Rightwing Hindu mobs targeted the small minority community to avenge the recent assaults on Hindus of Bangladesh by radical Muslims.
Panisagar, North Tripura — Bapuji Mia, 56, a driver, was sitting outside his house in Chamtila Panisagar district of Tripura, an Indian state bordering Bangladesh, when a mob of members from the right-wing Hindu group the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) attacked him and other people in the village, on Tuesday.
Mia says he along with his sister and other family members ran towards the river that flows close by. “We saw hundreds of people coming towards us and wanting to attack us. They had stones in their hands,” he told TRT World.
This happened simultaneously across several districts of the remote northeastern state where Muslims live as a minority, after more than 3,000 Hindu activists held a protest Tuesday night that quickly erupted into violence.
The attacks took place as a retaliatory action after Hindus in Bangladesh were attacked by a Muslim mob earlier this month. Seven people were killed and properties, including temples and houses belonging to Hindus, were damaged in the town of Cumilla after rumors spread on social media of a Quran being desecrated at the annual Hindu festival Durga Puja.
The villagers in Panisagar say that Hindus now want “revenge,” in a state where Muslims make up less than 9 percent of Tripura’s 4.2 million population.
“They threw stones at my house too. They will come after us again,” Mia says.
When Mia came back to his house after hiding for several hours, the police were already in the area but “did not do anything”.
In several other parts of the restive state, about a dozen mosques were vandalised and shops owned by Muslims were burnt and damaged, Muslim activists and locals have told the media.
The villagers in the area say that they have never witnessed this level of communal hostility. “This never happened before. We lived like brothers and grew up together. There are all Hindus living around us, and we (Muslims) are only three families here,” Mia says.
With their lives being threatened, the family says they have remained indoors since.
After incidents of similar attacks and harassment were reported by local media, police have ramped up security and imposed restrictions on gatherings of more than four people in the most tense parts of the state.
Tripura, encircled by Muslim-majority Bangladesh on three sides, has been ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since 2018. The right-wing government assumed power in the state following two decades of Communist governance by the Left Front.
'Violence did occur and it was not good'
The VHP, a sister organisation of the BJP, held rallies which Muslim activists say were “charged” and “inflammatory”.
Another farmer, Fakhur-Uddin, 67, has not visited the local mosque for prayers since the violence erupted. The VHP, he says, were chanting slogans against Islam and Muslims that were “offensive and demeaning”.
“They had some police officials guarding them. Instead of stopping the mob, the police stood quietly watching everything,” Fakhur-Uddin told TRT World as he stood outside his two-room house in fear.
In the same area, a mosque was vandalised by the VHP mob. “I saw three people throwing stones at the windows of the masjid and they were abusing the locals, including the Imam. It was heartbreaking but I had to run away,” a young boy from the village said.
“We slept off at night and the next day we saw the mosque was damaged. We know people here who come to pray,” said Ruma Nath, 32, a Hindu woman who lives next to the mosque that was vandalised in Panisagar. “There’s been no communal incident for the past 14 years here. On Fridays, we see many people who come here to offer prayers."
About 6 kilometres away in another village, Rowa, the same rally led by the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, another ally group of the BJP, attacked several shops.
Fabric shop owner Muhammad Sanohar Ali, 40, says six or seven people from the rally attacked two houses in the neighbourhood, but the police tried to stop them. “But the situation was not in control and they torched our shops.”
He said the group also brought a JCB (a mechanical digger) to bring down the shops. “When they were doing this, we were about 150 people and chanted Allah-U-Akbar. We thought it was our end,” Ali says.
One of the villagers says that the groups attacking them have been announcing over microphones for the past few days asking all Hindus to “come out and protest against what happened to their Hindu brothers in Bangladesh”.
Ali says the group kept shouting, “What happened to Hindus in Bangladesh will happen to Muslims here”.
The local town head, a BJP leader Binoy Bhushan Das, said what happened in his territory was “unfortunate” and that the situation was now “in control”.
“Violence did occur and it was not good. But the police have taken charge now. There will be compensation to those who suffered loss. And the mosques have been given security as well,” he told TRT World.
Das also said that the incident in Bangladesh was a “major issue” and it has “hurt the sentiments of people here”.
Local police say they have arrested a “culprit” and that the investigation into the matter will be “thorough”.
A journalist from the area said that the ruling BJP has damaged harmony in the society they live in. “Ever since the BJP came into power, there has always been some disturbance. There are local body elections about to happen, so people are playing dirty to make inroads,” he said.
The Tripura police on their social media handle said the pictures from the violence circulated on media were “fake”.
“Certain persons by using fake social media IDs are spreading fake news/rumours on Tripura. It is informed that law & order situation in the State is absolutely normal,” the police handle posted on Twitter.
The Muslim community have also reported the incident to the police and have filed an official complaint.