Christian separatist group in Tripura target tribal Hindus
By Syed Zarir Hussain, Indo-Asian News Service
Guwahati, Dec 31 (IANS) Tribal Hindu villagers in India's northeastern state
of Tripura Tuesday vowed to fight back alleged extortion demands by a
Christian separatist group, community leaders said.
Militants of the outlawed National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) have
served extortion notices to hundreds of Hindu tribal villagers and
threatened to kill them if they don't pay up soon.
"The notes were served only to Hindu villagers with warnings of capital
punishment to those who violated the diktat," Aswathama Jamatia, head priest
of Jamatia Hoda, an influential tribal Hindu group, told IANS by telephone.
The NLFT, fighting for an independent tribal homeland, is a predominantly
Police have confirmed the extortion demands to Hindu villagers in Tripura.
"We have received some complaints in this regard," said a police official in
Tripura's state capital Agartala.
Community leaders say the NLFT was demanding three percent of the annual
earnings of all government employees as tax, besides charging between Rs.
2,000 and Rs 5,000 from farmers and other businessmen.
Villagers in remote areas have formed vigilante groups to foil the NLFT's
"People armed with sticks and other crude weapons, including bows and
arrows, patrol vulnerable villages to scare militants who come for extorting
money," said Rampada Jamatia, secretary of Jamatia Hoda. "At no cost are we
going to pay the militants."
Tribal Hindus account for 22 percent of Tripura's 3.2 million people.
Christians are just about eight percent of the state's total population.
Tribal Hindu groups say the NLFT has been converting people to Christianity
"We believe up to 5,000 tribal villagers were coerced into converting to
Christianity by the NLFT during the past couple of years," the head priest
Community chiefs and religious heads of 19 tribes, who met recently, formed
a platform called the Tribal Culture Protection Committee to counter the
perceived militant threat.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) ruled government in Tripura has
accused the church of boosting secessionist campaigns in the state.
Police in Tripura in 2002 arrested 10 church leaders on charges of colluding
with separatists in the killing of some CPI-M members.
Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, however, said his government does not
have "hard evidence" of the Christian missionaries' nexus with rebel groups.
"The fact remains that militant groups have been targeting government
schools and non-Christian people, while institutions run by missionaries are
never touched," he said.
"We want the Christian missionaries to make their stand clear and help us
fight militancy for the greater interest of the state."
Church leaders have denied the allegations.
"In fact, a number of our priests and missionaries have been the target of
attacks by unidentified miscreants over the past couple of years," said Jong
Bahadur Debbarma, a church leader.
"Instead of just accusing the church of having nexus with militants, the
Indian government should initiate a probe and punish the guilty."
The genesis of insurgency in Tripura can be traced back to the massive
influx of Bengali-speaking refugees when East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, was
created during India's partition in 1947.
The indigenous tribal people, who accounted for 95 percent of the Tripura
population in the 1931 census, are now just 30 percent.
More than 10,000 people have lost their lives to insurgency in Tripura
during the past two decades.
--Indo-Asian News Service
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