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Worship had been continuing till 2.00am at the temporary mandap in Nanua Dighi Par the day before the incident. Police sources said a man named Ekram Hossain called 999 around 7.00am on 13 October and informed them that there was a Holy Quran in the mandap. This indicates that the Holy Quran had been put there between 2.00am to 7.00am on 13 October.

According to the police investigation, the man who took the Holy Quran to the mandap is around 35 years old and from Nanua Dighi area in Cumilla. Police are keeping contact with his family. However, he is yet to be arrested.

When asked about his religion, an official told Prothom Alo that they do not want to disclose his religious identity before his arrest.

Police have identified him by analysing the footage of CCTV cameras near the mandap and information from several sources. However, his whereabouts have not been confirmed yet. It has not been possible to know why he did that until his arrested.

Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan also said that the main accused over the incident of desecration of Holy Quran had been identified. During a programme at the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) headquarters in Dhaka on Tuesday he said, “The main accused is repeatedly changing his position. I think we will be able to arrest him within a very short time.”

Police sources said a local youth named Ekram Hossain called the emergency service to inform about the desecration of the Holy Quran at the mandap. Police have interrogated him. As of now, police think he was there by chance.

Anwarul Azim, officer-in-charge (OC) of Kotwali police station in Cumilla, rushed to the spot after getting the call and retrieved the Holy Quran. He also spoke to the people present there.

At that time a man named Mohammad Foyez started posting the incident live on Facebook. He mentioned the incident of desecration of Holy Quran in Facebook live and instigated people to stand against this. After that, people started to throng there. Police have arrested him. Locals have raised questions about the motive of his activity.

Foyez told police that he did that spontaneously. It is being investigated whether he had any contact with anyone else or not. Police have taken him on remand for two days through the court for questioning.

According to police sources and locals, Foyez was abroad for a long time. He returned to the country just before the coronavirus outbreak. He has opened a mobile phone shop at Khandoker Haque Mansion in Kandirpar area of Cumilla. He lives in the city’s Digambori Tala, north-east to Nanua Dighi area.

A shopkeeper in Khandoker Market, who did business with Foyez, said his political affiliation was not known.

Communal unrest overshadowing religious harmony

The people of Hindu community have been living around the almost six hundred-year-old Nanua Dighi for a long time. The settlement of Muslims has increased with time. However, still 40 per cent of the residents around the dighi are Hindus.

The house of Akbar Hossain, a former minister and late BNP leader, is on the north bank of Nanua Dighi. The temporary mandap was located in front of his house. The house of Cumilla City Corporation mayor Monirul Haque is in the south-east corner of the Dighi. This area was once considered as the elite area of Cumilla city.

Many questions have arisen in the minds of local people since the incident. The locals still can't believe how such an incident could occur in the town of religious harmony.

Cumilla’s local administration officials and leaders of various parties say religious groups have played a key role in the country's past communal clashes. This time, there was no such religious group.

Almost all of the protesters on the banks of Nanua Dighi and the attackers on the mandap are young in age dressed with general attire.

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Police sources say these young people started to throng around the mandap after the Holy Quran was rescued and the incident went live on Facebook. At first, they demanded for the closure of the mandap. However, a few of them demanded for the destruction of the temple and the situation escalated from that point on.

Ahsanul Kabir, a well-known cultural personality in Cumilla who lives near the Nanua Dighir Par told Prothom Alo he had not seen such unrest in the last 50 years. Most of the people who came to protest that day were young and unknown. Their main purpose could not be understood at the time. They had different sorts of demands. The imam from the nearby mosque tried to calm them down through the mike. Despite that the tension spread throughout the city.

Role of administration and the law enforcement agencies

Police sources said not more than 500 people were present at once on the banks of Nanua Dighi during the day-long agitation. Not too many people took part in the attack on temples and mandaps in different parts of the city. Law enforcement did not take a tough enough stance to stop them.

Some 300 to 400 people were protesting on the banks of Nanua Dighi around 10.30am that day. Political leaders, deputy commissioner, city mayor and superintendent of police (SP) were present there. They tried to calm them down. Eyewitnesses said that the number of police was still low despite a protest being ongoing on one side and presence of important persons on the other.

Taking advantage of weak defence, the protester started to throw brickbats and took the situation out of control. At one point, the officials of the administration and political leaders were forced to move to a safer place. At around 11.30 am police started applying force and firing tear gas shells.

The eyewitnesses say if police had dispersed the mob in the first place, the situation could have been brought under control.

A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the situation would have been worse if the police had used force first. The police had tried to avoid casualties.

Deputy commissioner Mohammad Kamrul Islam said in Monday, the situation was handled with patience that day to avoid any casualty.

There were a total of 74 mandaps for Durga Puja under Cumilla Kotwali police station. Almost all of them are situated in a temple. The mandap on the banks of Nanua Dighi was not temple-centric.

This was a temporary mandap set up on the occasion of Durga Puja. For this reason, there was no CCTV camera in this mandap.

The locals say the then minister Akbar Hossain first encouraged to set up a mandap in front of his house on the banks of Nanua Dighi in 2001. His longtime friend Sudhir Chandra Roy Karmakar got the responsibility of organising the puja. From then on, a mandap was set up there every year during Durga Puja. After Sudhir's death, his family is in charge of this puja mandap.

Shiv Prasad Roy, president of the Cumilla Puja Udjapan Committee and the office secretary of city Awami League, told Prothom Alo that the mandap would have been unprotected after 2.00am as it was not a permanent temple. The miscreants have taken this opportunity. He claimed that the Cumilla incident was a part of national conspiracy. The damage could have been more severe if the local administration and residents had not come forward.

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