CAB protests

Tension in Tripura

Print edition : January 03, 2020

Security personnel detain a demonstrator during a strike called by the North East Students’ Organisation in Agartala on December 11 to protest against the CAB. Photo: PTI

Normal life in Tripura came to a standstill for three days as the State erupted in protest on December 9, the day the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was tabled in the Lok Sabha. The unrest continued even after the Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha on December 11. One person was killed and several private properties were damaged in the violence. As of December 12, although normalcy was returning slowly, the situation remained tense. Two columns of the Army were deployed in the State and Internet services were suspended.

The Joint Movement Against Citizenship Amendment Bill (JMACAB), a conglomeration of tribal and regional parties, non-governmental organisations and student unions of Tripura, had called for an indefinite strike to protest against the CAB. The Indigenous Peoples’ Front of Tripura (IPFT), an alliance partner of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the State, opposed the Bill.

The districts of Dhalai, Sepahijala and North Tripura were on the boil for three days. In Kanchanpur in North Tripura, violence took on an ethnic colour. The main unrest was confined to areas under the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC), which has jurisdiction over two-thirds of the State’s 10,491 square kilometre area.

Despite assurances that the TTAADC areas would be exempt from the CAB, the tribal outfits were not convinced. “The proposed exemptions in the CAB will not be able to check infiltration and migration of people into the north-eastern areas. We want full protection to the life, culture and demographic structure of the indigenous people,” Jagadhish Debbarma, general secretary of the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura (INPT), the State’s oldest tribal-based party, reportedly said.

The tribal people’s fears that the CAB would reduce their present strength is not without justification. The IPFT president and the Minister for Revenue and Fisheries, N.C. Debbarma, had told Frontline on an earlier occasion that “when kings ruled the region, tribal people formed more than 90 per cent of the population. Today, they have been reduced to 31 per cent. This will reduce further in the coming years…. Our existence in our own land is becoming insignificant.”

A recent study by the research group the Northeast Centre for Policy Dialogue shows how demographic changes have been taking place in Tripura in recent times. This fact has been worrying the tribal people. “In 2001, there were 123 villages in the State with 100 per cent tribal populations, but by 2011 the figure was reduced to 22,” said M.K. Deb, a member of the organisation.

On December 13, the JMACAB called off the agitation after a meeting with Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb. The movement’s convener, Anthony Debbarma, and the INPT president, Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhawl, announced the decision in the presence of the Chief Minister. “The Chief Minister assured us that he would take up the CAB issue with Union Home Minister Amit Shah. He has promised to convey the sentiments of the indigenous people to the Central government. Following the Chief Minister’s assurance, we have withdrawn the protest for now,” Anthony Debbarma said.

The two main opposition parties in the State, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Congress, opposed the Bill but did not take part in the agitation. The IPFT’s opposition to the CAB provides an interesting twist to the State’s politics. Although the BJP-IPFT combine convincingly defeated the CPI(M) in the 2018 Assembly election, the relations between the two partners have always been rocky. The IPFT’s protest has no doubt caused much embarrassment to the State BJP.

The State BJP spokesman, Nabendu Bhattacherjee, told Frontline: “There has been a misunderstanding. The IPFT thought that the CAB would facilitate an influx of Bengali refugees from the neighbouring Bangladesh. But, actually, it is tribal people such as Chakmas from Bangladesh who have of late been seeking refuge here. On our part, we failed to convince the tribal people that there was no danger of their numbers being reduced. The Chief Minister assured them that there was no question of refugees settling in the TTAADC areas. In fact, even in non-TTAADC areas, non-tribal people cannot settle without permission.”

The IPFT spokesperson, Mangal Debbarma, said the party had staged a seven-hour protest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on December 2 against the CAB.

 

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