A few children are trying hard to focus in the only classroom of a makeshift, government-run, madrassa in India’s north-eastern state of Tripura.
They can’t take their gaze away from an iron-grilled window that provides a view of the neighbouring compound.
One of the teachers approaches us with folded hands and says, “Hope all is well, sir, and nothing to worry about?”
Next door is a single-story mosque that has been damaged by a stone-throwing mob. Inside, there are brick-hammered broken doors, twisted fan blades, and shattered windowpanes.
The Chamtila mosque is surrounded by both Hindu and Muslim homes but most people prefer to stay indoors after more than 10 incidents of religious violence were reported from the district of North Tripura in October.
According to local reports, some mosques were vandalised and burned down during the violence. Bhanu Pada Chakraborty, a senior police official in the district, denied reports of mosques being set on fire, but said some had been vandalised but did not specify how many.
A mile further north of Chamtila, at least five shops were set on fire by the same mob that vandalised the mosque. In the Rowa village, all of the shops are owned by minority Muslims.
The fire completely destroyed three businesses. Ameeruddin, the owner of one of them, has had to rely on his savings to support a family of five.
“When a mob attacked our village market, I was standing directly across the paddy field. Because they were unable to reach our homes due to police presence, their rage was directed at these shops, which are closed for a few hours in the afternoon “He informed me.
The police said they were looking into complaints about the mosque and shops being damaged.
The attacks followed a huge rally taken out on 26 October by the hardline Hindu organisation, Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) – a close ally of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – and half a dozen other religious groups in the border town of Panisagar. They were protesting against recent attacks on Hindus in neighbouring Bangladesh, which encircles Tripura on three sides.
After 25 years of Communist rule, Tripura has been governed by the BJP since 2018. The opposition has accused the ruling party of attempting to mix religion and politics in order to win elections, which the BJP strongly denies.
“Minority Muslims, in my opinion, are safer under our government. We are a close-knit community, and whatever happened is regrettable. Because we are part of seven ruling governments in the north-east, our political opponents try to discredit Prime Minister Narendra Modi “According to Biswa Bandhu Sen, the deputy speaker of Tripura’s Legislative Assembly and a BJP legislator from North Tripura.
Muslims make up less than 9% of Tripura’s 4.2 million population, which is 83% Hindu, many of whom immigrated from Bangladesh.
People who have been living together for decades are stunned and dismayed by the sudden surge in communal frenzy.
The number of participants in the right-wing rally was initially estimated to be around 3,000, but police believe it was much higher.
“The rally drew around 10,000 people, and both Hindus and Muslims have accused each other of undue provocation, which is being investigated. After the mosque and shops in Panisagar were vandalised, Muslims staged a late-night protest procession “Mr Chakraborty stated.
Kadamtala town, which borders the state of Assam, is not far from Panisagar.
As word spread on social media that mosques and shops had been vandalised, a large crowd of Muslims gathered in Kadamtala, shouting slogans and demanding “immediate arrests of the perpetrators of violence.”
Some Hindu residents in Churaibari, a nearby village, claimed that Muslims targeted them. The Saha family, who live in a two-story house, showed us cellphone footage of a small crowd throwing stones and damaging their two parked cars.
Sonali Saha, 18, claims she hasn’t been able to sleep well since then.
“Around ten o’clock at night, this mob arrived and threw stones and glass bottles at me. They were gone in 10-15 minutes, but I was terrified as my mother rushed to lock all the doors and windows “, she explained.
Islamuddin, a local lawmaker from the Communist Party of India (Marxist), said the “unprecedented” violence had left both Hindus and Muslims scarred.
“Continuous efforts will be required to heal them,” he added.
A few weeks after the incident, the state government of Tripura detained two female journalists for “spreading communal disharmony,” but a court granted them bail. BJP leaders, on the other hand, deny any “agenda to stifle free speech and journalism.”
“We believe in the fairness of journalism and will never attempt to limit its independence. It’s all propaganda directed at us by certain sections of the media “Mr Sen stated
The BBC team was summoned to the Panisagar police station to explain the purpose of our visit, and we were being watched by local cops while filming interviews with Muslim shop owners in Rowa.
As of now, life in the state appears to be limping back to normalcy, but concerns about the future remain.
“It’s been difficult for us, as well as unbelievable. But we are rebuilding our lives in the hopes that this will never happen again “said Amir Hussain, 34, whose shop was partially damaged by the mob.