Tinisukia: New Laboratory for Communal Division in Assam

Written by Zamser Ali | Published on: September 20, 2018

Guwahati, September 19: Tinisukia, a district in upper Assam is fast becoming a new festering point of communal conflict: a laboratory, as it were for communal divisions, timed just before the Lok Sabha Elections of 2019. Over the past five days the district has been witnessing acute communal flare-ups.  Until now, there have been several reported attacks, targeted at the Muslim minority in the District, and two group clashes have also been witnessed.
 

Communal Clash
Image Courtesy:  Northeast Now

 
Tinisukia, on the Eastern boundaries of the state, is a district of upper Assam, where the Muslim population is below 5 per cent. The first incident can be traced to September 13, about a week ago. In intermittent such incidents since then and during the first communal on September 13, at least 20 persons, including five Muslim women have been injured and about a dozen people arrested.
 
In the oil-rich town of Doomdooma, the first Communal clash broke out on the day of Ganesh Chaturthi festival. On the same day, September 13, on Rajendra Prasad road,  some Muslims began to practice with the Tajia procession, on the eve the Muharram processions. This rehearsal of the Tajia  procession was begun from the Muslim populated area of the town after 10 pm. Close by, celebrations around the Ganesh Puja had been going on since the early hours of the same day.
 
This is when altercations broke out:  some persons from the Ganesh Puja Committee, organised by some associated with the ruling RSS-BJP combine expressed apprehensions that the high volume (of sound/music) accompanying the Tajia practice would disrupt the Ganesh Puja celebrations. At the same time, Muslims, who happened to be Hindi speaking, involved with the Tajia Practice, expressed their objections to the spill over of the Ganesh Puja, that they said, should have ended by 10 pm. After the first exchange of words between the Ganesh Puja Committee and the Tajia Celebrations Committee, clashes broke out. The RSS backed All Assam Hindu Yuva Chatra Parishad and Bajrang Dal members, who were the main organisers of the Ganesh Puja Committee reportedly, attacked some Muslims with sharp weapons. At least five women were severely injured.
 
Fortunately, the local Police responded promptly and both the parties had to leave the place. After that incident, the All Assam Hindu Yuva Chatra Parishad and Bajrang Dal, both allied organizations of BJP-RSS, called on a bandh on September 14, against the ‘inaction’ of local police in nabbing one Aziz Khan, against whom a case was filed at the Doomdooma Police Station. It was alleged by them, that Aziz Khan, a local businessman, posted a Facebook update on September 9, which had hurt the sentiment of religious people.
 
The local Committee of the All Assam Hindu Yuva Chatra Parishad, submitted a complaint at the Doomdooma Police Station on September 10. Though Aziz Khan, refuted the allegation and said that the update was not his, he absconded from from his house at Doomdooma. On September 14, the supporters of the bandh, armed with swords and sticks went to the village of Aziz Khan to attack his house at Borhapjan. The rest of the villagers, mostly Muslims, were in a state of panic, fearing that their entire village was under attack. The Villagers assembled in large numbers when the supporters of the All Assam Hindu Yuva Chatra Parishad and Bajrang Dal were damaging the house of Aziz Khan. Thereafter, the Muslim residents of the area countered the attackers and this is when the group clash started. In the clash at least 15 people were injured. The All Assam Hindu Yuva Chatra Parishad and Bajrang Dal members also started stone pelting at the police personnel present there along with the local Muslims. It was at this stage that the police administration carried out a lahi charge, and then opened fire to control the situation. All together, panic spread all over the District.
 
While panic and tension was prevailing in the District, movement of the general public was affected. On the night of September 14, when one youth named Muhammad Subahan was going home at Masowapatti village from Doomdooma, he was attacked by some miscreants allegedly belonging to the All Assam Hindu Yuva Chatra Parishad, Bajrang Dal and Viswa Hindu Parishad. After that attack, from which Muhammad Subahan managed to escape, he was followed by the assaulters. During the ensuing face off, hearing the cries of Muhammad Subahan, some women relatives of Muhammad Subahan came out from their house to pacifying the attackers. But the members of the Viswa Hindu Parishad, RSS, All Assam Hindu Yuva Chatra Parishad, Bajrang Dal reportedly attacked the women brutally. In this attack, Rukshar Khatun (19), Tamanna Khatun and Firoza Khatun received severe injury.
 
The next morning, on September 15, another Bandh call was given by the RSS-Bajrang Dal-VHP-BJP combine. On that day, the supporters of the Bandh, burnt down two butchers at the Daidam Tea Estate. 
 
It was in the midst of this build up that the Tinisukia Police arrested Aziz Khan and six others, in an attempt to bring this back to normal. According to the police account, Aziz Khan denied authorship of the controversial Facebook update. However this stance is also being questioned. Mugdhajyoti Mahanta, the Superintendent of Police, Tinisukia told Sabrangindia that, "Aziz Khan has denied that he had made the controversial Facebook update. But, he has not filed any FIR in this regard." He further added, "though Aziz Khan has no previous criminal record, all sides of the investigation are still on, It is unfortunate that intolerance in the society is sharply on the rise. The police is doing all it can t to normalize the situation."
 
On the back of this simmering tension, the next day, on September 16, another incident took place in Tinisukia Town. Some People involved with BJP and RSS alleged that a woman named Shabana Begum hoisted two Pakistani flags in front of her house at Jyoti Nagar in Tinisukia Town. The All Assam Hindu Yuva Chatra Association along with some other organizations and local people organised an open meeting in that area, expressing anger and decided to complain about the matter. The news appeared on the front page of a widely read vernacular newspaper published from from Assam. What is surprising however is that the photograph that appeared in the newspaper with the flag which that was allegedly flying in front of the house of Shabana Begum, was not a Pakistani flag.
 
When contacted once again, Mugdhajyoti Mahanta, the Superintendent of Police, Tinisukia, said, "it is surprising that a newspaper published this kind of news without making even a minimum inquiry. I have strongly objected to this level and kind of coverage. The flag that was flying in front of the house of the lady, in no way, had any similarities with the flag of Pakistan. The flag is purely a religious one, she has every right to perform her religious activities."
 
All in all what is clear is that communal tensions are being stoked in the district of Tinisukia. A senior journalist and commentator from Assam on conditions of anonymity told Sabrangindia, that the communal conflict was connected to the upcoming elections (Lok Sabha) in the state. He added that since the present BJP governments in the state and at the Centre have lost all credibility, this is their last resort. Locals from  Doomdooma, agree. Girin Gogoi, a local businessman commented to Sabrang India, "..even if Aziz Khan, did really update the controversial Facebook post, then too, his connection with the Saffron Brigade cannot be ruled out. During the last Assembly Elections, Aziz Khan campaigned for BJP." 
 
While the extreme right wing parties are trying to use incidents such as those at Tinisukia, to polarise populations, so far, the response from the wider, secular and democratic people, as also the political Opposition, to the happenings of Tinisukia District, has not been impactful or effective. Some have interpreted the group clash between ‘Hindi speaking Hindu and Muslims” which has no impact on Assamese society and state politics.
 
Leader of the opposition in the Assam Legislative Assembly and Indian National Congress Leader, Debabrata Saikia told this correspondent that the "happenings in Tinisukia District are very unfortunate for the Peace and harmony of the state. The state government should take the strongest possible action to control communal forces, which are active in the District."