The miscreants took the advantage of Awami League’s inaction. They vandalised and looted 12 temples and mandaps of the city one by one.
On 13 October, on the day of Maha Ashtami, a mandap in Cumilla came under an attack over the allegation of desecration of the Holy Quran. This incident fuelled the attack on a mandap in Chhoyani area in Noakhali’s Begumganj upazila. Friday was the day of immersion.
It was already known that there were possibilities of attacks on temples in different places in protest of the desecration of the Holy Quran after the Jumma prayer. People had been informed about the protest through mikes in Noakhali’s Ikhlaspur area as well as leaflets were distributed in Bangla Bazar. Fearing communal unrest, the local administration held a meeting with the imams on Thursday and gave them some instructions in this regard. The Hindu communities were asked to complete the immersion before 12.00pm on Friday.
ABM Zafar Ullah is the chairman of Noakhali zila parishad and president of Begumganj upazila Awami League while general secretary Mamunur Rashid is the MP of Noakhali-3 constituency. However, they did not give any instructions to the activists of the party to stand guard at different mosques or temples to prevent any unwanted situation. The reason, the party leaders say, was that they thought there could be attacks in the villages and they instructed the party leaders and activists to remain alert in different unions. However, that was not the case. After the Jumma prayers, more than a thousand people demonstrated in Chowmuhani. From there they divided into several groups and vandalised 12 temples.
Panna Lal, one of the victims said, “We called the officer-in-charge (OC) of Chowmuhani police station, the superintendent of police (SP) and the local MP for help, but none of them received it.”
Chowmuhani in Begumganj is the centre of business of Noakhali district. Durga puja was arranged in a total of six places in ward no. 6 of this pourashava. All of these came under attacks.
Although Enayetullah Chowdhury, commissioner of this ward, is a supporter of Awami League, he is not active in the party’s politics. He doesn’t hold any post in the party either.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said he rushed to the ‘Chandika puja mandap’ after being informed of the attack. He tried but failed to calm down the attackers and they vandalised his motorcycle too.
He said, “If I had 50-100 people with me, then I could have stopped them probably.”
According to the sources, Awami League is divided into two groups in Chowmuhani. One group is led by Mamunur Rashid and former municipal mayor Akter Hossain leads the other. He is the president of municipal unit Awami League.
Akter Hossain told Prothom Alo over the phone that he has been in the USA for a long time for the treatment of his son.
Khaled Saifullah is the mayor of Chowmuhani pourashava. He is not involved in the party’s politics and won the election as an independent candidate. He has another identity – brother of local MP Mamunur Rashid.
He told Prothom Alo that it was a planned attack. However, they could not anticipate this beforehand. He rushed to the spot after knowing about the demonstration. Later, one of the members of police pulled him out of the area after the protesters started throwing stones.
Although there was no direction from the party, some of the leaders and activists of Awami League and Jubo League took to the streets. However, they were quite a few in numbers and isolated. Several activists, including Aminul Haque, joint convener of Noakhali Jubo League, received injuries while trying to stop the attackers.
Local MP Mamunur Rashid told Prothom Alo, "They (the attackers) had specific plans. We didn't have."
He said the Awami League leaders prayed in different mosques. However, they probably thought that there would be no disturbance. If anything, it will be in the union councils. For this reason, their leaders and activists were asked to remain vigilant in 13 mandaps of six unions. The manpower of police in the city is also high. For these reasons, instructions were not given to remain alert in the mandaps in the city.
MP Mamunur Rashid told Prothom Alo that even though he did not go, his son went to the spot in his (MP's) car. The attackers vandalised his car as well.
When asked whether the incident occurred taking advantage of the feud in their party, Mamunur Rashid said he did not think so.
When asked about the allegations of the victims that they were not picking up their phones, the local MP said he was in touch with the party's central leader, police officials and local Hindu community leaders on two phones after the incident. That is why he could not pick up the phone at the time.
*This interview appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu