Tensions rise in Indian state after attacks against Muslims
GAUHATI, India (AP) — Tensions were high in parts of India’s northeastern Tripura state on Friday after a string of attacks against minority Muslims, seen as retaliation for the violence against Hindus in neighboring Bangladesh earlier this month.
State authorities deployed police and paramilitary troops and banned the assembly of more than five people in areas where attacks were reported. Police said at least one mosque, several shops and homes belonging to Muslims in the northern part of the state had been vandalized since Tuesday. No deaths have been reported.
“Some troublemakers are hellbent on disturbing peace and communal harmony in Tripura,” said Senior Police Officer Bhanupada Chakraborty, adding that the situation was under control.
Muslim leaders said that Hindu mobs attacked mosques and torched their properties following a protest rally Tuesday by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or VHP, a hard-line Hindu nationalist group with ties to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. It is not known if the attackers were members of the VHP.
Vinod Bansal, the VHP’s national spokesperson, denied that its members were involved in the attacks.
“We did not attack anyone. We were peacefully protesting against anti-Hindu attacks in Bangladesh,” he said.
In Bangladesh, at least six Hindus were killed and hundreds of houses and businesses torched on Oct. 13 after an image posted on social media was perceived as insulting to the country’s Muslim majority. The violence also led to demonstrations in India.
The Bangladeshi government was swift in its response after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina vowed to “hunt down” the attackers. It has so far arrested around 300 people.
Chakraborty said police in Tripura have registered cases following the attacks but did not specify against whom. No arrests have been made so far.
Vinod Sonkar, a lawmaker from Modi’s party that rules Tripura state, said the government has set up a committee to investigate the violence.
Tripura borders Bangladesh and Muslims make up less than 9% of the state’s nearly 4 million population.
Mohammad Salam, a Muslim cleric in Panisagar town in northern Tripura, said hundreds of VHP members chanting anti-Muslim slogans stormed a mosque on Tuesday and ransacked it. He said they also burnt several Muslim properties.
“We are living in fear since then,” Salam said.
The fresh attacks are a jarring reminder of the rising religious tensions in India.
“There is a fear psychosis among the Muslims in Tripura after the incidents,” said Islamuddin, a Muslim opposition lawmaker from Tripura who goes by one name. “The state authorities could have reacted a little more faster to control the situation.”
On Thursday, the country’s main opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi condemned the attacks.
“Those who indulge in hatred and violence in the name of Hinduism are not Hindus but hypocrites. For how long will the government pretend to be blind and deaf?” he wrote on Twitter.
Saaliq reported from New Delhi.