We talked to the community representatives, journalists, activists, political leaders, academicians, police officers, and common people. We also visited the affected sites to prepare this report.
Background of the State:
Tripura is the third smallest state of India located in its northeastern region with a total population of 3,671,032. The state covers 10,491.69 km2 (4,050.86 sq mi) and shares its borders with Bangladesh to the north, south and west, and the Indian states of Assam and Mizoram to the east. Historically, Tripura, also known as Tippera, was a kingdom ruled by the Manikya dynasty for several centuries. During the British Indian government, Tripura was a protectorate and an independent princely state. As per Tripura Merger Agreement of 9th September, 1949 Tripura became a Part C of India. It became a Union Territory without legislature in November 1956 and an elected ministry was installed in July 1963. Tripura was conferred full-fledged statehood in 1971.Agartala, an attractive city to visit, is the capital of the state. According to 2011 census, Tripura is one of the most literate states in India with a literacy rate of 87.75%.
Historically, Tripura was a state primarily inhabited by the Tripuri Tribe, an indigenous community. The Manikya dynasty encouraged Bengali Hindus to help run the administration of their kingdom; while the Bengali Muslims were welcomed to cultivate the untilled agricultural land and help increase the revenue of the state. Bengali Muslims from peasant and laboring class once formed about 80% of the Bengali speaking people of the kingdom. In the 1941 census, the Muslim population was 24% in Tripura. After partition, a section of Muslim community, especially the wealthy Muslims migrated to East Pakistan, attracted by better prospects or and pushed by the circumstances and fear. One Umesh Singh, a Congress leader, worked enthusiastically and energetically to resettle the migrants, almost exclusively Hindus, from East Pakistan. In order to make space for their rehabilitation, he encouraged emigration of Muslims to East Pakistan. The Muslim population of the state came down from 24% in 1941 to only 6% in 1971. Muslims constitute 8.6% according to the 2011 Census.
Table – 1: Tripura Population by Religion
Immediately after the partition of India in 1947, hundreds of thousands of Bengali Hindus fled from East Pakistan to escape persecution and discrimination that prevailed there and settled down in Tripura. According to an estimate, between the 1947 and 1951 around 610,000 Bengalis, a figure almost equal to the state’s total population, poured into the state. Again after the Bangladesh Liberation War, 1971 around 1.038 million Bengali Hindus moved into various parts of Tripura as refugees settling down permanently. A considerable number of Muslim inhabitants of Tripura also migrated to East Pakistan and later Bangladesh, exchanging movable and immovable properties with the Bengali Hindus who preferred to settle down in Tripura fearing religious persecution. These waves of migration completely changed the demographic base of Tripura decreasing the number of Muslims to 8.6% and increasing the number of Bengali Hindus. The migrations in both directions reduced the indigenous Tripuris to a minority in their own state. Now the Bengali Hindus comprise nearly 60% of the state’s population, which is around 2.2 million whereas native Tripuris are 31% of the state population, which is around 1.2 million as of 2011 census. Gaining majority position in the state, the Bengali Hindus now enjoy a dominant position within the state politically as well as economically. The indigenous people resent being reduced to a minority, excluded politically as well as socio-economically. Political fault lines in Tripura were always along ethnicity between the indigenous people and Bengali speaking. In the year 1978, the Tripura National Volunteers or TNV was formed under the leadership of Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhawl. In the 1980s, TNV launched an armed struggle to demand a separate state for the indigenous people under Article 2 and 3 of the Constitution of India. The TNV surrendered in 1988, and in the year 2000, they formed Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra. In 1999 and 2000, there were series of ethnic riots in Limbuchura and Mandii targeting the Bengali people. The conflict still survives at subterranean level. The indigenous people are still looked down upon in market areas and they feel discriminated.
In spite of rapid demographic changes, the people of Tripura live in harmony. Except the post-independence riots of the country, which had little impact on Tripura, we do not hear any incident of communal violence in the state. 70% of the state’s area is under the Tripura Tribal Autonomous Area District Council (TTAADC), consisting of 7,132.56 sq. kms., whereas the indigenous Tripuri community, comprising of 19 tribal communities constitute 31% of total population. Twenty Assembly seats out of sixty are reserved for the indigenous people in Tripura. The TTAADC with 28 constituencies was formed in the year 1979 as resolution to the tribal demand of a separate state and violent agitation in the 1980s.The indigenous people still have a desire for greater Tipra Land with more powers than the TTAADC provides. The indigenous communities are now marginalized in the political field. The indigenous communities nurture a resentment against the Bengalis – irrespective of their religion – whom they see as outsiders who grab the resources that belong to them. Thus, political confrontations often take place in the state. About 4% of the indigenous people are Christians, and Mog and Chakma people are Buddhists. The Jamatiaclan of Tripuri people consider themselves as the defenders (armed force) of the Tripuri rulers. Their highest institution – Hoda – preserves their ancient culture and are easily amenable to the influence of the Sangh Parivar, sharing anti-Christian sentiments. The chief ministers have been mostly from the Bengali community. The first chief minister of Tripura in 1963 was Sachindra Lal Singh from the Congress Party and continued for more than 8 years. Next CM from Indigenous community was Dasrath Debbarma, from the CPI(M).
Tripura, since it was conferred statehood, was ruled mostly by Indian National Congress (INC) and the Left Front led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). INC ruled for more than seventeen years between 1963 and 1993. CPI(M) ruled the state most of the times i.e. for a period of more than thirty four years between 1978 and 2018. In 2018, the BJP came to the power.
Rise of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP):
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had very little influence in Tripura until they won the Assembly election in 2018. Since Narendra Modi and Amit Shah started leading the party from the front, the scenario started changing nationwide. Amit Shah publicly spoke about the goal of the BJP in Tripura was not only to depose the CPI (M) from power, but to uproot its base from the entire country. However, neither the BJP, nor the RSS and Sangh Parivar had a base, leaders or cadres in Tripura. There was also an opinion that incumbency of CPI(M), more particularly the Chief Minister Manik Sarkar for 20 years, worked against the Party. To defeat the Left Front in Tripura, which ruled the state for more than twenty-five years, the BJP caused defections from the Congress and other political parties. The BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ran massive door-to-door outreach activities since 2015. The BJP-RSS jointly raised the issue of unemployment and corruption, and talked about development. Their campaign call was ‘Chalo Paltai’ or ‘let us change’ (the Left Front government).
Further, to strengthen the base of BJP, the party successfully made an alliance with IPFT, which held a strong influence in over 20 ST (Schedule Tribes) constituencies with an assurance to them that their demand for Twipra land would be seriously considered. Above all, before the election of 2018, the BJP made some lucrative promises to attract the voters. The manifesto ‘Vision Document Tripura 2018’ said Special Economic Zones (SEZs) would be set up in the state for sectors like food processing, bamboo, IT and textiles. It promised employment to every household, free education for women until graduation, 7th pay commission salary to state government employees and free smart phones to the youths. All these attracted the voters and in the ensuing election, the BJP led alliance could increase its vote share from 1% to more than 41% winning the election and forming the government under the leadership of Biplab Kumar Deb, who was almost unknown to the people. Another factor contributed to the sudden rise of the BJP in Tripura. Until the West Bengal state Legislative Assembly elections were held in 2021, the media and the BJP propaganda blitzkrieg created an environment that it was only a matter of time and the TMC would be defeated whenever the next Legislative Assembly elections were held. The BJP won in 35 constituencies, its alliance partner IPFT won in 8 constituencies. The BJP on its own won majority and together with IPFT, it won more than 2/3rd majority of the seats. CPM won in 16 constituencies. The BJP led alliance won all the ST seats except in 2constituencies. The assurance on Twipra land played a major role in winning elections in the Scheduled Tribe reserved constituencies.
In spite of the sudden rise of the BJP in Tripura, the popularity of the BJP is now waning as quickly as it rose. The disillusionment of the indigenous people with the BJP and its alliance partner IPFT is obvious with their defeat in the TTAADC elections. For the indigenous people, the BJP is once again perceived as the party of Bengali people, reviving the Bengali-indigenous fault lines in Tripura. After the defeat of the BJP in the West Bengal election, the Bengali support also was on the decline. Hence, the dependence of the BJP on rule by instilling fear with strong-arm tactics and communal polarization.
Rise of Hindutva Ideology in the State:
Needless to say that the leaders of BJP are the followers of political ideology of Hindutva and profess to belong to the Sangh Parivar or the family of parent organization – the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).The other organizations of the family include the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Hindu Jagaran Manch, and the Bajrang Dal. Their political objective is to convert India in to a Hindu Rashtra. Until recently when the BJP won Assembly elections in 2018, these organizations did not have any base in the state. However, after the BJP formed the Government in Tripura, RSS and its sister organizations are becoming active with their cadres increasing manifolds. Their sudden and rapid growth was not because those joining their organizations subscribe to their political ideology. Those joining the ranks of the Sangh Parivar more often than not, wanted to avail the opportunities and promote self-interests through all means.
The BJP’s popularity is now falling rapidly as the promises of governance did not materialize. The ordinary people we talked to – including the Bengali Hindus, seemed disillusioned with the BJP and its lackluster performance. One of the indicators is the TTAADC elections held on 10 April 2021. The BJP and IPFT had swept in 18 out of 20 ST Assembly constituencies in the 2018 elections. However, out of the 28 constituencies of TTAADC, The BJP could win only in 9 constituencies and its ally – IPFT lost in all the 16 constituencies it contested. On the other hand, the recently formed “The Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance” (TIPRA) won in 16 constituencies out of 23 it contested and its alliance partner – the “Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra” (INPT) won two seats out of five it contested. TIPRA Motha was hastily formed by the Maharaja Kirit Pradyot Deb Barman and yet it could poll nearly 39% votes with its alliance partner, whereas the BJP alliance could poll little over 18% votes. Although the Left Front did not win in any constituency, they polled nearly 38% votes.
The Hindus were not and are not communal in Tripura even now. Members of both the communities freely mix with each other, including the college students. According to a journalist we talked to, even the Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb does not have communal attitudes. In 2018, almost all the important Congress Party leaders were lured to join the BJP. Until the 2018 elections, neither the Sangh Parivar, nor the BJP had any base in Tripura. According to a journalist, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) could not mobilize 50 persons in the entire Tripura before 2018. However, with the formation of the BJP government in Assam, VHP was trying to make some in roads into the North Tripura district and had gathered some meagre followers. One VHP leader – Purna Chandra Mandal from Silchar used to organize meetings with limited success. However, with the attacks on the Durga puja mandals in Bangladesh, the VHP saw an opportunity to exploit the situation, rouse Hindu emotions and communally polarize by organizing rallies with abusive slogans. We were informed that outsiders were mobilized in the rally to shout abusive slogans and indulge in violence. More about this later on.
Sensing the sudden dip in its popularity, the BJP is resorting to strong-arm tactics and its cadres are unleashing violence and intimidating every opposition on one hand, and the minorities on the other hand to intimidate them into submission. During our visit and from our interactions with the local people we could discern a tense and atmosphere of fear and intimidation against those who held views that were critical of the government or the ruling BJP. A reporter who did not want to be identified, told us that office of the Duronto, a popular TV channel in Tripura was attacked on 8th September 2021 to teach them a lesson for their live coverage of a well-attended CPI(M) rally. Duronto TV was attacked even in March 2018 soon after the victory of BJP at the hustings. When a VHP leader – Sonay Rai objected to the attack, they attacked nevertheless in the name of Hindu Jagran Manch.
On 8th September, the CPI(M) headquarters in the capital Agartala was vandalized and cars parked outside the office were set ablaze by the BJP cadres(Kundu, 2021). The CPI(M) office in Sepahijhala and Gomatipur districts were also attacked. The CPI(M) General Secretary tweeted that thousands of Party cadres were injured and the Party properties as well as houses of the Party leaders destroyed. Prof. Muana from Tripura University told us that Prof. Alok Bhattacharya, who is very popular in the Tripura University was targeted and Prof. Salim Saha’s house was burnt down because he was in CPI(M).
The BJP could win uncontested in seven out of twenty urban local bodies in Tripura. According to the Times of India report, in five of these urban local bodies, no opposition were allowed to file their nominations, while in two nobody except the BJP candidates could file their nominations in majority of the seats. The CPI(M), Congress Party, TMC and TIPRA Motha alleged that the BJP cadre indulged in large scale violence since the first day of filing nominations for the elections and they blocked their access to the office where nominations had to be filed. (Bhattacharjee, 2021)
Even though we were in Agartala close to the date when municipal corporation elections were to be held, we didn’t see a single poster or banner of any non-BJP candidate. Only BJP posters, flags and banners were noticeable in every nook and corner. As expected, the BJP swept the Municipal Corporation elections. The petitions challenging the election process and expressing apprehensions as to whether the elections would be free and fair were pending. A Hindu rickshaw puller we talked to told us that he would have to vote for the BJP candidate, even though he did not want to vote for the party as he had apprehensions about the consequences otherwise. Most people, including the CPI(M) cadres, whether Hindus or Muslims, pleaded with us not to disclose their identities in our reports out of fear, particularly if they were critical of the ruling BJP. The common people seemed to be repenting having voted for the BJP. They did not want their age-old communal harmony to be disturbed. We talked to people with wide range of opinions. However, on one issue they all agreed – there is no communal ill will among people of Tripura. As noted earlier, the socio-political mobilization in Tripura is along ethnic fault lines -between Bengalis and indigenous people, not along communal lines. There is strong Bengali solidarity, irrespective of religion. The Bengalis maintain their control over the socio-economic levers that are necessary to maintain their community’s control over political power.
Muslims and the BJP Government in Tripura
As pointed out above, Muslims are 8.6% of Tripura’s population. The rich and well off Muslims migrated to Bangladesh after the partition. Those left behind are laboring classes and poor, doing odd jobs like plumbing, painting, carpentry, etc. Our journalist informant told us that 80% of plumbers, 95% of painters, 40-45% of maidservants in the state are from the Muslim community. A few of them after acquiring education have now become doctors and professionals. There is inter-dependence between members of both the communities.
Members of the Muslim community appeared to be living under fear ever since the BJP was voted to power in Tripura. Use of draconian laws and strong-arm tactics by the right-wing cadres has scared the Muslim community. With a great difficulty, we got a Muslim law student to talk to us on the condition that we do not disclose his identity. Let us call him Akbar for the sake of convenience. Akbar told us that ever since election of the BJP, the Muslims are living under fear. There is an old dispute regarding a parcel of land admeasuring 16 acres, out of which 6 acres was used as a Muslim cemetery according to the government records. Abdul Ahad Miya a Muslim who migrated to Bangladesh owned 10 acres. Akbar told us that one Pradip Das routinely illegally occupies properties of weaker sections – Hindus and Muslims – through his strong-arm tactics and tries to get it legalized through litigation. He is now member of the Bajrang Dal according to Akbar. In 2007, Das had claimed two gandla (4 acres) of the burial ground but in the ensuing litigation, his case was dismissed by the court in 2009. The Tripura High Court also dismissed Das’s appeal in 2018. After the Assembly elections in 2018, Das claimed that he wanted to construct a temple on the burial ground and arranged puja on Mahashivratri after constructing a temporary Shiv temple. Muslims, according to Akbar, lodged a written complaint with the police station. However, the police were nudging the Muslims to settle the matter and give away the property. Akbar told us that Muslims wanted to bury the dead body of a Muslim woman in October 2018. Das objected to the burial. There are no Muslims around the kabristan. Akbar informed us that Das could mobilize about 250 people and they beat up those who were with body, including a Muslim police officer. The body had to be buried in another kabristan. Akbar further informed us that Das beat up Manik Miya who had lodged a complaint with the police station. Manik Miya lodged another complaint against Das for beating him up. According to Akbar, after the riots in Bangladesh, and its repercussions in Tripura, Manik Miya was forced to withdraw his complaints against Das on 10-11-21 and for all practical purposes, Das has occupied the land, constructed a Shiv temple in spite of dismissal of his title suit and appeal. According to Akbar, in the year 2019, after winning in both the constituencies in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections – Tripura East and Tripura West –there was an attack on Jamia Masjid in South Joynagar during Ramzan. Window glasses were broken in the attack.
Out of fear, the number of cow and buffalo sacrificed during Eidul-Adha has drastically come down, even though there is no ban on slaughter of cows or buffaloes in Tripura. Before 2018, about 7 big animals and 8 goats would be sacrificed by the Muslims in Agartala during Eidul-Adha festival. However, last year only 3 big animals were sacrificed and in 2019, only 2 big animals were sacrificed, after deployment of Tripura State Rifles turning the area into a war like zone.
Communal Incidents in Bangladesh:
Bangladesh, which shares its borders with the state of Tripura on three sides, prepared for its largest Hindu religious festival, Durga puja in the second week of October 2021. Like yester years, all arrangements were madea cross the country to offer the worship. Surprisingly, in the morning of October 13, allegations of defaming the Muslim holy book Quran emerged from a makeshift temple in Comilla district. Reportedly, a copy of Quran was noticed on the lap of an idol of Goddess Durga and the image was circulated widely through the social media platforms.
The Bangladesh government took initiative in deploying police personnel and appealed to people to maintain peace. The government instructed the police to investigate the incident and take appropriate action. However, soon after the report was circulate don the social media platforms, an angry mob started attacking local temples in Comilla and soon religious tension transcended to other districts of Bangladesh. Reports of attacks from Comilla, Chandpur, Noakhali, Chattogram, Bandarban, Cox’s Bazar, Narashingdi and Gazipur on temples, houses, shops of minorities, and physical attacks were documented in at least in a dozen of districts of Bangladesh mostly in the southern area. Seeing the gravity of the communal incidents the Bangladesh Government deployed military forces in 22 districts to protect its minority Hindu community. A Muslim miscreant named Iqbal Hussain was arrested by the police who placed the Quran on the lap of an idolat Nanua Dighir Par puja mandap in Comilla for instigating the Muslims against the Hindus.
Repercussion and series of communal incidents in Tripura:
The VHP, Bajrang Dal and other Hindu nationalist organizations may have perceived the attacks on Durga puja mandals in Bangladesh as an opportunity stigmatize Islam and the Muslim community in Tripura and turn the Hindu feelings against the Muslim community with the objective to spread their political ideology of Hindutva. The BJP led government, it appears, might have decided to allow the Hindu nationalist organisations to arouse communal passions and permitted them to take out rallies. The ruling party ought to have known that the rallies were meant to arouse communal passions and the situation may go out of control.
These rallies were to convey the message that in order to “save Hinduism”, the Hindus should remain united and support the BJP. Soon after the Bangladesh incidents, a series of rallies were taken out by Hinditva organizations under the banners of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Hindu JagaranManch (HJM). During some of these protest rallies, miscreants purportedly vandalised several houses, shops and mosques. The VHP and the HJM took out their first rally on 21October 2021 in Udaipur, the HQ of Gomati district. “Trouble started when police denied permission to the procession to proceed to Fotamati and Hirapur areas in Udaipur, where members of the minority community live in large numbers.”(PTI, 2021). The PTI reports that 10,000 people participated in the rally, but that could have been an exaggeration. On the same day (21 October), rallies were organized in Agartala city in West Tripura district and Dharamnagar in North Tripura district as well. Fifteen kms from Dharamnagar, a mosque that was built by the CRPF for its personnel to pray in inside CRPF campus and alongside Debasthan Temple in 1982 was burnt at night on 21 October. Another rally in Panisagar and Rowa bazar was organized on Tuesday, 26 October and the police allowed the rally. A very small police force accompanied the rally, which proved to be utterly outnumbered and incapable to control the riotous mob when the shops were targeted in Rowa bazar and a mosque was damaged. More about this incident a little later. The rallies were an attempt to arouse communal passions and created tensed situation and insecurity within the minorities.
The first communal act in retaliation to the Bangladesh incidents took place at Hurijola, Udaipur subdivision of Gomati district. We were informed by Imam Zia ur Rahman that on 15th October night/16th October morning, some unidentified miscreants, burnt down the temporary structure of tin and bamboo that functioned as a Hurijola Masjid of Dargah Bazar. He did not know who burnt the mosque as they were sleeping and they discovered the mischief only in the morning. The Muslims of the area were shocked seeing as they never witnessed in the past such communal act. They were afraid of being attacked by the local Hindus with whom they have inhabited peacefully. However, the local Hindus also stood by their side and condemned the act of burning the Mosque. People are of the opinion that the act was not done by any local but by some outsiders in order to arouse communal passions and polarize the Hindus and Muslims. The local Muslims filed a police complaint at the Kakrabon Police Station pertaining to the destruction of the Mosque. However, the villagers we talked to had no information of any investigation into the incident launched by the police nor arrested anyone. The Muslims we talked to didn’t fail to mention to us the fact that Abhishekh Dev Rai, a BJP leader, assured the Muslims of the village of providing compensation for the destruction of the Masjid. The local Muslims praised the act the leader. With the temporary tin and bamboo shed structure serving as a mosque burnt down, a Muslim resident of the village has now offered his premises for namaz.
In the midnight of October 16th/ 17th early morning hours, two mosques in Anukul Colony, Uttar Maharani –Hirapur Jame Masjid, and Hirapur Paschim Para Masjid – were also mildly damaged by some miscreants. The miscreants disconnected the power supply to the Mosques. They might have done the act to provoke a reaction from the Muslim community leading to communal riot. Although the Muslim community was angry and a mob gathered next day, sensible elements within the community took steps immediately to restore the power supply connection and communal mishap was averted. Here also the local Muslims think that these are not the acts any local Hindus as they still have their unity intact. Ramjan Hussain, a villager said, ‘We don’t have any fear from our local Hindu counterpart. But we fear of getting attacked by outsider goons.’
The next incidents took place in Kalaishahar sub-division of the Unakoti district. Many other small communal acts took place at different places of Kailashahar. On 17th October, a saffron flag was hoisted surreptiously on the house of Abdul Mannan in Govindapur, a local contractor, having his sympathies with the CPI(M) and his sister-in-law had contested local body elections as a CPI(M) candidate. It surprised everyone as to what was the message behind this. However, two days after this incident, at about 4.00 am in the morning, people walking towards the Kailashahar Jama Mosque, which is over a century old structure, saw two unidentified miscreants on cycle speeding away after hoisting a saffron flag atop the Mosque wall on 19th October. Once again, the intention seems to create communal sentiments in the minds of the people. Abdul Mannan’s home was vandalized once again on 23rd October. The same perpetrators also vandalized a Bakery owned by Shamim Ahmed. Intimidating opponents while Municipal elections were soon due also may have been the motivation behind attacking Abdul Mannan’s house. Police complaints were lodged against all the acts. However, the police did not take any notable action. The residents of Kailashahar area remained calm and there was no impact on the Hindu-Muslim unity. Maulana Jasim Ahmed, the Imam of Kailashahar Jame Masjid and a Unani doctor, said, ‘aagkopaani se nibhanachahiye’ (fire should be doused with water). On 26th, Muslims damaged thatched fence of a Kali temple, in all probability in a retaliatory attack, but this could not be confirmed. However, on the initiative of the CPI(M) MLA – Mobushar Ali and the Kailashahar Police Station officer in-charge, the local Hindus and Muslims came together and rebuilt the thatched walls of the temple within a few hours.
On the day the mosques in Udaipur and Unakoti district were damaged, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad organized a rally in Dharamnagar. Barely 15 Kms. From Dharamnagar, there is a mosque called as CRPF Mosque, also called as Panisagar Jamea Masjid. The Mosque was built by the CRPF as one of the 11 to 12 CRPF Battalions was a Muslim Battalion and they prayed in that mosque. In the intervening night of 21st and 22 October, reportedly, the Mosque was burnt, although the police have denied any damage to the Mosque. However, the police have come up with more than one version as to whether there existed any mosque as alleged, and whether the mosque was burnt at all and finally, who burnt the mosque – whether drug addicts did it (Colney & Vijayakumar, 2021). The differing versions of the police tells part of the story. We were not allowed to visit the Panisagar town and the mosque in question. We contacted the SP and the DGP of police. However, on the pretext that the matter was sub-judice, they not only refused to respond, they also told us that we could not visit the mosques or talk to people. If no mosque was damaged in Tripura, particularly in Panisagar, as claimed by the police, they should be inviting people to see the undamaged mosques themselves. The Caravan’s detailed story also quotes a VHP office bearer of Panisagar that the damage to the mosque was done by some miscreants and not members of VHP (Colney & Vijayakumar, 2021). There is at least an admission there that the mosque was damaged. The duty officer of the Panisagar Police Station told us that they had arrested five people in connection with the riots. If there was no damage to the mosques and no riots, why were those five persons arrested? The duty officer was not ready to disclose the sections under which they had been arrested. We tried to gather information talking to some of the local people and journalists about the Panisagar incident.
Krishna Nagar and Chandrapur Jamea Masjid in Agartala city:
On 21st October, there was a mild attack on the Krishna Nagar Jamea Masjid and Chandrapur Jamea Masjid. The Krishna Nagar Masjid is a symbol of communal harmony. Krishna Nagar is situated at the heart of the city of Agartala. Presently, Hindus inhabit the area exclusively. Before partition of India, both – Hindu and Muslim communities resided in the area. With the migration of the Muslims to Bangladesh, and the exchange of properties with the immigrant Hindu population of Krishna Nagar, no Muslims were left in the area. With the Muslims leaving the area, the Masjid was abandoned. No namaz or Salah was offered there. There was no one to take care of the Masjid from Islamic point of view. However, it is the local Hindus who took all care of the Masjid. They even lighted candles inside the Masjid thinking that the structure was a sufi shrine. The other Muslims of the city of Agartala were unaware about the existence of the Masjid. However, around twenty years back, the Muslims of the city came to know about the existence of the Masjid. It is the faith of Muslims that a masjid should not be abandoned and there should be regular prayers. Thus the city Muslims approached the local Hindus of Krishna Nagar and expressed their desire of taking over the Masjid for regular namaz or Salah. The local Hindus who were taking care of the Masjid happily accepted the proposal of the Muslims, though not a single Muslim family was residing and handed the property willingly. It was a glittering example of toleration of Hinduism the in the area. However, on 21stOctober violence, some miscreants also attacked this Masjid. A glass window and a CCTV camera was broken. The local Hindus were as much pained as they had taken care of the Mosque for many decades.
On 21 October, unknown persons threw burning embers inside the premises of over a hundred year old Chandrapur Jamea Masjid, which is adjacent to a Kali temple in Agartala. The Hindu neighbours who shared their wall with the mosque rushed to help douse the fire and threw water from buckets. Some wooden doors were mildly burnt. Next day, i.e. on 22 October, someone threw supposedly pork flesh inside the Mosque premises. Though pained, the Muslims praying inside the Mosque whom we talked to nurtured no resentment against the Hindu community. Similarly, some other unidentified miscreants attacked another hundred years old mosque adjacent to a temple in Agartala and threw pig flesh in the premises of the Masjid. The local Hindus of the area are not happy at all with these communal acts and condemned these. The local people assured safety of the caretakers of the Masjids.
On 23October, a Shiva idol was found broken on the top of an abandoned hillock, North Tripura. On social media platforms, the netizens claimed that the ‘Jihadis’ broke the temple.
On 26 October, the VHP and Hindu Jagran Manch organized a rally for the second time in along a long route to protest against the communal violence in Bangladesh in Panisagarsub-division traversing Chamtilla, Jalebasha and Rowa Bazar. The estimate of strength of the rally ranges from 1,600 by a journalist based in Tripura whom we spoke to, to 4,000 by some local residents, to 20,000. The figure of 4,000 seems more likely with a little overestimation.
The local Hindu people were mobilized to join the rally. However, outsiders were also reportedly mobilized by the two organizations. As reported by a senior Hindu journalist, the rallies were organized under the leadership of a VHP leader namely Purna Chandra Mandal, a resident of Silchar, Assam. One of our informant who was eyewitness and does not want to be identified told us that vulguar slogans were being shouted during the rally. One of them was “Mohammad terebaapkanaam– jai Shri Ram’ (Jai Shri Ram is the name of Mohammad’s father). Those at the tail end tried to cause damage to the mosque in Chamtilla. However, local Muslims with some Hindus formed a protective ring around the mosque to save it. Yet, reportedly, some minor damages were caused (Colney & Vijayakumar, 2021). In the rally some miscreants who had joined from outside and vandalized a few houses and burnt about 6 shops and a local from Panisagar who was an eyewitness, told us that 9 shops were damaged at Rowa Bazar. A section seemed to have been mobilized to attack the shops and homes of Muslims. Some of them also vandalized a local mosque made of tin sheet at Chamtilla village near Rowa Bazar. A small police force accompanying the rally may have been outnumbered. The police were unwilling to use any force to deter the mob from attacking the Muslim shops and homes in Rowa Bazar. The police HQ is barely 10 kms from Rowa Bazar, yet additional reinforcements reached the spot after most rioting was over. The local Hindus who had participated in the rally were not happy as it took communal turn targeting the Muslims. It violated their expectation and purpose of the rally to protest the communal incidents in Bangladesh. The local Hindus never wanted a hostile relation with the Muslim inhabitants of the area. Purna Chandra Mandal immediately after the communal act escaped from Panisagar and left for Silchar. From discussion with the local inhabitants both Hindus and Muslims it is clear that the people don’t want be involved in communal politics and want to live in peace. Media report says the local Muslims also gathered in protest at Churaibari, but the local administration dispersed the gathering through discussions. Restriction on public movements was imposed under Section 144 at Panisagar and Dharmanagar to avoid further disturbances.
One important CPI(M) leader told us that on 26th October, Section 144 of the Cr.P.C. had been promulgated prohibiting the assembly of more than 4 persons. However, the VHP took out a massive rally on motorcycles and cars shouting anti-Muslim slogans calling upon the Muslims to leave India and become Pakistani nationals. They shouted other vulgar slogans along with chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ defying the prohibition. They tried their best to provoke some reaction from Muslims, however there was none. How such a rally was permitted even while the police did not allow the TMC to hold public event citing the prohibition.
Stern Warning from the CM and BJP MP Pratima Bhowmick
Initially, for political gains, the Tripura’s BJP led government allowed a series of rallies by its sister organisations – the VHP and HJM, even while denying permissions to other political parties / organizations to organize public meetings or rallies. There were clear reports and evidence of damage to several mosques during and after these rallies, even if minor in nature. There were also reports of abusive anti-minority slogans which are an offence u/s 153-A and 295-A of the IPC. The rallies were organized to rouse communal passions and to provoke violent reaction from some elements from the minority community. Fortunately, none from the minority community got provoked, and moreover, the rallies failed in arousing communal and anti-minority feelings among the Hindus as well. Though immediately complaints were filed by the people, neither the police nor other agencies of the government paid serious attention to take action against the perpetrators. Abhishekh Dev Rai, a local BJP leader only came forward to condemn the act and assured compensation of the mosque and safety to the minority people living there. Repeated incidents of targeting mosques made the Muslim community insecure.
After belated realization that the rallies are not achieving their political objective of arousing communal polarization, nor provoking any reaction from the minority community, the Chief Minister stepped in and warned of strict action against those arousing communal passions. Also, the international media, including Al-Jazeera covered the damages caused to the mosques in Tripura(Naqvi, 2021). International media coverage was giving bad name to the country. At least Bangladesh was seen taking strict and prompt action against the rioters, which controlled the violence. The government in Tripura was in denial of any wrongdoing. The SP of North Tripura denied that any mosque was damaged in anyway. Surprisingly, the strict action promised by the Chief Minister was not against the organizers of the rallies and those arousing communal passions and promoting ill will and hatred on grounds of religion. Action was taken against those who were documenting and reporting facts and exposing the damages done to the mosques to contest the claims of the SP, North Tripura. Draconian acts like UAPA and sedition charge was invoked against the four Supreme Court lawyers (Muslims) who had come as a fact-finding team and two Muslim journalists from Assam. However, the press conference held by the Chief Minister along with the BJP MP Pratima Bhowmik had the desired effect. The VHP leader from Silchar – Purna Chandra Mandal returned to his hometown in Assam, the rallies stopped and so did the riots. However, the CM’s condemnation of the violence could have come earlier. The CM also announced that the mosques would be paid compensation for the damages.
From our interviews with various stakeholders, we summarize our findings as follows:
- Although about 11 mosques, about 6 shops and 2 homes were damaged, it would be wrong to say that the violence in Tripura was a major riot. The damages caused to most mosques were minor, in case of Krishna Nagar mosque, only a window glass was broken and CCTV camera damaged. Some mosques that were damaged were temporary tin shed structures.
- The violence was not spontaneous as the reaction was not the next day after violence in Bangladesh. It was not the result of outrage of Hindus. Deliberate attempts were made by the Hindu nationalist organizations to stoke communal passions by organizing series of rallies in various towns in Tripura and shouting slogans that were derogatory towards minorities. The violence was intended, but not elaborately planned as is done elsewhere in the country. The violence appears to have been perpetrated by outsiders and not locals. The local Hindu community sympathized with their Muslim brothers.
- Though the violence did not appear to be spontaneous, those targeting the mosques seemed to be amateurs at the job, as they could not inflict major damages. The BJP expected to reap political benefit from the ongoing violent attacks, particularly as their popularity was waning. Hindutva organizations were largely responsible for the outbreak of the communal acts in the state. Realizing the adverse effects of the riots as they lacked popular sentiments, the BJP and the CM issued strong statement to control the riots.
- Soon after the outbreak of the communal acts, the news spread like wild fire throughout the nation and it was assumed that a Hindu-Muslim riot had started in Tripura. Largely social media platforms and a section of other media also propagated that there were incidences of Hindu-Muslim riot. However, from our field visit study is clear that the Hindu-Muslim harmony still remains intact in Tripura. Neither Hindus nor Muslims want any communal incident in the state. The Hindu-Muslim harmony is a result of the situation wherein the political fault lines in Tripura are along ethnicity between the indigenous peoples and Bengalis. The communal violence in Tripura failed to shift the fault lines along religious lines.
- The state was complicit with the violence initially, as they permitted rallies, which any reasonable person would know were intended to arouse communal passions, and ran a risk of triggering off riots. In Udaipur sub-division, the police did stop the rally from passing through Muslim areas at a belated stage on 21 October. There was low intensity violence going on in Udaipur, Panisagar, after 21 October rally. Yet the police permitted similar rallies on 26 October in Panisagar and Rowa Bazar. No action was taken against organizers of the rally and those who shouted vulgar slogans intended to promote communal ill-will and hatred. The state instead preferred action against those who were documenting facts and reporting the events.
- Although the compensations have been announced, some of the mosques and families that suffered damages have not received the compensation.
In order to establish rule of law and do justice to those who suffered in the communal violence, we recommend the following:
- The government should take proper action to identify and give exemplary punishments to the perpetrators of the communal acts so that no one can dare to repeat such acts.
- Proper compensation should be given by the government to repair and rebuild the damaged properties.
- The civil society organizations should come out to promote communal harmony.
Bhattacharjee, B. (2021, November 5). BJP wins 7 of 20 Tripura ULBs without contest. Retrieved December 22, 2021, from The Times of India: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/agartala/bjp-wins-7-of-20-tripura-ulbs-without-contest/articleshow/87535970.cms
Colney, K., & Vijayakumar, C. K. (2021, November 22). “My heart broke”. Retrieved December 20, 2021, from The Caravan: https://caravanmagazine.in/religion/tripura-violence-police-claim-normalcy-muslim-reel-attack-shops-homes-mosques
Kundu, I. (2021, September 9). Violent clashes erupt in Tripura: CPM offices vandalised, vehicles set ablaze; party blames BJP. Retrieved December 15, 2021, from India Today: https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/violent-clashes-tripura-cpm-offices-vandalised-vehicles-ablaze-bjp-1850778-2021-09-09
Naqvi, S. (2021, November 5). Muslims in India’s Tripura remain in fear after mosques targeted. Retrieved December 21, 2021, from ALJAZEERA: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/11/5/india-tripura-muslims-mosques-violence-bjp-vhp
PTI. (2021, October 21). At least four injured in VHP clash with police in Tripura. Retrieved December 20, 2021, from The Week: https://www.theweek.in/wire-updates/national/2021/10/21/cal16-tr-ld-vhp-bangladesh.html
 The CSSS team highly appreciates the assistance rendered by the Tripura state CPI (M), in particular, the State Secretary Com. Jitendra Chaudhary, without whose help the study would not have been as extensive as it present is. However, the Fact Finding team exclusively owns up the conclusions and any infirmities therein.