Muslims in India’s Tripura remain in fear after mosques attacked

Nov 5, 2021: A resident of Tripura state, Liton Miya describes the horrific scenes of a mosque being set on fire late at night on October 23.

The 35-year-old recalls hearing some villagers scream in panic. As he rushed out along with others, a wooden bier and some prayer mats in the courtyard of the local mosque were on fire.

Standing outside the small tin shack which serves as a mosque and traditional religious school in a quiet corner of Naraura village in Sipahijila district of Tripura state in northeastern India, Miya says, “We found that the attackers had poured kerosene inside the mosque as well. But before any more damage could happen, the village had woken up and the attackers fled.”

Nauraura is less than 50km from Comilla in neighboring Bangladesh, where an image of the Quran was placed on an idol of a Hindu deity during the Durga Puja festival, which has sparked violence in the Muslim-majority country, resulting in the deaths of 6 people.

Tripura shares a 856 km (532 mi) border with Bangladesh. Once a predominantly tribal state, Bengali-speakers, including refugees and migrants, who came in several waves, are now in the majority.

In apparent revenge for the deadly violence in Bangladesh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) and other local groups staged protest rallies in Tripura and allegedly attacked Muslims and their places of worship, including mosques.

The VHP belongs to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Singh (RSS), the ideological fountain of Indian Hindu supremacist groups seeking to turn India into an ethnic Hindu state. Most of the top leaders of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, began their political careers as RSS workers.

Tripura, a remote state dominated by Bengali-speaking Hindus, is currently ruled by Modi’s BJP. Muslims make up about nine percent of its 3.7 million population. In 2018, the BJP, in alliance with a regional tribal party, came to power in Tripura for the first time, removing a communist government that had been in power for 25 years.

The recent string of attacks targeting mosques has triggered fears and anxiety among Tripura’s Muslim minority.

Mufti Abdul Momin, who heads a faction of Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, an influential pan-India Muslim organisation, in Tripura says nearly 16 mosques have been attacked so far, all at night so perpetrators could escape.

Panisagar town, located in North Tripura district, saw the most arson and vandalism on October 26. Residents and police say the violence happened during the VHP rally.

After attacking a mosque in Chamtila, the rally marched towards Rowa, a short distance from where a group of Muslims had gathered at the local mosque.

Then, a section of the mob first attacked a couple of houses on the periphery of the village and started torching shops belonging to Muslims. Approximately half a dozen shops in the market were either fully or partially burned.

As the rally moved through the towns,

Muslims were shouting “Naara-e-Takbeer, Allahu Akbar”  and even ‘‘Pakistan zindabad’’ (Long live Pakistan)

Police officials say they have arrested four miscreants in relation to the incident. They also said they are looking into separate fire incident in a local mosque. This mosque, situated right next to an abandoned temple on the campus of an erstwhile paramilitary camp, was attacked four days before the October 26 violence.

Inside the tin-roofed mosque, religious books and other objects were reduced to ashes and part of its wall collapsed. A local resident, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the incident took place October 22 at a mosque where Muslims in the area offer only Friday prayers.

On Tuesday, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan federal government commission that makes religious freedom and foreign policy recommendations to the US president, the US Senate and the State Department, said it was alarmed by reports of violence against Muslims in Tripura and urged the Indian government to prevent the attacks.

The chief of the state unit of the Communist Party of India, Jitendra Chaudhry said the BJP is “trying to divert attention” from the issues of governance by splitting people along religious lines.

Meanwhile Tripura police chief VS Yadav downplayed the violence and said they were “minor incidents” that are being investigated. He claimed many attempts like the one in Naraura were thwarted by “timely intervention” by the police.

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