Hindu homes were vandalised and burned at Borokarimpur of Majipara village on Sunday night, following allegations that a youth had demeaned Islam on Facebook. Cattle, ornaments and electronics were looted. Earlier, a tense situation was prevailing in Majirpara village over a Facebook status from the noon.
Most of the families of the 20 affected households asked why the police took so much time to reach the spot. As the local police station did not respond, the community leaders called 999. Afterwards police led by Pirganj police station officer-in-charge Saresh Chandra arrived in a jeep.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, OC Saresh Chandra said they, along with around 15 or 16 members of the police, immediately stood guard at the home of youth who uploaded the post on Facebook. In the meantime, attacks were carried out at the Hindu settlement.
Attempts to resist demonstrations
The Hindu settlement was 200-300 yards away from the demonstration site in Majipara. Fata Army tried to tackle the demonstrations staged about the allegations of demeaning religion in a Facebook post. Afterwards, UP chairman Sadiqul Islam, UNO Biroda Rani Roy and newly appointed AC land Khairul Islam arrived.
Nalin Babu, 70, a resident of Southpara, said, "Sharifal member implored with them and asked why will you attack one for the fault of another. Aju master of Cheragpur was heard saying there can be no vandalisation. We will punish those who are responsible. Go away."
Md Fatah Mia alias Fata Army said, "I alone prevented 500 people first. Mahmud, like a grandson to me, called me over phone in the afternoon and said chaos had broken out in Majipara over a Facebook status. I was wearing a lungi, but rushed there by motorcycle. After arriving Majipara, I kept the motorcycle across a road. I asked them what has happened, are you the residents of our locality, what are you doing?"
They said, "Someone who posted the status on Facebook has to be captured."
I said, "The law cannot be taken in your own hands. You have to stop this. by then, 400-500 people had gathered. All of them are the residents of a nearby village, so they could hardly assault us. I called the OC over the phone. His phone was found to be busy, so I called SI Ismail. He was immediately informed the OC about the situation."
Only a bucket to extinguish the fire
Khitish Chandra Das, 60, a resident of Majirpara village, said, "Me and my family were confined to the house. The house was set on fire. People from the administration used a bucket to extinguish the fire. Old Ruhini Chandra Das said the same. He did not hide, but his son and daughter-in-law hid in the paddy field. Later they tried to put out the fire with a bucket.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, Pirganj fire service station officer Ratan Chandra Shwarma said the fire was brought under control at around 3:00am. By that time, everything was ruined. According to the Pirganj fire service, 10 houses were gutted and 19 houses were vandalised. At least seven houses, three grocery stores, a motorbike, two auto-vans and water motor were burned to ashes.
Demonstration local, attack from outside?
It was the village 'haat' (market) day on Sunday, 17 October. Earlier, puja mandaps and temples were vandalised and attacks were carried out on Hindu people in several places on allegations that Islam had been demeaned in Cumilla on 13 October. Four days after the Cumilla incident, a tense situation erupted in Majirpara village of Ramnath union of Pirganj on the day of the village market over a Facebook post demeaning religion.
Isolated Hindu village of Borokarimpur Majirpara is about five kilometers away from sadar upazila. The Akhir river is on the one side while paddy fields and a beel (marsh) are on other three sides.
Muslim villages are next to the paddy field and beels. An allegation that a youth had demeaned religion the Facebook spread on Sunday morning. A large number of people had gathered because of the village market. The locals noticed some unknown young people. The gathering started increasing in the afternoon. Local Awami League leaders and journalists said rioters came from the nearby thana Palashbari by motorcycles and pickups. Police arrested 53 people including three from the spot and others in drives over the next two days. All of them are from Pirganj. Of the arrestees, a person is Abdullahpur Awami League ward committee general secretary Mafuzur Rahman alias Labu.
Speaking to this correspondent, at least 20 people including local leaders, victims of Borokarimpur village said the demonstrators and the attackers were not the same people. The attackers were outsiders or from a nearby village and they were not known. The demonstrators could be tackled, but not the attackers. Even, those who looted are from the nearby villages, said a UP member and several victims.
On condition anonymity, a teacher said, "There are innocent people among the accused." It is learnt that in absence of an accused, his father has been arrested instead.
Speaking to this correspondent, at least 20 people including local leaders, victims of Borokarimpur village said demonstrators and the attackers were not the same people. The attackers were outsiders or from a nearby village and they were not known. The demonstrators could be tackled, but not the attackers. Even, those who looted are from the nearby villages, said a UP member and several victims.
Type of sabotage
Witnesses said those who were demonstrating from the afternoon till the evening demanding arrest of the person who demeaned Islam on Facebook are from three villages of surrounding areas.
With the efforts of police, chairman and local leaders, they became calm at 9:00pm. Police and community leaders were present near the house of the accused, north of Majirpara. But fire was seen to suddenly break out to the south of Majirpara. Fatha Miah said, "As there were only a few policemen and people, we could not go there."
An eye witness and villager Gurucharan Das, 60, said, "I was being served dinner at the time but I could not eat. I, my younger son and mother-in-law were at home. I could not take her, but I hid my son. People were coming from all directions. All roads were blocked."
Sumanchandra Das said, "The post was uploaded on Facebook in the morning, people gathered in the afternoon. It could not happen without plan!"
When local demonstrators were busy to the north of the locality, another group of young people gathered on the brick road to the south.
Swapan Chandra Sarker said, "They came after 8:30pm. All were wearing masks and seemed to be addicted young people, between 20 to 30 years. Around 30 people looted my house."
Security was beefed up at the house of the youth who posted the Facebook status. Just after evening police gathered at the locality so outsiders could not do any harm, said Swapan Chandra Sarker.
Sudden power cut
Villagers and those tackled the attackser said the electricity went out just before the attacks.
Suman Chandra Das said, "When the chairman intercepted the processionists, the electricity went out within five minutes. Attacks were carried out from two sides. They blasted crude bombs and used petrol to set fire to houses, straw and everything else. They were saying, "Set Hindus on fire and punish them."
When my elder brother was caught, he said, "I am a Muslim." Then told whom to recite the kalema, but he could not. When they gave him a beating, he ran away." That was a moonlit night. In the light of moon, although they could not be recognised, the attackers had no trouble to destroy the houses.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam