PANISAGAR/ROWA (North Tripura): On a winding street dotted with a dense cover of rubber and betel nut trees, two shrines, a temple and mosque, stand right adjacent to each other near Regional College of Physical Education (RCPE) in in Panisagar in North Tripura.
Both of these places have clear inscriptions on them that read: Built by 94 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in 1982.
That they do not belong to any individual or religious organisations. WATCH: Mosques In Tripura Weren’t Burnt, Witnesses, Imams Say
Three key documents – correspondence by Panisagar SDM in 2019 and 2021, reply filed by complainant and police fact finding committee report on abandoned mosque building being used as a safe haven by anti social elements — that have been reviewed by The New Indian indicate that RCPE mosque stands as a “dilapidated building” on public land with no mikes.
Separately, locals counter that namaaz has never been conducted in recent times at the contentious place even as the land is occupied by the complainant who has accused unknown men of arson on October 21.
Panisagar is a sub division of North Tripura where incidents of alleged torching of mosques — one near RCPE College, another in Rowa and third in Chamtila Jame — had surfaced by several including visitors from outside Tripura making it a BJP vs TMC vs Congress issue ahead of 2023 elections.
The charge now stands denied by thousands of locals including Imams, independent witnesses and police.
The North Tripura Police have though arrested four men in the October 26 shop vandalising incident in Rowa – six kilometre away from RCPE mosque — but in their final field report to Police Headquarters in Agartala that no mosque was ever burnt in Panisagar sub divisional area.
As the team of The New Indian visits Panisagar, several independent witnesses express shock on charge of arson and vandalization of mosque, saying that the site has been abandoned for several years after the CRPF vacated the place .
“For several years, CRPF used to hold their prayers at both of these places. Ever since the CRPF vacated these places 15 years ago, while we managed the temple shrine, the mosque was abandoned. No loudspeakers, no namaz prayers were ever read. One man had died here two years ago. No body visits this place. Plus if this mosque was set on fire, how come no family here ever called fire brigade service or rushed out of their homes to call cops. It’s a forest area. These charges are fake and have come as an after-thought,” Bidhu Bhushan Nath, a local, who conducts pooja at the temple tells The New Indian.
Among the other reasons is that the complainant Abdul Basit, has registered the FIR 21 days after the alleged incident, saying he was deliberating on “communication with Masjid members”.
This when complainant is secretary of the committee and his own brother Safikur Rahaman was the president of the committee till few months ago.
The FIR by Basit reads:
The fact of the case is that on October 21, some unknown miscreants vandalised Panisagar mosque near RCPE. The miscreants burnt down valuable things. The complainant stated that the delay in filing of complainant at police station occurred due to communicating the Masjid members for taking their consent
The FIR itself does not state anywhere that the mosque structure was ever set to fire or the holy book Quran was burnt inside.
The team of The New Indian also reached out to Basit in Bilthoi to seek clarifications on the delay and why he travels 10 km from his home in Bilthoi, which already has several mosques in the neighbourhood.
At his home in Bilthoi where he grows betel and paddy, Basit maintains that he had conveyed to the police about the incident on October 23, which police denies. He has not mentioned this either in his plea or the FIR though
He skirts the query on why he did not go ahead with the FIR at the same time when he discovered the incident next morning, considering the gravity of crime or why he did not mention explicitly in the FIR that mosque was set ablaze. He also didn’t give clear replies why he didnt disclose the part in the November 11 FIR that he has informed the police about the incident on October 23.
When probed further by The New Indian, he also adds a charge that Quran copy was inside the building and was burnt but gives no answer on why he did not mention this in the FIR.
“I know what I have written in the FIR. I have stated it was burnt,” says Basit. This runs contrary to the FIR copy accessed by The New Indian.
The fact-finding report by the North Tripura Police, a copy of which is with The New Indian, makes damning assessment of allegations by Basit and Shafiqur.
The report only agrees with their charges that some items were found burnt inside but it refers the building as a “dilapidated structure” not a mosque.
The fact finding report states:
Quran was not burnt. Since it was an old structure which remained abandoned since CRPF left almost 10-15 years back, the building is in a dilapidated condition for many years. There are 4 old ceiling fans, still found attached to ceiling. Local residents have testified that they never saw any of the fans operational. Report obtained from electric department regarding detail of connection and bill. A connection has been provided in the name of Atikur Rehman. There were no mikes in that old building since the time it was left abandoned and no mikes were found presently
The report further states,” Based on police records, it is found that the structure was used as safe haven by various anti-social elements and police had chased them away on several occasions. On October 6, 2021, two persons were arrested under Tripua Police Act,”
The report though agrees that items inside the structure were burnt, which later North Tripura SSP B P Chakraborty concurred with.
“The point is the delay in sharing this complaint. We are neutral in the probe. No mosque was ever burnt as any visitor can see. The valuable items inside the Panisagar mosque near RCPE college never had any Quran,” said Chakraborty.
The New Indian team has separately also accessed two detailed correspondences by SDM Panisagar of June 2019 and January 2021, declaring the two religious structures as unauthorised . “This is in reference to the necessary removal and relocation of the two two structures,” SDM Panisagar wrote to multiple stakeholders in January this year, much before the controversy over burning of this mosque surfaced.
The cops are now probing whether Basit made these charges to claim the encroached land back as his family has been approaching authorities, with the most recent letter on January 20, 2021,
“Muslim CRPF jawans handed over the mosque….that legally, we have acquired Rights by Adverse Possession as provision of the Indian Limitation Act, 1963,”,” reads the letter by Shafiqur written to SDM in January this year.
The authorities say, that as evident from January letter, they have conveyed the same decision to even the temple without any discrimination.
More witnesses reject the claims made by Basit and his family members.
“I stay in RCPE area right next to these shrines since last 15 years. I have never seen a Muslim man from my locality ever visiting this place for namaz. In fact, we didn’t even know a mosque existed since there was no loudspeakers or doors. I don’t know how people are fabricating these charges of fire now when nobody ever prayed,” said Dipan Deb Nath, who runs an e-rickshaw in Panisagar.
“I live here too. You can see we have Muslim friends too. But the fact is there was no mosque here and no one visited this place,” said Debashish Deb, a trader who lives nearby.
Our reporters including Executive Editor Rohan Dua and Senior Associate Editor Pramod Singh also asked Basit’s brother if he made the charges of arson as an after-thought as he wanted to encroach the land, he said that both mosques and temples should be removed. He did not give any satisfactory answer for the delay.
Shafiqur says,” We will not let go of our mosque, if they remove the temple from the site, only then we will allow mosque land to go back to the government,”
When asked if they suspect who could have tried to damage the structure, both Basit and Shafiqur said they are not aware of it and that every Hindu family in their neighbourhood in in Biltoi visited them to know about their well being.
“We all live in peace and have been living. This incident could have happened due to miscommunication and largely due to what happened in Bangladesh,” says Abu Tahir, Basit’s nephew, who works as sales head in Shillong.
The North Tripura Police say the investigation is being carried out on the basis of circumstantial and material evidences and that there’s no denying that shops and couple of mosque structures were damaged but it’s incorrect and planned conspiracy to fan communal tensions by alleging that religious sites were set ablaze.
The North Tripura Police are piecing together evidence to find out which outsiders visited the state to stir controversies to send out photographs of disturbances to spread violence.
(For more stories follow Pramod Kumar Singh on @SinghPramod2784)