A FACT-finding team of national leaders visited Tripura from August 3-5, 2018 to study the situation there, after the BJP-IPFT government came to power in March 2018.
The team comprised Medha Patkar, leader of the National Alliance of People’s Movements, Rajaram Singh, ex-MLA and general secretary of the All India Kisan Mahasabha, Ashok Dhawale, president of the All India Kisan Sabha, K K Ragesh, MP and joint secretary of the AIKS, all the three MPs from Tripura – Jitendra Chaudhury, Shankar Prasad Datta and Jharna Das Baidya and ex-MP Narayan Kar.
Our team visited several places in six out of eight districts of Tripura – Tripura South, Tripura West, Dhalai, Gomti, Sepahijala, and Khowai and met hundreds of people from all walks of life. We received several memorandums from various organisations that give a detailed and factual account of the attacks in the last five months, accompanied by many FIR copies. Through this interim report, we are placing below our main observations.
An undeclared emergency-like situation prevails in Tripura today, ever since the BJP-IPFT combine won the state assembly elections. Articles 14, 19 and 21 that are enshrined as fundamental rights, the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and the Representation of the People Act, 1951 have all been violated and trampled upon.
An atmosphere of fear and terror prevails in large parts of the state. Law and order has collapsed. Murder, dacoity, looting, arson, atrocities on women, minorities, dalits, adivasis and the poor from all communities are rampant. No action has been taken by the administration and the police in spite of hundreds of FIRs having been filed by the victims of these crimes. There are, in fact, many cases where FIRs are lodged against the victims of physical assaults and it is the victims who are arrested by the police, not the assailants.
All the attacks that we have outlined below, be they physical assaults, attacks on livelihoods, forced resignations of elected representatives, attacks on and capturing of Party offices, are similar in nature throughout the state and are not isolated ones. Also, from all the reports that we heard, these attacks everywhere began immediately from the night of March 3, the day the assembly election results were declared. This leads to the inescapable conclusion that all such attacks are part of a centrally pre-planned conspiracy that has been hatched with the full knowledge, approval and connivance of the top level leadership of the BJP-RSS.
The entire opposition in the state is being savagely attacked, with the Left Front parties, the CPI(ML-L) and their labour fronts, and particularly the CPI(M) as well as CITU being the main targets. Other opposition parties like the Congress and others have also not been spared. It is a game plan to root out the entire opposition, especially the Left in the state. Democracy itself is in peril in Tripura today.
We came to these conclusions on the basis of the various aspects that are set out below.
Physical Attacks: We were met by hundreds of people who told us that they had been physically attacked in the next few days after the state assembly election results. We met the families of three martyrs – Tapas Sutradhar (Panisagar), Rakesh Dhar (Baikhura, Shantir Bazar) and Pradeep Deb Barma (Jirania). All three of them, and also Ajendra Reang (Kurma, Amarpur) were, as per our enquiry, killed by BJP-RSS hoodlums who have been identified. But the government and the police have taken no action whatsoever against the murderers.
If such is the status of murder cases, the sheer inaction in cases of assaults can be easily imagined. There have also been cases of mob lynching. There are a large number of people that we met, who told us that they could not go back to their own houses for over three months due to threats and terror. Extortion cases are rampant, and many people told us that they have been forced to pay large sums of money to BJP-RSS-IPFT people just to be able to go back to their houses and even to leave their houses and go to the bazaar.
Assaults on Women: We came across several cases of women who were criminally assaulted. AIDWA has submitted to us a memorandum that gives concrete details of assaults on 35 women and girls. They include cases of the discovery of dead bodies of some women, gang rapes and multiple physical assaults. Even women panchayat members have not been spared from assaults.
Attacks on Minorities: We found that the attack is particularly severe against Muslims. We met many from the minority community who told us that they were physically assaulted very severely and their property was destroyed because they were Muslims. One such glaring example is of Zohera Khatun, widow of Jirania Khola, whose house was put on fire, destroying all its belongings. This clearly shows the communal angle behind such attacks. Secularism is in grave danger.
Plight of Tribals: We found that the tribals comprising 31 percent of Tripura’s population, have been the natural resource-based communities with sustainable livelihoods and supplementary income coming from MNREGA. Tribal people who gathered at Gandacherra and Hathimatha articulated their plight since they have stopped receiving 10-12 days of work under MNREGA that they were getting under the previous regime and are now getting hardly 2-7 days of work since March 2018. It was shocking to note that certain tribals have been crossing the border of Bangladesh by evading the BSF and walking tens of kilometers, only to get roots for sale and income.
It was also reported to us that the promised wages of Rs 340 per person per day for MNREGA propagated during the election campaign by the BJP-IPFT alliance, have not come through. Rather the wages of Rs 177 have been reduced much further, making them face hunger and destitution. This has also affected the purchasing capacity of poor and marginal farmers including zoom cultivators, thus impacting the earnings of forest produce gatherers. We received a large number of complaints, both oral and written, expressing worries about both their freedom and livelihood security.
Livelihoods Destroyed as Intimidation: This is a very serious issue that we came across all over the state. Hundreds of people told us that their rubber plantations, fisheries, poultries, flower nurseries, shops, cars and even paddy fields have been destroyed, poisoned and/or looted. Those targeted have sustained a loss of lakhs of rupees each. Most of them owed allegiance to the Left and they were targeted for precisely that reason. The attempt is to destroy their livelihood and to put this up as an example for the rest of the people, so that the opposition can be crushed.
The other major aspect is that there is a savage cut in various government schemes like MNREGA, pensions, rations and so on. We found that MNREGA work is restricted to only about two to seven days on an average, and the wages for even this meager work have not been paid on time. Several old people, and even one blind man whom we met, have not received pension for the last three to four months. The public distribution system is on the verge of collapse, obviously due to the unjust dismantling of panchayati raj. The prices of crops have plummeted, causing great loss to farmers.
MURDER OF DEMOCRACY
The murder of democracy is the most serious aspect that we witnessed in our visit. This is manifested in the following facts:
- Hundreds of elected representatives belonging to the Left Front, especially CPI(M), that we met – members of the autonomous district councils, zilla parishads, panchayat samitis, nagar panchayats and gram panchayats – have been seriously threatened, some of them including women as in Gandacherra have been physically attacked and a large number of them have been forced to resign from their posts by BJP-IPFT hoodlums. Those who were forced to resign until the end of July 2018 are as follows – 3148 out of 6111 gram panchayat members, 155 out of 419 panchayat samiti members and 16 out of 116 zilla parishad members. Others are not allowed to function and many such elected bodies are replaced by newly-formed BJP’s so-called ‘development committees’. This terror campaign is still continuing. Now the state government has scheduled fresh by-elections to fill these ‘vacant’ seats. We are of the opinion that such a situation is unprecedented in the country. And this happening in Tripura, a state covered by the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, is certainly intolerable.
- We saw for ourselves that scores of Party offices of the Left parties, the Left trade unions and also some of the Congress have been demolished, many by bulldozers, by the state government, while many others have been forcibly occupied by BJP goons. Documents and furniture in these offices was found to be destroyed. While the reason given for demolition was that of ‘encroachment on government land’, we saw that all the adjoining shops and houses in the village were also located on the same category of land, yet they were spared. Only the Party offices were targeted for demolition. This violated Article 14 of the constitution as part of a political conspiracy. Even those Party offices that were on owned private land were also burnt by BJP hooligans. Many other offices of the Left are being prevented from being opened. This is also an extremely grave situation and it aims at targeting the entire opposition.
- The unions led by the CITU, other Left trade unions, leading members of the AIKS, GMP, AIAWU and the AIDWA are all being attacked severely and selectively. Leaders of student-youth organisations like the SFI and DYFI are being attacked by the RSS-BJP’s student wing ABVP.
- Even protest demonstrations against this repression have been brutally attacked and many seriously injured, like the one at Udaipur on July 24. May Day rallies were not allowed to be held in several places. Karl Marx bicentenary rallies were attacked. Statues of Marx, Lenin, Che Guevara, Bhagat Singh and of veteran Communist leaders were demolished or defaced in various parts of the state.
- The attack on democracy and press freedom is made even more clear by the fact that the circulation of a progressive daily ‘Desher Katha’, which has the second largest circulation in Tripura, has been cracked down upon and the transport and distribution of its copies is being obstructed everywhere in the state. The owners/drivers of even public buses carrying the daily paper for sale are threatened.
The fact finding team will soon come out with a detailed report and submit it to the concerned central ministries, commissions, constitutional bodies as well as the president of India. The findings will be propagated across the country, expecting the intellectuals, people’s movements and common citizens to respond, so that democracy, secularism and the people’s livelihood can be defended in Tripura.