A week after violence against the minority Hindu community was reported in Bangladesh, communal attacks targeting the Muslim community took place in Tripura. The Indian Express reported that the last week of October saw alleged vandalism and arson damaging Muslim properties, shops and mosques. Amid the violence, the Vishva Hindu Parishad took out large rallies which led to clashes with Tripura police.

Multiple photos and videos surfaced online with the claim that they depict the violence in Panisagar, North Tripura but the police responded that “no masjid was burnt and the pictures being shared of burning or damaged masjid or collection of sticks etc are all fake and are not from Tripura”.

After the widespread claim that a mosque was set ablaze in Panisagar, SDPO Kanchanpur and SDPO Dharmanagar denied the same and said that legal action will be taken against those spreading “fake news”.

In a 40-second video, SDPO Kanchanpur said, “I, SDPO Kanchanpur, would like to specify that the Kanchanpur division is entirely peaceful. I urge the citizens of Tripura to not fall for fake news and rumours on Facebook and Twitter. Please don’t share such fake news and rumours. Tripura police will take appropriate action against accounts that do this. I would like to make it clear that no misconduct took place in Panisagar’s mosque. The police are legally investigating the incident that took place. I urge citizens of Tripura to help the police and urge them not to share fake news and rumours.”

It is noteworthy that Tripura police have booked 102 social media accounts under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for sharing “fake information” online.

SDPO Dharamnagar Kanta Jangir gave a similar statement, “Anti-social elements are misusing social media to spread rumours. No such incident has taken place in Dharamnagar. The police are fully alert and the situation is under control. No incident of arson has taken place in North Tripura and Panisagar. If there is any difficulty contact the nearest police station. It’s my humble request to not pay attention to such rumours. Please don’t panic. Tripura police will take strict actions against who make such posts.”

On October 28, Tripura police tweeted four images of a masjid in Panisagar and wrote, “It is evident that masjid is safe and secure.”

That same day, Tripura police IGP Law and Order Saurabh Tripathi also denied any incident of a mosque set ablaze in Panisagar. Multiple media outlets reported his statement at afce value — ANI, India Today, Economic Times, Republic, News18, Free Press Journal, ABP Live, Hindustan Times, The Indian Express, The Quint, Rediff, The Hill Times, Tripura India and The Week.

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Police’s statement vs ground reality

Tripura police had shared images of Rowa Jame Masjid to claim no mosque was burned down in Panisagar. Below is one of the images shared by the police. The name of the mosque (Bengali text highlighted in red) is “Rowa Jame Masjid”.

Alt News found in its investigation after speaking with multiple stakeholders, including local journalists, that a mosque at the former Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camp in Panisagar was vandalised and torched. The mosque is not pinned on Google Maps but a local shared the approximate location of the CRPF mosque with Alt News. It is over 3 km away from Rowa Jame Masjid.

On November 2, @SultanTripura tweeted four videos of mosques that seem to have been damaged in a fire, including a video of the CRPF mosque. The user claimed that the mosques were torched after October 20.

The user @SultanTripura connected us with the person who recorded the video. According to this person, the CRPF mosque is a few hundred metres from the Regional College of Physical Education, which is about 3 to 4 km from Rowa Jame Masjid.

The first video tweeted by @SultanTripura shows the CRPF mosque.

On November 5, Al Jazeera published a ground report on the aftermath of the communal violence. The article includes an image of the same mosque located in Panisagar. A police officer told Al Jazeera on the request of anonymity that the mosque at the erstwhile paramilitary camp was attacked four days before the October 26 violence.

On November 9, Article14 also reported the same and included another image of the burnt CRPF mosque. VS Yadav, Director General of Tripura Police (DGP), told Article14 that the police is investigating who is behind the arson and added that the miscreants “could belong to any community”.

Assam-based Nurul Islam Mazarbhuiya visited Tripura after the violence to examine the level of damage. He is an advisor at the New Delhi-based Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR) and the president of Assam South Zone Jamaat-e-Islami Hind. On a telephonic conversation, he told Alt News that he visited the CRPF mosque and found that it was burnt along with some items present inside.

We also spoke with DGP Yadav. He said, “This mosque [CRPF mosque] hasn’t been functioning for more than a decade. In February 2017, a tree fell on the mosque and caused huge damage. No one repaired it. So how does one consider this a mosque? So many religious places are abandoned, we don’t count them. So why are you counting it as a mosque? It is on government land and only CRPF was using it until a decade ago. No public access was allowed. So we categorically said no mosque was burnt. Moreover, no distress calls were made at the police station relating to arson at this mosque.”

Alt News has access to a 2020 letter on the formation of a new masjid committee for the CRPF mosque after the demise of its former head. This document lists the names of the vice president, president, cashier, vice cashier and secretary, along with their phone numbers.

One of the members of the masjid committee spoke to Alt News on the condition of anonymity. The member confirmed DGP Yadav’s claim that a tree had damaged the mosque. However, they shared more details. The member told us that the incident took place prior to the formation of the new masjid committee last year. A person was killed as the tree fell on him when he was landscaping (chopping trees) around the mosque. A portion of the mosque was also damaged in the fatal incident. The member also informed that the footfall at the mosque was low but namaz used to be offered at least once a week on Fridays.

More crucially, we found a January 2021 letter (view PDF) sent by the managing committee of the CRPF mosque to the Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM) Panisagar requesting to not relocate the mosque. The place of worship is referred to as the “mosque near the Regional College of Physical Education (RCPE)”. It was constructed by CRPF jawans in 1982 along with a temple.

This letter was in response to a memorandum issued by Panisagar SDM on January 18, 2021 on the relocation/ removal of “unauthorised religious structures” that included the mosque near RCPE college (highlighted in green) and the Hindu temple, Debosthan Temple (highlighted in red). The letter is addressed to the president/ secretary of the concerned religious places.

Several local accounts confirmed that the mosque built by the CRPF in Panisagar near RCPE College was vandalised and partly torched during the violence in Tripura. Local accounts also suggest that the CRPF mosque was occasionally used to offer prayers. SDM Panisagar’s memorandum dated January 18, 2021 is addressed to the president/ secretary of the mosque, implying that it had a functional Masjid committee. The Tripura police, however, has shared pictures of the Rowa Jame Masjid in Panisagar to support the claim that no mosque was torched in the area. This is misleading since the CRPF mosque was indeed burnt.

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About the Author

Archit is a fact-checking journalist at Alt News since November 2019. Previously, he has worked as a producer at a TV news channel and as a reporter at a leading English-language daily. In addition to work experience in media, he has also worked as a fundraising and communication manager at an NGO.