The locals, police and eyewitnesses say a group of people tried to incite the situation there over an allegation that a youth from nearby Majhipara village uploaded a post defaming religion on Facebook.
Police cordoned off the house of the youth in Majhipara village and nearby houses to prevent any possible attack. Later, hundreds of agitated people vandalised and set fire to the houses of the people in Barakarimpur village.
This correspondent spoke to at least 15 eye witnesses of the incident. They said some miscreants vandalised the houses of the Hindu people while chanting religious slogans. They also had beaten up and intimidated the people of Hindu community and used abusive language. To save their lives, women, men and children left their homes and took shelter in the adjacent cropland. The miscreants then set fire to the houses one by one.
According to eyewitnesses, although the attackers entered the village homes and carried out vandalism for at least half an hour, police took no action. The people who had taken shelter in the paddy fields returned home when police went to the spot after the miscreants had left.
The cries of women, men and children could still be heard at around 6.45am on Monday. Nanda Rani, 23 and her mother-in-law Sumati Rani, 55, were seen lamenting. It was found that four tin-roofed houses of Sumati Rani’s three sons and all the things inside those were completely burnt. Two of their cows were burnt as well. The battery-run auto-rickshaw, the main source of the income of the family, was also burned down.
Sumati’s son Pradip Chandra said hundreds of people entered the house while chanting religious slogans and two of the attackers started beating him up. But he somehow managed to escape from there. The other members of the family also fled the scene in fear. The miscreants took Tk 25,000, a television and a cow from the house. They also set fire to the house while leaving.
The sound of cries also could be heard from the other houses around. Upon entering one of those houses a child and a woman are seen sitting and crying on the porch of a burnt house. That woman's name is Tara Rani and beside her is Barsha Roy, 9, her child.
After a while, Nani Gopal Roy returned home and was trying to console his wife and children. He said his four tin-roofed houses, rice, paddy and all the furniture had been burnt to ashes.
Rani was bewailing that, “God, what was our fault? Why did they burn all the things down? Where will we live now, what will we do, what will we eat?”
Nani Gopal said he was worshiping in the Radhagovinda temple adjacent to their home during the time of attack. All of a sudden hundreds of people entered the house and the temple and set fire. They also looted their cows and ornaments. Everything except their clothes has been burnt to ashes. He also alleged that they did not get any help from the police despite informing them about the incident over the phone.
Shirish Chandra, a resident of the village, said, “Yes, police came. But it was too late. Now the village is crammed with policemen. What is the benefit of deploying police now?”
Russell Mia, 35, a resident of the village, gave the same description of the incident and described it as “tragic”. Such cruelty cannot be accepted in any way, he said.
Purnima Rani said the miscreants first sought for her two young girls. Later, they entered the house and looted Tk 50,000 and a cow.
Another victim Niranjan Roy said at least 21 houses of some 15 families have been completely burnt down. At least 50 houses of the village have been vandalised. The attackers looted at least 25 cows and 10 goats from these houses.
The house of the youth in Majhipara village, whose Facebook post sparked the incident, was seen locked from outside and the house is being cordoned by the members of police.
Pulin Chandra, a resident of this village, the young man and his family locked their house on Sunday evening and they have gone into hiding since then.
Biplab Kumar Sarker, police superintendent (SP) of Rangpur, was present at the spot. He said these miscreants would not be spared.
They have attacked, vandalised and set fire to the houses like invaders.
At least 30 people have already been arrested in connection with the incident. Preparations have been on-going to lodge a case over this incident.
*This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu