KOLKATA: Reports from Tripura detail a rush of incidents of targeted, organised communal violence over the past week. Mobs have committed acts of vandalism and violence against Muslim citizens purportedly in response to the communal violence in Bangladesh earlier. Most of these incidents have reportedy taken place in the North Tripura district.

According to Mufti Abdul Momin, president of the Jamiat Ulama e-Hind Tripura, the recent attacks in Panisagar where a mosque, homes and shops were vandalised were not an isolated instance. Smaller acts of discrimination have been taking place around the state for a while.

“We did not see many such outright attacks before in Tripura, but this anti-Muslim sentiment has been taking shape slowly ever since the BJP government came to power” in 2018, Momin told The Citizen.

He reported anecdotal accounts of violence and slurs being hurled at Muslims in the street, including his brother. “People in white clothes, a beard and a skullcap sometimes get verbally abused on the street.. My brother got caught in a traffic jam in the middle of a VHP rally in Agartala three days ago: a man from the rally reached into his car and struck him.”

Momin claimed the ransackers were youngsters mobilised in the name of religion even though “they themselves may not have any political agenda in mind at all.”

He said that the Muslim families targeted by this violence, who lost their shops and homes, or had their property damaged, have yet to receive any aid from the state government.

“They could provide monetary aid to the mosques that have been damaged. They are in control of the minority board and can allocate funds accordingly. The CM can introduce programs for the relief of these affected families. They can help and cooperate in so many ways.. But we have yet to hear a solution from the government,” he said. The Tripura government has denied damage to any mosques, saying photographs of such were fake.

“Most importantly, if they cannot bring these forces that try to cause unrest in a peaceful environment on a leash, it cannot work.”

Momin said that the government alone has the power to change the poisonous narrative these groups are spreading about Muslims.

“Some type of legal consequence for this behaviour would be a big part of stopping these attacks.. We have been in touch with MP Pratima Bhoumik as well as the Chief Minister’s Office to figure out a way to quell this violent communal behaviour.”

Bhoumik is also Minister of State in the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.

After the attacks in Panisagar, the opposition CPI-M stated that a Vishwa Hindu Parishad rally had turned violent near Rowa, with many shops being burned and houses vandalised.

“Locals alleged that the violent attacks took place in front of the police,” it stated, corroborating media reports.

Video clips of houses set on fire had gone viral on social media before the Tripura police claimed that the videos were fake. Inspector-general for law and order Saurabh Tripathi told the press Thursday that “the videos and photos that are depicted in those fake posts have no links with the actual incident that happened in Tripura.”

Local journalist Bahnisikha Bhattacharjee blamed much of the public unrest on the delay in the police claim. “Why did the police wait an entire 24 hours before denying the reports about the fire?” she asked.

She claimed her sources on the ground in Panisagar confirmed that no mob set a mosque on fire. Mobs vandalised a few houses and vehicles, and pelted stones at the windows of the mosque, but did not commit arson.

A resident of Ramnagar in Agartala, Bhattacharjee said “The situation here is now under control. It is not as dire as everybody is thinking.” She said the state government had deployed security forces at many mosques after the violence in Bangladesh, and that those protections are still in place.

On reports of another attack on a mosque in Ramnagar, she said there was indeed talk of an imminent attack, but it was quickly stemmed by the police on the scene. The following morning there was a minor clash at the mosque, she added.

Pujan Biswas, president of the recently formed Tripura Democratic Front, cited local reports saying that the “RSS attackers” who vandalised the mosque in Panisagar were not from the area. “They were not locals, they came from outside.”

He said there was no clash or retaliation following the attack.

“About seven days ago a masjid in Krishnanagar was vandalised,” he added, and on October 26 hate speech was spread against Muslims especially in the Kadamtala Kurti assembly seat.

Biswas thinks these attacks have been triggered in urgency due to the upcoming municipality elections across the state, “in an effort to gather all those Hindu votes.”

He said that there are four mosques in his locality, in his constituency Ramnagar in Agartala, which he fought on a Congress ticket in 2018:

“TSR (Tripura State Rifles) battalions were stationed for a few days, but they were removed yesterday. Local people are questioning, ‘why are they suddenly being removed?’”

He shared the incident of advocate Shabana Khan, a resident of Dharmanagar, who is now a member of the Trinamool Congress, whose home was broken into and vandalised while she was away in Delhi with her husband.

Biswas was emphatic that there is an underlying oppression being meted out to the Muslim minority. He said Muslims in Tripura do not hold a lot of clout, attributing this to the fact that only 8.6% of the state population is Muslim.

He said he received calls from Panisagar on Wednesday informing him that Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb was going to send a team to meet the residents there who had suffered damage and injury in the attacks.

The state government has imposed Section 144 in Dharmanagar and Panisagar, prohibiting the congregation of more than five people in the area.

Tripura: Section 144 imposed in ADC to combat post-poll violence - EastMojo