A video has been seen by nearly everyone in Panisagar, a sleepy Tripura town that grabbed headlines for alleged targeting of properties owned by Muslims by participants of a Vishwa Hindu Parishad rally in October.
Twenty-seven seconds long, the clip shows hundreds of men sloganeering in Hindi down the Agartala-Assam highway, purportedly protesting against attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh. “Hindustan mai mullagiri nahi chalega,” shouts a man in a maroon kurta, mic in hand. “Nahi chalega, nahi chalega,” the crowd responds. No mullagiri – a derogatory reference to Muslims – in India.
It then turns more vicious: “Mohammad tere baap ka naam,” the man proclaims, “Jai Shri Ram, Jai Shri Ram,” the crowd responds. Translation: the name of Prophet Mohammad’s father is Lord Ram.
Leading the alleged sloganeering is Ranu Das, a 29-year-old Panisagar resident and the local general secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, the ruling BJP’s student wing. Das was earlier a Bajrang Dal worker, the youth wing of the VHP.
BJP and VHP are part of the Sangh Parivar, an amalgam of organisations led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
But there is a twist. Another version of the video, nearly three minutes long, shows Das raising different slogans in Bangla, the language spoken most widely in Tripura. “Duniyar Hindu samaj,” he shouts in this version. “Ek ho,” asserts the crowd. Hindus of the world unite.
This is followed by “Jai Shri Ram”, and “Jongibadi kalo haath bhegedao gudiyedao”, which means “we will break and destroy the black hands of the jongibadi (roughly translated as militants)”. The word is replaced by “jihadi”, and the subsequent slogans sprinkled with “Sheikh Hasina haye haye”, referring to the prime minister of Bangladesh.
Different audio, different version
The Muslim residents of Panisagar, concentrated mostly in the villages of Chamtilla and Rowa Bazaar, say that the video with Das slurring the Prophet is the original one. However, the Hindus associated with the Sangh, including Das himself, insist this version is fake, and only the longer one is real.
According to Alt News, at least seven other videos on the Tripura violence have been shared with false messaging (, , , , , , and ).
While the longer video ostensibly features a better sync between the speakers’ mouths and the Bangla slogans, Muslim residents, who claim to be eyewitnesses, allege that they saw and heard Das denigrate the Prophet during the October 26 rally – when members of the procession attacked a mosque and torched shops owned by Muslims.
Karyakarta, cricketer, engineer
Das is no beginner in Tripura’s politics. He comes from a well-known political family in North Tripura – his father, Rakesh Das, was twice elected Panisagar’s sarpanch in the 1960s and 70s, when the town was only a village outside Dharmanagar. His elder brother, Ranjit Das, started his political career in the Indian National Congress about 10 years ago, and switched to the BJP in 2016. Ranu, then 24, had joined the Bajrang Dal later that year.
“Ranu is now in BJP, but his heart has always been closer to the VHP and Bajrang Dal,” Ranjit tells Newslaundry. The elder brother’s wife, Papaya, was the chairman of the Panisagar municipality, and is contesting on a BJP ticket in the Tripura municipal elections scheduled during the last week of November.
Panisagar is a nagar panchayat outside Dharmanagar town in North Tripura district.
Since Ranu pursued engineering in Jaipur, Ranjit says, he is counted among the “very educated” in Panisagar. Those with this privilege form a local club, called the “brother’s club”, whose members were also part of the VHP rally in October.
But now, Ranu hasn’t been in Panisagar for two weeks, evading arrest after the Tripura police booked him under four sections of the Indian Penal Code – 153 (provocation with intent to cause riot), 298 (deliberate intent to wound religious feelings), 427 (mischief causing damage) and 505 (rumour or report causing public mischief and enmity).
North Tripura SP Bhanupada Chakraborty refuses to comment on the status of the police investigation against Das. “The matter is under high court observation and we are probing it. That is all I can say for now,” he says.
Over a call, Ranu tells Newslaundry that the video of him raising slogans against the Prophet is “fake”. “It makes no sense for me to raise Hindi slogans in a rally of thousands of people,” he claims. “If you’re sloganeering, you want to take people along, and so I protested in Bangla.”
The 29-year-old, who was once part of the North Tripura district cricket team, has to explain how a rally in which he played sloganeer-in-chief turned against local Muslims. On October 26, the VHP procession followed a circular route, with more than 5,000 in attendance. It gathered in Panisagar, moved two kilometres to Chamtilla village, where the participants allegedly pelted stones at a 19th century mosque; they proceeded a kilometre and a half to Rowa Bazaar, where they torched two shops, vandalised properties, and returned to Panisagar where the demonstration concluded.
The damaged mosque in Chamtilla village.
The religious site was the first structure that came under attack during the VHP rally in October.
The video in question shows Das raising slogans at the Chamtilla bridge, a few hundred metres before the mosque. In the video that Das claims is real, the decibels increase as they near the religious site.
“I saw him in the rally raising slogans against the Prophet,” claims a Chamtilla resident, on the condition of anonymity. “It was the middle part of the procession that attacked the mosque. They wore yellow head bands and sported a long tilak. The local Muslims had anticipated the violence.”
The Chamtilla bridge, where Das was recorded while raising slogans during the rally.
For his defense, Das has two theories: that the mosque in Chamtilla village was stone-pelted by CPI(M) workers who infiltrated the VHP rally; and that shops in Rowa bazaar were set alight after provocation by Muslims, who carried sickles, raised “Pakistan zindabad” slogans and proclaimed “Allahu Akbar” from the village mosque.
“When they raise such slogans, it is natural that a few men in a rally of 5,000 will be provoked,” Das says. “But none of it was planned. It was spontaneous. My own parents were at the rally. Do you think I’ll plan violence and also let them participate?”
Asked for evidence for his claims, Das says he had none. However, a from October 26 does show residents outside the Rowa Bazaar mosque, carrying bamboo sticks and sickles. Many of them rubbished the claim that they cried “Pakistan zindabad”, but admitted to raising “Allahu Akbar” slogans.
“It is the reason this mosque stands safe,” says Jashnuddin, whose brother Ameeruddin’s shop was torched. “We had to protect ourselves.”
The Rowa Bazaar mosque in Panisagar.
‘We saw Ranu Das incite the rally’
There are at least four people in Rowa Bazaar who claim that they saw Das incite the rally, insult the Prophet, cry “Jai Shri Ram” – brothers Jashnuddin and Ameeruddin, Amir Hussain and Abdul Sukkur.
All four live in Rowa Bazaar, and say that they stood outside the village mosque and watched the rally set fire to the shops 150 metres away.
Arsoned shops in Rowa Bazaar in Panisagar.
Several properties were targeted.
“I know Ranu Das and I recognise him,” Jashnuddin tells Newslaundry. “He was in the rally and raised slogans about my Prophet. The rally first vandalised the shops here and then set fire to them. The homes at the rear end of the village were also attacked. The police was present but did not act.”
Amir Husain, whose shop in Rowa Bazaar was vandalised during the rally, echoes Jashnuddin. “I have not just seen the video where he is insulting the Prophet, but also saw him do it on the day of the rally,” he says. “It was around 3 in the afternoon. It was namaz time and I was standing outside the mosque. I wish we could film him, but we were too terrified as the violence was unfolding.”
“We also did not want to leave the mosque and come near the mob,” says Abdul Sukkur. “We wanted to protect it and raised the Allahu Akbar slogan from there to ward off the arsonists.”
Ameeruddin tells Newslaundry, and Husain and Sukkur agree, that while Das raised the hateful slogan, they did not see him participate in the resulting violence.
Jashnuddin, a local, says the police was present but did not act.
Amir Husain says he saw the mob set fire to properties.
Bidith Roy, the mandal president of the VHP in Panisagar, claims that the police were investigating the contentious video. “It has been sent to the crime branch for forensic tests...We believe it is fake and politically motivated.”
Das says he is prepared to go to jail if it is proved that he had raised the slogans and incited the mob. “Two people from the VHP and one from the BJP have already been arrested by the police,” he claims. “I am willing to go to jail if anyone can prove that I insulted the Prophet and participated in the violence.”
All photos by Ayush Tiwari.
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