Since partition, communal violence between Hindus and Muslims in Tripura has been unheard of, with most communal tensions being restricted to conflicts between tribals and Bengali Hindus. However, things took an ugly turn last week for the poll-bound state.
On October 26, a rally carried out by Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) against the recent spate of mob attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh turned violent, when a group of miscreants purportedly vandalised a mosque and some houses, and ransacked and burnt a few shops belonging to minority communities, in Chamtilla, Jalebasha and Rowa Bazar areas of North Tripura district.
A few days later, on October 29, some unknown miscreants vandalised a thatched Kali temple at Kailashahar of Unakoti district, further simmering the growing communal tensions in the state. Local police told the media that people from both Hindu and Muslim community had come together to rebuild the thatched roof within hours, thus dousing any further religious tensions in the area.
However, question remains as to how such vandalism and communal tensions came to be in the state, and where is it headed?
Communal Spill Over
Between October 12 and October 16, during the Hindu festival of Durga Puja, Bangladesh was struck by widespread communal violence, as mobs attacked and vandalised Hindu homes and temples, along with Durga Puja installations around the country. The attacks, and ensuing clashes with the police, reportedly led to the death of seven people - five Muslims and two Hindus.
The violence started with allegations of desecration of the Holy Quran, after photos and videos went viral showing the Islamic holy book being placed on the knee of a statue of the Hindu deity Hanuman, at a Durga Puja installation.
Around the same time, social media in Tripura was rife with footage of mob attacks on Hindu temples and pandals in Bangladesh. WhatsApp was further flooded with false and misleading messages with strong communal undertones, which were shared along with actual videos and images from Bangladesh.
There were viral unverified audio messages warning Hindus of Tripura of large groups of Muslims entering from Bangladesh and attacking Hindus in the state. These messages were further accompanied by texts spreading conspiracy theories about Muslim population taking over the Hindu population over the next few decades.
Following the fateful week of Durga Puja and ensuing violence in the neighbouring country, VHP and Hindu Jagran Manch (HJM) had taken out several rallies in Tripura to protest against the attacks on Hindu homes and temples during the festive week. There were sporadic incidents of vandalism on Muslim homes and a mosque, which Tripura police rounded off as "a few stray disturbances."
District Superintendent of police Bhanupada Chakraborty told EastMojo that VHP had taken out a rally to protest against the violence in Bangladesh on October 26, when a group of people threw stones and damaged the door of a mosque, and ransacked a few shops near Rowa Bazaar area as well.
Social Media Spreads Further Tension
By the end of last week, police personnel were already placed around 150 mosques in Tripura, following the initial incidents of vandalism.
However, following the vandalism of the mosque at Panisagar, and torching of shops at Rowa Bazar and neighbouring areas, large number of protesters from the Muslim community from the inter-state areas of Assam and Tripura had gathered.
Social media was filled with videos of arson, with claims that a mosque was torched near Panisagar. To avoid escalation of violence, the authorities imposed restrictions on movements under Section 144 in the towns of Panisagar and Dharmanagar, in North Tripura.
While social media was flooded with posts about mosques being vandalised, there were also a sudden appearance of rumours claiming Hindu temples and idols were being attacked by Muslims.
Last week, an image of a broken idol of Shiva was viral in Tripura, with claims that they were broken by 'jihadis'. Tripura police denied the claims, and also stated that this specific incident did not lead to more tensions.
Tripura police later put out a tweet, taking cognizance of the growing amount of rumours aimed at worsening communal tensions in the state, and warned legal action against those who spread such fake news.
"During yesterday's protest rally in Panisagar, North Tripura, no masjid was burnt and the pictures being shared of burning or damaged masjid or collection of sticks etc are all fake and are not from Tripura…" Tripura police stated in the Twitter thread.
Since last week, BOOM has already done five different fact checks on misleading and false posts regarding communal violence in the state.
Hindu Temple Vandalised, ABVP Leader Stabbed
On October 29, a local Kali temple with thatched-walls was vandalised at Kailashahar, in the Unakoti district of Tripura.
Kailashahar police station officer in-charge Partha Munda told Indain Express that the miscreants responsible for the vandalism could not be identified. He also mentioned that this specific incident did not lead to any communal tension, as both Hindus and Muslims from the area came together and rebuilt the vandalised walls.
However, photos of the incident was viral on social media, furthering the growing communal tensions in the state. To make matters worse, an Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad leader Shibaji Sengupta was stabbed by an unknown person on Friday.
This prompted the state administration to impose restrictions under Section 144 in the entire Kailashahar subdivision, while the same was extended in Panisagar and Dharmanagar.
One person has been arrested in the stabbing incident as of now.
Meanwhile, the state government continues to maintain that there is no communal tensions in the state, and has appealed to the people to maintain harmony and avoid sharing rumours.
Chief Minister Biplab Deb has announced compensation for those whose properties very vandalised during the spate of violence.
Political Blame Game Begins
While such instances of communal violence erupted in the state, the two major political parties of Tripura - the ruling-Bharatiya Janata Party, and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) have started pointing fingers at each other for the attacks.
Tripura BJP spokesperson Nabendu Bhattacharya told the media on Wednesday, "We believe CPI(M) has a major role behind the recent incidents. Their main objective is to create unrest here."
CPI(M) leader Manik Sarkar deflected the blame back to the BJP, and said, "Some condemnable incidents occurred during recent Durga Puja celebrations in Bangladesh. A few protests were organized by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) against those incidents in different parts of Tripura. Some provocative programmes are also being held in some places. The incident at Chamtilla in Panisagar under North Tripura is one such instance."
Following the vandalism and attacks, the BJP has formed a five-member team from its minority cell to further probe the matter. "We have formed a five-member team from the party's minority cell and asked them to see what led to violence in the state. They have been asked to assess the situation and submit a report in three days," Vinod Sonkar, a parliamentarian and BJP Tripura's state in-charge, told Indian Express.
Sonkar also accused the Trinamool Congress, which is gearing to make its presence in the upcoming Tripura polls, for the violence. "The TMC wants to polarise and take political and electoral advantage. So it's their handiwork," he told Indian Express.
High Court Intervention
Days after the vandalism of the mosque at Panisagar, Tripura High Court took suo moto cognizance of the acts of attacks, and directed the state government to file an affidavit by November 10, detailing the measures taken to ensure peace on the affected regions.
The court asked for speedy action from the government, especially in insuring compensation for low income households who lost their livelihoods in the violence.
The HC also directed the state government to take actions against rumour-mongers on social media, and commended the media for its active role in dousing the tensions.
"This Court calls upon the social media platforms to also act responsibly since today. Media has every right, as a part of their activities to publish the truth. It should not be allowed to be used to spread untruth and spread communal passion," it said.