Bangladesh violence: ‘We are all together in this’

Creation of East Pakistan/Bangladesh changed Tripura forever. As violence across the border sees a fallout in the state, an Agartala suburb hangs on to its peace

On Friday, the Jama Masjid at South Ramnagar joined mosques across Tripura in ‘munajat (a prayer for forgiveness and peace)’, as the community suspended a protest rally at Sepahijala to avoid any flare-up. Located just 500 metres from the India-Bangladesh border, South Ramnagar, a suburban locality of mixed communities in Agartala, has not known communal tension in nearly 30 years, since the Babri Masjid demolition of 1992. As repercussions of the violence in Bangladesh are felt in Tripura, the communities here are counting on old ties to ensure peace.

A small state 10,500 sq km in area, Tripura was irrevocably changed by the creation of East Pakistan during the Partition, and its transformation to Bangladesh in 1971. During successive waves of migration of Bengali Hindus from across the international border, which lies on three sides of Tripura, the state’s largely tribal population has been reduced to a minority. Of its 36 lakh people as per the 2011 Census, roughly 9% are Muslims. The Hindus carry the memory of persecution at the hands of the Pakistani Army, which caused them to flee.

However, if the Bangladesh violence touched raw nerves, South Ramnagar is focusing on other memories: of years of living together without discord.

Abdul Rahim Chowdhury, the Imam of the locality’s Jama Masjid, says he won’t trade Tripura for his native place Silchar in Assam, where similar divisions of Partition are playing out on the ground.

Chowdhury blames the incidents in Tripura, including attacks on some mosques, on “a few miscreants” and mischievous rumours. Says Chowdhury: “We protested too against the blasphemous incidents in Bangladesh (at Durga Puja pandals). We feel there was some larger conspiracy at work there. But what happened in a foreign country has no connection with Tripura. We are all Indians here. Over 90 per cent Hindus and Muslims in India are secular. A microscopic minority tried to create disturbance, but we survived it.”

Most of the incidents in Tripura followed protests by right-wing Hindu outfits such as the VHP and Hindu Jagran Manch. The BJP government has acted swiftly, including stopping these outfits from taking out marches near minority-dominated areas. It has imposed Section 144 restrictions, deployed security in sensitive pockets including outside mosques, organised peace meetings, registered cases against those “spreading rumours”, and made arrests in cases of vandalism. Police say law and order has been restored across the state.

Appreciating the government’s actions, Imam Chowdhury says a lot of potential damage had been averted.

Babul Miah, 42, says the incidents were an aberration. “I have lived here for around 30 years. I have never seen any communal provocation. We join Hindus in their festivals, they join ours.”

Urging cooler heads to prevail on both sides, Babul Miah gives the example of a death in a Hindu family a few weeks ago. “There was no one to take him to the crematorium. We raised funds, carried him, joined the rituals and provided whatever help we could to the family. We are all together in this. I want everyone to realise this simple truth.”

Tinku Miah talks of celebrating Diwali and Kali Puja, which are days away, together — like every year. A local club that organises Kali Puja with joint participation of both communities is bustling with activity.

Tinku says the tension feels far away. “We are going about our lives normally, working together, hanging out together.”

Members of the Hindu community say that when the Jama Masjid came up a few decades ago, the two sides had come together to build it.

Bishu Das, 42, a daily wager, lives next to the mosque, just a pond separating their walls. He says they came to know of the violence only over the news. “The administration and police have been regularly checking in,” Das says, hoping peace prevails.

A woman belonging to the Hindu community, who is in her 60s and saw the mosque come up, says: “We have lived in peace for so long. Here, we are all good neighbours.”

As the CPM blames it for the violence, Tripura VHP secretary Purna Chandra Mandal denies any role, blaming “outsiders”. He also claims provocation from the other side. BJP spokesperson Nabendu Bhattacharya says the party is reaching out to ensure amity.

Kanan Das, 50, nods at the people around him in South Ramnagar. “We are the same, Hindus and Muslims. Can you tell one from the other here unless someone told you?”

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