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Will the Indian Politicians, Media, Civil Society Groups Take Lesson From Bangladesh?

Syed Khalique Ahmed 

NEW DELHI—Tripura, one of the smallest states sharing its border with Bangladesh, witnessed severe anti-Muslim violence for almost a week. Hindu radicals targeted mosques, Muslim houses, and shops.

According to reports, as many as 27 mosques were vandalized. Some were wholly gutted after the miscreants allegedly from Vishwa Hindu Parishad, World Hindu Council (VHP), Bajrang Dal, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or the National Volunteer Organization (RSS) set the mosques on fire. 

In addition, the torching of mosques reduced the religious literature, including copies of the Holy Quran, to ashes.

 However, no loss of life has been reported though several people from the Muslim community were injured.

Police role in Tripura anti-Muslim violence questioned

Houses of many influential Muslims like advocates were attacked. Many shops and business establishments were looted before being set afire by the miscreants. Eyewitnesses say that most of these incidents took place in the presence of security personnel who stood mute spectators to the violence. Had the police acted against the miscreants, violence would not have taken place, and loss of properties, like the burning down of religious sites, would have been prevented. Unfortunately, Tripura police, for the first two days after the break out of the violence, refused to admit that anti-Muslim violence had taken place.

In the rally taken out by VHP in Panisagar, miscreants reportedly raised highly provocative slogans against Muslims and the Prophet Mohammed.

VHP seeks international commission to probe Bangladesh violence

 VHP, whose activists are reported to be involved in the violence against Tripura Muslims, has written to prominent world bodies like UN Commission for Human Rights and European Union, urging them to take note of the violence against the Hindu minority. 

It has urged them to send a fact-finding team to Bangladesh to know the exact causes of the violence, loss of life, and properties belonging to Hindus. VHP’s joint general secretary and head of its international affairs, Swami Vigyananand, also urged the UN and European Union to set up an international inquiry commission to probe the anti-Hindu violence in Bangladesh.

All four districts of Tripura reported anti-Muslim violence.  They are North Tripura, South Tripura, West Tripura, and Unakoti. Violence also took place in the state capital of Agartala. However, North Tripura was the worst hit. The majority Hindu community dominates all these districts. According to the 2011 census, out of the total population of 36.74 lakh, the Hindu population is roughly 30.63 lakh or 83.40 percent, with Muslims and Christians accounting for 3.16 lakh or 8.60 percent, and 1.59 lakh or 4.35 percent, respectively.

Tripura violence provoked by riots in Bangladesh

All these attacks took place without any provocation from the local Muslims. The only stimulation was the recent attack on temples and Durga Puja pandals in neighbouring Bangladesh by Muslim communal elements during the Durga puja festival. The local Tripura Muslims neither had any role in what happened across the border nor were able to influence the course of events in the neighbouring country. They became victims only because they share a religion in common with the majority community in Bangladesh. Is it justified to target Muslims in India just because Hindus in Bangladesh or other Muslim countries are attacked?

Tripura CM calls up Indian ambassador in Dhaka, shows no willingness to prevent anti-Muslim violence in his state 

Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb, who telephoned Indian High Commissioner in Bangladesh Vikram K Doraiswami on October 16 to know the developments in the neighbouring country and what steps the Bangladesh government had taken to protect the Hindu community. Doraiswami, according to media reports, conveyed to Deb that the Bangladesh government was taking all necessary steps to deal with the issue. 

Tripura CM, who was so much interested in what happened to his religious counterparts in Bangladesh and took time to call up the Indian High Commissioner in Bangladesh, did not show the same eagerness to deal with the situation when the Muslim minority came under severe assault from Hindu fanatics in his state. 

Though a few FIRs have been registered, the Tripura police did not arrest any of the incidents till the writing of this report, thus encouraging the miscreants involved in attacks on Muslims.

PM, HM doesn’t condemn Tripura violence

None of the state BJP leaders nor the ruling party leaders at the Centre condemned Tripura’s anti-Muslim violence. Likewise, no statements condemning the violence have come from either Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Union Home Minister Amit Shah. 

Some local BJP leaders in Tripura, instead, said that Muslims themselves had vandalized their mosques and properties, a new thesis which the BJP leaders and even police officials in BJP-ruled states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Haryana have been applying in cases of violence against Muslims. 

BJP leaders, including PM, HM, and other senior ministers, remained silent when northeast Delhi burnt for several days in February 2020, with Muslims targeted by Hindu mobs for three days at a stretch after the visit of former US President Donald Trump. It was the worst anti-Muslim violence since India attained freedom in August 1947. Many BJP leaders like Kapil Mishra and Anurag Thakur, a minister in the Modi government, made highly provocative speeches before the riots. Rajasthan, UP, Jharkhand, and Haryana reported dozens of incidents of mob lynching of Muslims. A mob killed one Akhlaq in his house in Dadri in Western UP on the allegation that he stored cow meat (slaughter of cow is banned in most states in the country) in his refrigerator. Many Muslim boys and women travelling in trains and buses were also attacked in different states simply because they sported beards or were wearing Muslim caps and the women were in ‘burqa’, a gown that covers the body from head to toe, excepting face. 

There was complete silence by PM and central ministers, chief ministers of different states, and BJP leaders on these issues. Instead of booking the accused involved in the attacks, police in UP, MP, Haryana, and other states lodged cases against the Muslim victims, perhaps taking a cue from the Israeli police and security agencies who always book Palestinians only in case of a dispute between Jews and Palestinian Muslims. Even in northeast Delhi riot cases, the Muslims have been held responsible and booked in criminal cases though Muslims were the victims. 

Charges of terrorism under the dreaded Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) have also been slapped against the Muslim youths for their alleged involvement in the riots without any evidence. The youths targeted by the police are those who took leading part in agitations against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) passed by the Central government and were opposing the implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Muslims fear that CAA linked with NRC will reduce a large Muslim population as aliens in their own country. Some of the ruling party politicians in India are also known to use highly derogatory and threatening language against Muslims to polarize society for political gains. Hardly any effort is made to ensure peace and harmony between the communities. 

BJP’s existence linked with divisive policies: political experts

According to political analysts, BJP is doing all this because of its political compulsions. Analysts say that the very existence of BJP depends on its divisive policies and increasing the gap between communities, especially between Hindus and Muslims. Analysts believe that BJP subscribing to the Hindutva ideology will collapse when it gives up its polarizing policies. 

The communal atmosphere in India has degenerated to such an extent that the Hindus accused in many anti-Muslim violence cases get the support of the Hindu community, including ministers. For example, former Minister of State for Finance Jayant Sinha garlanded eight accused who were convicted of murder by lynching in Jharkhand in 2018. As a result, it becomes difficult for the minorities to protect their interest in such a situation.

Muslims reduced to persona non grata in Indian politics

There is also no unity among the opposition and ruling political parties on curbing atrocities against minorities, especially Muslims. Opposition parties pay lip service by issuing statements and don’t take concrete steps to force the government to act against Hindu fanatics. Opposition party leaders in private say that their support to protect Muslims, even their human rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution, will drive the Hindu voters against them and harm them politically. This new trend in Indian politics that has emerged for the last few years owing to the aggressive Hindutva politics of the BJP has made the Muslims persona non grata in India’s politics. Every political party wants Muslim votes in elections. Still, no one comes forward to get them justice in situations taking place in Tripura, or for that matter, anywhere else in the country. 

Media ignores anti-Muslim violence in Tripura

Even the media has avoided giving coverage to anti-Muslim violence in Tripura though all big media houses have their good presence in Guwahati, the capital of neighbouring Assam. News regarding Tripura violence has come out so far through news portals run by Muslim groups in Delhi. A section of the media covering the February 2020 Delhi riots targeted Muslims and leveled accusations against them without any evidence. We all know how the central government doled out Covid-19 figures based on religion in the initial days of the pandemic in 2020. Influenced by such actions of the government, the media communalized the Covid-19 coverage and held Tablighi Jamaat and Muslims directly responsible for the spread of the corona pandemic in India. This resulted in mob attacks on Muslims at several places all across the country.

NGOs, human rights groups silent on Tripura issue

Civil society groups, NGOs, and human rights organizations have maintained a stoic silence on the Tripura issue.

By and large, Muslims in India seem to have been left to fend for themselves. The government is not fulfilling its responsibility. Opposition political parties are scared of losing Hindu votes. Civil society is also absent from the scene either due to lack of inertia or getting influenced by false narratives of the Hindutva groups against Muslims.

Shaikh Hasina’s bold step against communal elements in Bangladesh

Contrast this with the action taken by Bangladesh Prime Minister Shaikh Hasina that must be a lesson for all democracies in the world. More than 680 persons are reported to have been arrested in connection with anti-Hindu violence so far. A total of 71 FIRs were lodged. The main culprit, a Muslim, has also been arrested. 

AS soon as the anti-Hindu violence began in Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina strongly condemned it and directed her country’s Home Minister to take decisive action against the culprits involved in the violence. On social media, she released a statement about social and political unity. 

In a tweet, she said, “Hindus have the right to worship without fear as much as Muslims and other religious groups. They fought alongside their Muslim brothers during the #LiberationWar1971 and have equal rights in Bangladesh.” 

Her party, Awami League, also issued a statement appealing general public to protest the bigotry, with a slogan, “Each unto his or her religion, festivals are for all.”

Bangladesh political parties, students, civil society take out peace march

Awami League also organized peace marches in Dhaka and other cities, joined by civil society groups and human rights organizations. Students in Dhaka University also staged a protest against attacks on Hindus and in support of unity and harmony among all communities. Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) also strongly condemned communal violence. BNP leader Mirza Abbas appealed to people to resist the anti-Hindu violence.

Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader, addressing a rally, “Do not fear, Hindu brothers and sisters. Sheikh Hasina and Awami League are with you. Sheikh Hasina’s government is a minority-friendly government.” 

Bangladeshi media, according to Indian media reports, behaved very responsibly. They did not publish any anti-Hindu or provocative news stories. It helped contain violence.

Will the Indian government, political parties, media, civil society groups, human rights organizations, and student organizations take a lesson from Bangladesh?

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