Violence in Tripura: Anti-Journalism Crackdown in India

On the 7th of November, social media users, activists, reporters, and journalists received some shocking yet unsurprising news: the police of Tripura, a state in India, released the names of 102 social media accounts for which officers now had an arrest warrant. They were charged under Section 13 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for “posting allegedly distorted news regarding communal violence in the state,” according to The Hindustan Times. Additional reports also indicated the arrest warrants of four Delhi-based activists included in the arrest list with further charges under India’s Penal Code. According to Tripura Police, these activists were accused of sharing “false information.”

In a tweet posted to their Twitter page, Tripura police wrote, “Some posts in social media projecting doubts on the impartiality of Tripura police in taking action against the perpetrators of recent communal incidents have been noticed. It is reiterated that police is investigating these cases in a completely impartial and lawful manner.” The tweet further stated, “Appropriate action is being taken against anyone found involved in these incidents. Tripura police have so far arrested 6 persons involved in various communal incident cases. Further investigation in these cases is going on.” 

Khaled Beydoun, an activist, author, and law professor was included in the list. On the 7th of November, Beydoun tweeted, “Apparently I’ve been booked under the UAPA law in #India for my tweets. I’m a law professor that hasn’t stepped foot in India in 4 years, mind you.” Despite being a name on the list, Beydoun has continued to call out and be critical of India’s government and its false belief in free speech. Journalists such as Shyam Meera Singh also confirmed his name was on the list because of his tweet, “Tripura is burning.” Additionally, Supreme Court lawyers Ehtesham Hashmi, Amit Srivastava, Ansar Indori, and Mukesh Kumar were also booked, according to The Hindu. 

Such disciplinary actions were taken by Tripura police after photos and videos showcasing the destruction of “12 mosques, nine shops, and three houses” surfaced on social media, according to The Wire India. These violent acts were part of a six-day onslaught against the Muslim minority community in the state, following the persecution against Hindus in Bangladesh in early October. Officers were firm in the belief that the pictures and videos uploaded on these sites were depicting another violent incident, and users were comparing it to what was happening in Tripura. As a result, officers wrote letters to YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, requesting the removal of 68 accounts that had uploaded or shared such media. They believed that such posts “[promoted] enmity between religious communities through a criminal conspiracy,” according to The Hindustan Times. 

However, the move to censor what was happening in Tripura didn’t cease there. Police went on to further encourage that no other social media users like, retweet, or reshare the images/videos because these actions would be feeding into the “rumors.” The department tweeted the following: “Tripura Police appeals to all not to spread rumors regarding [P]anisagar incident. Please do not retweet or like the social media post without verification since it amounts to endorsing the view. Law and Order situation is under control in the state.”

According to The Wire India, some of the first charges were filed against two lawyers, Ansar Indori and Mukesh, after they published a fact-check report that investigated what happened in the Tripura state. The report was titled ‘Humanity Under Attack in Tripura; #Muslim Lives Matter.’” 

In a Muslim majority country, Bangladesh, the Hindu minority was persecuted after a rumor spread that the Holy Qur’an, the Book of Islam, had been insulted in a temple during the Durga Puja festival. However, in the mosques that were burned in Muslim minority-Tripura, pictures also showed burnt Qur’an. After reports of the violent attacks against the Hindus surfaced, the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), a Hindu organization that is also a close ally to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), worked to organize a rally for the persecuted Hindus. This was rejected as Tripura police had already restricted large gatherings following attacks on the Muslim community. 

According to BBC World News, an estimate of 3,500 people had joined the rally. “Some VHP activists participating in the rally ransacked a mosque in the Chamtilla area. Later, three houses and three shops were ransacked and two shops were set on fire in the Rowa Bazar area, around 800 yards from the first incident,” said Soubhik Dey, a police officer in Panisagar. 

First, the story of what happened to the Muslims in Tripura is a clear representation of the ongoing assaults and violent crackdowns against the Muslim minority community that has been further fueled since Prime Minister Narendra Modi rose to power. Second, the move to censor and label testimonies from the ground as “misinformation” is also nothing new. The desperation to control the media and dominant narratives was seen after the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), barring Muslims from obtaining citizenship, the arrest of 21-year-old climate activist Disha Ravi, the lack of awareness and empathy during the second wave of COVID, and the harassment toward journalists and their families. As Modi’s leadership continues, India’s media environment continues to become dire. 

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 55 journalists have been killed with confirmed motives, and 28 have been killed with unconfirmed motives. In India, we see that more and more journalists are turning to independent reporting to relay the truth. To lessen the extremities experienced by journalists, activists, and scholars, the entire Indian government needs urgent reform. At a baseline level, community members are urged to provide security, legal assistance, and care to the reporters that risk their lives daily, to tell the truth.