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Tripura villagers flee after attack; blame minister for arson, looting

 KALIKAPUR (TRIPURA), Oct 20 - The 300-odd people of West Tripura district, who had fled the area after their homes were torched and looted over the alleged molestation of a girl, today said that they were scared to return.

They alleged that the looting and ransacking of their houses in the Lalit Bazar locality under the Ranirbazar Police Station area began following instigation by Revenue Minister and prominent tribal leader NC Debbarma, who had gone there on Friday.

Debbarma, president of the Indigenous People’s Front Tripura (IPFT), declined to comment on the charge.

Prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the CrPC were promulgated in the area for 48 hours from 8 am on Saturday, Subdivisional Magistrate Subhasish Bandopaddhyaya said.

Bandopaddhyaya, who is camping in the area, said that at least four houses were set ablaze on Friday and many others ransacked and looted. Officials have started recording the losses, he said.

There was no problem after the initial confrontation on Thursday over the alleged molestation. But a group of tribal youths started torching and looting houses only after the minister’s visit, said the people who had fled and are now sheltered in a school near their village.

“The ransacking and looting of our houses started only after NC Debbarma visited the spot. He came here at 9 am and looting of our houses started around an hour later. He had instigated the tribal youths to do the misdeeds,” Samena Khatun (50), who is among the 300 people, alleged.

“My house was ransacked. The gas cylinder, stove and golden jewellery were taken away. My ducks and chickens were looted. All these happened when the minister was present. When we told him about the looting, he said they (attackers) do not listen to him,” Khatun claimed.

Another woman, Sulekha Khatun (45), said, “My house was set ablaze, my belongings looted. I do not want to return. Let the police shoot me dead. I will not return.”

The village is a stone’s throw from a camp of the Tripura State Rifles (TSR) and villagers alleged that they did not act during the attack on the village.

“Our cattle and chickens were looted, and houses were ransacked. The TSR camp is not even 100 yards away. Everything happened before the police, paramilitary forces and the minister. I will not return home in such a condition,” said Hajar Banu (85).

The incident started when a girl, along with her boyfriend, had come to the Ranirbazar area on Thursday from a nearby locality to see Durga idols there and four youths allegedly molested her and snatched her mobile phone. The two went back to their locality and then returned with a large group of people who tried to attack the houses of those who reportedly molested the girl. The four had fled by then but were arrested on Friday.

The attack continued on Friday and, on receipt of the information, Debbarma went there to pacify the situation but it could not be controlled immediately and around 300 members of 61 families fled.

The district administration provided them food and a large contingent of the police and TSR personnel have been deployed in the area. “Security for the villagers will continue so long as the villagers are afraid,” the sub-divisional magistrate said.

When contacted, the IPFT president said, “We will hold a press conference and tell you about the incident.” On the villagers’ complaint that looting and ransacking started in his presence, he declined to comment.

The IPFT’s major partner, BJP, claimed the incident was the result of a conspiracy. “We want punishment for both the molesters and those who looted and torched houses. No guilty should be spared.” BJP spokesperson Ashoke Sinha said. Senior CPI(M) leader Pabitra Kar said the administration should try its best to restore normalcy at the earliest. – PTI

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