Religious Tensions Flare in Northern India and Bangladesh
On October 26, Hindu nationalist mobs attacked Muslim-owned businesses, homes, and a mosque in the small northeast Indian state of Tripura, reports BBC News. Viral videos show Muslims being attacked and the mosque being set on fire. Videos also show members of the Hindu nationalist group Vishwa Hindu Parishad marching through Muslim neighborhoods and chanting insults against Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.
Tripura police later clarified that some of the videos being circulated were fabricated, but many Muslim organizations continue to allege that the violence was more widespread than the state government claimed. Although a thorough investigation has yet to take place, between 10 and 20 incidents of violence were reportedly carried out.
Tripura is a small Indian state with a population of 4.2 million, about 9 percent of which is Muslim. Much of the population is made up of Bengali Hindus who left the neighboring Muslim-majority country of Bangladesh when India was partitioned in 1947. The recent tensions are the worst in the area since 1947, growing since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won control of the state government in 2018, according to The Indian Express.
The recent riots came in response to anti-Hindu violence in Bangladesh during the Durga Puja festival, the largest religious festival for Bengali Hindus, on October 15. As Hindus in the Comilla District bordering Tripura celebrated, Muslim mobs attacked Hindu temples in response to fabricated videos circulating online showing the Quran being desecrated at a Hindu temple, reports the Dhaka Tribune. Nearly 7 people were killed amid unrest in Comilla, and the police cracked down heavily on rioters. Riots also took place in the neighboring Noakhali District, killing one person and injuring 18 more.
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina condemned the violence, putting some blame on the BJP and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for stoking religious tensions against Muslims in India. The Independent reports that at least 400 people have been arrested in response to the violence in Bangladesh. Violent incidents against Hindus in Bangladesh, however, have been on the rise since 2013.
Sectarian violence in the region is not new. According to Scroll, conservative Islamist groups in Bangladesh have been pointing to the rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric in India as an excuse to target Hindus in Bangladesh. Likewise, groups like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in Tripura have pointed to incidents of anti-Hindu violence in Bangladesh to justify attacks on Muslims. Widespread protests throughout India against anti-Hindu violence in Bangladesh turned violent in Tripura after videos on social media showed a Hindu idol being desecrated by Muslims.
The protests in Tripura also spread to the neighboring state of Assam, which is notorious for discriminatory policies against Muslims, including their National Register of Citizens that largely excludes Muslims, reports The Diplomat. The secular Awami League government of Bangladesh has attempted to quell tensions by cracking down on Islamist factions. The BJP government of India, however, has been accused of being complicit in the violence.
The state police in Tripura have booked 71 people and filed 5 criminal cases concerning the circulation of videos on social media, but no arrests have been made, according to the Hindustan Times. The Wire reports that advocates from human rights groups that documented the recent violence were also arrested and charged.
The groups accused of carrying out the violence are allies of the BJP and Prime Minister Modi. The inflamed rhetoric is not only limited to Muslims, however, as a BJP minister’s son ran over a group of Sikh farmers protesting the BJP’s agricultural policies in Uttar Pradesh earlier in October, according to The Washington Post. The flare-up of tensions in both Bangladesh and India makes the increase of religious nationalism likely on both sides of the border.