Condemn the targeting of lawyers exposing anti-Muslim violence in Tripura!

Withdraw the charges against the Fact-Finding team and social media users and prosecute the perpetrators of violence in Tripura!

Tripura UAPA

On November 3rd, the Tripura Police sent notices to four Delhi based lawyers charging them under several sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). These lawyers, Advocate Ansar Indori, secretary of National Confederation of Human Rights Organisations (NCHRO), Advocate Mukesh, member of People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), Advocate Amit Srivatsava, member of Lawyers for Democracy and Supreme Court lawyer Ehtesham Hashmi, had recently conducted a two-day fact-finding following news of communal violence in Tripura. Based on their investigation, a report was released titled ‘Humanity under attack in Tripura, #MuslimLivesMatter’ at a press conference held on November 2nd at the Press Club of India in New Delhi. This report documented instances of communal violence in Tripura that occurred over ten days following communal violence in Bangladesh on October 15th. This included vandalism of 12 mosques as well as nine shops and three houses belonging to Muslims and several instances of arson. The report called for an inquiry committee headed by a retired High Court judge to probe these incidents, a separate FIR to be filed based on the complaints of victims and demanded compensation for losses suffered.

These actions of the four lawyers have been deemed unlawful and their claims fraudulent by the Tripura Police. The notice issued to the four lawyers includes charges Section 13 of UAPA and IPC Sections 120 (B), 153 (A), 153 (B), 469, 471, 503 and 504. These impute inciting commission of unlawful activity as well as criminal conspiracy, forgery and fraudulent claims, criminal intimidation and intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace. The notice demands that the lawyers appear at the West Agartala Police Station on November 10th for social media posts that allegedly promote enmity between religious groups and provoke people of different religious communities to cause breach of peace. The police have also branded photographs taken by the lawyers during the fact-finding as fake and demanded that they be deleted from social media. That a mere release of a fact finding report and circulation of photographs on social media can warrant the levying of such grave charges including the invocation of Section 13 of the UAPA paints a sorry picture of the state of democracy and human rights in the country. Astonishingly, reports have emerged of four NGO workers on a fact-finding visit arrested by the Tripura police.

The communal violence in Tripura last month was particularly shocking in its vindictiveness towards the Muslim community. Less than 9% of the state’s population, Muslims in Tripura were subjected to over ten days of terror. Hindutva organisations including the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal, Hindu Jagran Manch and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) mobilised widely, held rallies and organised marches in Muslim localities. Communal sloganeering, threats of violence, stone pelting, vandalism and even acts of arson were perpetrated with impunity throughout the state supposedly to avenge the incidents in Bangladesh. On October 26th, following a massive rally by the VHP, a mosque was vandalised and several shops set ablaze in Chamtilla in North Tripura. This prompted the Tripura High Court to take suo-moto cognizance and direct the BJP-led State Government to file an affidavit on the measures it had taken to ensure the maintenance of peace. The high court also recommended that peace committees be established throughout the state.

Following the High Court’s intervention, the BJP-led State Government promptly declared the violence a conspiracy by outside elements to malign the state. Based on a complaint by an RTI activist, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) wrote to the Tripura Police on November 2nd asking for a response on their role in investigating the violence. The Tripura police has responded to these developments by filing an FIR against the four lawyers and by sending notices to Twitter demanding 68 accounts be shut down and details of their IP addresses and phone numbers be provided. They have also filed an FIR on November 5th against 102 social media accounts, which, besides the 68 Twitter accounts, also include 32 Facebook accounts and 2 YouTube accounts. Among the 102 names are several Indian and international journalists and activists including Aarif Shah, CJ Werleman, Jehangir Ali, Salim Engineer, Sartaj Alam, Sharjeel Usmani, Shyam Meera Singh and former chairperson of the Delhi Minority Commission Zafarul Islam Khan. Conspicuously, most of the users targeted are Muslims. No action has been taken against any Hindutva organization. The police have branded social media posts on Tripura as fake news intended to cause harm to the reputation of Tripura Police and the Government of Tripura. This targeting of social media accounts unpalatable for the state police reveals a colonial mindset aimed at silencing any voice deemed critical. Meanwhile, the neighbouring state of Assam, also ruled by a BJP-led government, remains on high alert, particularly the Barak Valley, leading to tense polarisation on communal lines in the North-Eastern states, a phenomenon on the rise over the recent past.

The events unfolding in Tripura must be seen as a part of the larger trend of increasing erosion of democratic rights across the country. While attacks on oppressed castes, classes and communities are on the rise, the frequency with which state power is nakedly used to protect perpetrators and diffuse attention away from them through concocted conspiracies is being honed with alacrity. The claim of conspiracy in Tripura while incredulous is merely an addition to a roster of ‘conspiracies’. This includes the purported conspiracy of those daring to show solidarity with the family of the young Dalit woman raped and murdered in Hathras, the so-called effort to embarrass the government through the protests against the CAA, NRC and NPR which was then followed by a brutal anti-Muslim pogrom in North-East Delhi and the outlandish PM assassination plot concocted to target activists in the Bhima Koregaon-Elgaar Parishad case while shielding Hindutva leaders who perpetrated violence. In each of these cases the government and the police have connived with the perpetrators and foisted conspiracy cases on a range of persons in order to draw attention away from pressing issues, be it gender and caste atrocities, communally divisive legislations and uniting against Brahmanical Hindutva fascism. More recently, the invocation of UAPA against 16 people in Assam for social media posts on the American withdrawal from Afghanistan and then on Kashmiri students for celebrating Pakistan’s victory in a cricket match show how the definition of ‘unlawful’ has expanded to include any view unpalatable for Hindutva. The intention is to stamp out, imprison and finally silence diverging views through the draconian UAPA where the endless years of incarceration is in itself punishment.

While these ‘conspiracies’ aided by the UAPA serve to protect the agents of the State and incarcerate its critics, they also serve a greater purpose. They implant in the public consciousness a sense of being besieged by enemies from within. Oppressed castes, classes and communities, dissenters, and anyone opposed to the status quo preserved and protected by the state are deemed anti-national. Similar to the role of the Reichstag Fire in establishing the Nazi state in Germany, these conspiracies concocted by the Indian state pave the way for the full-fledged establishment of Brahmanical Hindutva fascism. That those incarcerated in these conspiracies spent their lives defending the rights of workers, peasants, students, intellectuals, Adivasis, Dalits, Muslims and women fits perfectly in the scheme to strip these sections of the exploited and oppressed people of their voice and rights. The communal violence in Tripura, the notices to the four lawyers and charges against the 102 social media users are part of the assault on our democratic rights. We must challenge this onslaught unitedly. The Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) calls on all democratic and progressive sections of society to come together, demand the immediate withdrawal of these concocted cases against the lawyers and social media users and ensure the perpetrators of violence in Tripura are prosecuted.

Campaign Against State Repression

(Organising Team: AISA, AISF, APCR, BCM, Bhim Army, Bigul Mazdoor Dasta, BSCEM, CEM, CRPP, CTF, Disha, DISSC, DSU, DTF, IAPL, IMK, Karnataka Janashakti, KYS, Lokpaksh, LSI, Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan, Mazdoor Patrika, Mehnatkash Mahila Sangathan, Morcha Patrika, NAPM, NBS, NCHRO, Nowruz, NTUI, People’s Watch, Rihai Manch, Samajwadi Janparishad, Satyashodak Sangh, SFI, United Against Hate, WSS)

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