As a sequel to the Cumilla incident, miscreants carried out attacks on members of the Hindu community and vandalised 12 temples, and looted and damaged a few shops and homes for three hours in Chowmuhani of Begumganj, Noakhali on Friday. Two ISKCON devotees were also killed in the incident. Prothom Alo talked to former president of Noakhali district bar and convener of Noakhali Citizens’ Rights Forum Molla Habibur Rasul about the communal violence and the ensuing situation.
After the Cumilla incident, couldn’t the incidents that broke out in Noakhali have been avoided?
Whoever orchestrated the Cumilla incident did it with an ulterior motive. I do not think that what happened in different parts of the country following this, especially the violence in Chowmuhani, Noakhali, were carried out by actually pious persons. I think people who did this are extreme communal forces as well as some opportunists who are involved in looting.
Security should have been ensured in puja mandaps across the country after the Cumilla incident. Undoubtedly this violence could have been stopped if the administration remained cautious and took security measures, especially as the day of immersion was Friday, Jumma. But, the victims said the administration did not take any effective measures.
What do you think was the role of political leaders?
Time and again it comes to the fore, how little our political leaders are in favour of communal harmony. Though the administration did not take any measures following the incidents in Cumilla, this violence could have been avoided if the local leaders of the ruling party could mobilise people irrespective of their party and political belief and take up certain preventive measures.
What should be done for the victims?
It is the responsibility of the administration or the government to rebuild the vandalised houses and temples. At the same time, the government should pay heed to what happened at the individual level.
Why is there this recurrence of communal violence?
It is hard to say why the incidents of communal violence recur in Bangladesh. The question arises anew as to how far the people in our country believe in the principles of secularism enshrined in our constitution. Personally I believe the bigger political parties should adopt the principle of maintaining communal harmony in their rallies and processions. Another thing is that the article on state religion is contradictory with one of the central principles of the constitution, that is secularism. Many things are responsible for this. The people of this country freed Bangladesh by taking position against a religious state, Pakistan. Communal harmony could be maintained if that spirit is revived.
What are your observations about the trial of the incidents of communal violence that took place in Noakhali before?
Cases should be filed against the people involved in the attacks by identifying them from CCTV footage. Naming someone as the accused simply out of speculation, harms the case in various ways. The incident that took place in Ramganj in 2013 could be mentioned here as an instance. So many people have been made accused in that case! The trial has begun only now. Let’s see when it ends. That’s why it is important to finish the trial quickly by identifying the accused specifically, filing cases against them and submitting the charge sheet.
* The interview, originally published in Prothom Alo Bangla online, has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza