Agartala: Type ‘lynching in India’ in Google, and almost all the lead stories are from mainland India. But dig a little deeper, and you see that Tripura in Northeast India has a shocking consistency when it comes to mob lynching cases. Now, since the police don’t keep a separate record for lynching cases, it would be difficult to ascertain how many such cases have been reported from Tripura. But when a senior police officer, off the record, says, “We are launching a special drive for public awareness against mob lynching” – it gives a fair assessment of how things are on the ground. 

From lynching ‘smugglers’ to attacking doctors, mobs have spared no one, and in March 2022, Litan Miah became another name on the list of people murdered by an angry mob. 

It was the morning of March 30, 2022. Fatema Begum, 21, had been waiting for her husband to return. She woke up early as usual and was about to prepare breakfast for her family when the devastating news struck. No one spoke to her directly, but from the conversation of the elders, she knew something had gone wrong with her husband.

Fatema Begum, the wife of Litan Miah, who was lynched by a mob, with their two children. Photo courtesy: Mrinal Banik

“No one was telling me what had happened to him. We went to the hospital and saw him panting desperately and screaming; he was in extreme pain. We begged the doctors, the cops to refer him or let us shift him to a city-based hospital for better treatment but they refused,” a teary-eyed Fatema told EastMojo

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The last memory Fatema has of her husband was of him venturing out of home at around 3 am, assuring her he would return soon. He never did.

“I only received a message that my husband was admitted at Kathalia hospital in critical condition. The police said that locals of Baramura village – a little less than five km from our house – had detained him after ‘catching him red-handed’ while stealing cattle. He was thrashed mercilessly, and there was an iron rod inserted in his leg. His whole body was full of scars and injury marks,” she added.

As per media reports, Litan Miah, 28, was allegedly lynched by an irate mob on suspicion of being a cattle thief on March 29. But Fatema is reluctant to accept it. She said it was cold-blooded murder, which was later presented before the public in an altogether different manner.

“The police and the main culprits enjoying strong political connections are working hand-in-glove to conceal the truth,” she alleged. 

Fatema is now responsible for her three-year-old daughter and an eight-month-old son.

A protest by the Nagarik Suraksha Majlish

Fatema does not believe her husband was innocent. Talking about what she termed as ‘Oi Parer Bebsa (business across the other side/Bangladesh side)’, she says, “My father in law, my husband, all of them do the same kind of work. I have no objections if they are legally penalised for the same. Law must take its course, but what happened to me is unacceptable.”

She believes disputes around the alleged business led to Litan Mia’s murder. “He told me how things are getting complicated in the shared business. His partners Sentu Debnath, Bishu Debnath and Bindu Debnath were consistently making trouble in the business. He used to stay with them all the time, and on the day of the incident, he went out to meet them. The police are also playing in their hands,” she added.

“Do you think if someone is going out to lift cows for smuggling, he will wear a nice pair of denim and t-shirts?” Fatema asked, breaking into tears.

“Three hours after he left (3 am), my uncle-in-law received the information over the phone. We went to the hospital and waited for hours before he was finally referred, and I still remember as soon as he was boarded on the ambulance, he stopped moving. On reaching the district hospital at Melagarh, he was declared ‘brought dead’. Weeks passed after my father-in-law Jamal Miah lodged an FIR with the local police station. Two people were arrested after protests broke out all over, but things cooled down with time, and we hardly know anything about the progress in the investigation,” she said, adding that had she been able to do something, she would have challenged the role of police in Court.

Fatema may have lost her husband, but at least she has a family that will take care of her and her children. The future is far bleaker for Harun Miah and Nurul Naha, both senior citizens and parents of Billal Hossain, who was lynched in 2021 by an irate mob. Why? Alleged cattle smuggling. 

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Billal Hossain (28) was lynched with two other Muslim men by a group of unknown assailants at Teliamura under the Khowai district of Tripura. The incident took place about 100 km from his residence in Sonamura under the Sepahijala district.

Harun Miah and Nurul Naha, parents of Billal Hossain, who was lynched by an irate mob in 2021

The grief of the ill-fated couple mounted up when their daughter-in-law left their house, also taking with her their only grandson, forever. 

“We lost our son almost a year back. Within months, our grandson also left us alone in this barren house,” a dejected Nuha told EastMojo

“My son Billal was in Saudi for about four and half years. On his return in 2013, we thought it was the right time to get him settled. His marriage was solemnised with a girl from another Karaliamura, a village located under the same subdivision. Unfortunately, his married life was not happy,” the deceased’s mother explained.

On the day of the incident, she said, Billal was at his in-laws house. “My elder son Salim (Miah) first noticed a viral video on the internet where he saw his brother lying motionless. Immediately, he ran towards home and told us that something happened to Billal. We were preparing to leave for Teliamura when Salim’s telephone rang. Police officials from Teliamura informed us to rush there as early as possible.”

On reaching there, she said, police told them that Billal along with three more persons were killed by a frenzied mob of locals on suspicion of being cattle lifters. Jayed Hossain and Saiful Islam of adjacent villages Rangamatia and Bordowal also died during the mob attack. The parents of Billal, however, have no idea how their son reached Teliamura and what led to his death.

“I had advised Billal to go abroad once again as the family was undergoing a serious financial crunch. The money he brought was almost finished and the piece of land I had was sold out to repay the loans he took after marriage. He tried his hands in the fruit and vegetable business but due to the lockdown, things did not work out. He was supposed to go back after the lockdown was lifted but all dreams were reduced to nothing as the devastation struck our family,” said Miah.

On being asked whether any cases were lodged or not on the part of their family, Miah said, “We lodged a case with the Sonamura police station a few days after the incident. When we saw no progress, all the victims’ families decided to move to the Court. We have filed a petition together but what is the present status of the case is not known to us.”

Trucks lined up in front of the integrated checkpost in Sonamura, adjacent to Billal Hossain’s house.

Given the cold shoulder by police, not even allowed to protest

Both the families allege that the police investigation in connection with the lynching incidents was not up to the mark. In both cases, they felt their voices for justice were either unheard or ignored.

Speaking on the issue, Dilwar Hossian, secretary of Nagarik Suraksha Majlish (NSM), a civil rights body based out of the Sonamura region, said, “We have spoken to the victim families. Their grievances with the police investigation had been highlighted before the senior officials. We have met the senior rank officials as well. Every time we prepare for any protest rally, police try to placate the protestors by assuring us of action against the perpetrators. But the real offenders are still at loose with no visible attempts from the police.”

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After Litan’s death, NSM took out a protest rally at Dhanpur. A rally was also scheduled at Sonamura, but it was cancelled due to the Police’s request.   

Akhtar Hossan, representing the families of the mob lynching at Teliamura, said, “There are two cases lodged in connection with the incident in two separate police stations–Kalyanpur and Teliamura. According to a central government notification, victims of such incidents deserve financial aid from the government of India. The families did not receive the compensation as well despite the submission of a written appeal to the District Magistrate. We shall soon file a suit in the High Court of Tripura seeking justice for the victims’ families. The progress in the investigation shall be also revealed once we move the High Court.”

A protest launched by the Nagarik Suraksha Majlish after Litan’s lynching. 

Tripura Police continues to maintain silence on the progress in these cases, and despite several attempts, EastMojo could not get a senior official to address this issue on the record. Senior police officials, however, on the condition of anonymity, accepted that in recent years, such incidents have taken place regularly.

“Cow plays a crucial role in village households. It supports the family financially and also feeds the children. When people feel there is a theft threat in their village, they become violent. The police are making all efforts to convince people not to take the law into their own hands. We are launching a special drive for public awareness against mob lynching. All field formations have been asked to do the awareness meetings quickly.”

For political parties, especially the opposition, lynching incidents are an easy way to attack the ruling party and question the state’s law and order situation, but little else. Soon after the incident of Khowai took place, TIPRA Chairman Pradyot Manikya in a tweet condemned the incident and said, “anyone who takes law in their hands should be punished! We live in a lawful society and the public murder of the 3 people irrespective of the alleged crime is unacceptable. If they were guilty it was the responsibility of the police to arrest them not the mob to lynch them.”

According to political experts, the lynching of Muslims, many of whom are alleged criminals, is a sensitive issue that no political party wants to touch. Which explains why the opposition parties might condemn the incident, but offer little, if any, help to these families. 

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