Now a Christian-Hindu Divide in Tripura Villages
Posted September 15, 2003
Agence France-Presse, Guwahati, December 31.
Tribal Hindu villagers in Tripura on Tuesday pledged to fight 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 tribals and threatened them with death if they do not pay up.
"The demand notes were served only to tribal Hindu villagers with warnings of capital punishment to those who violated their diktat," Aswathama Jamatia, head priest of the Jamatia Hoda, an influential tribal Hindu group, told AFP by telephone.
Police have confirmed the extortion demands by the NLFT, which is a predominantly Christian group fighting for an independent tribal homeland.
Community leaders say the NLFT has demanded three per cent of the annual earnings of all government employees as tax, besides charging anything between Rs 2,000 to Rs 5,000 from farmers and businessmen.
Villagers in remote areas have formed vigilante groups to foil the NLFT's drive. "People armed with sticks and other crude weapons, including bows and arrows, patrol vulnerable villages to scare away militants who come for extorting money," Rampada Jamatia, secretary of the Jamatia Hoda, said. "At no cost are we going to pay the militants."
Tribal Hindus account for about 22 per cent of Tripura's 3.2 million people. Christians are just about eight per cent of the state's population.
Tribal Hindus also accuse the NLFT of converting people to Christianity at gunpoint.
Insurgency in the state took root after a 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 per cent of the Tripura population in the 1931 census, are now just 30 per cent.
More than 10,000 people have lost their lives to insurgency in Tripura during the past two decades.