After Ramu, Nasirnagar. After Nasirnagar, Santhia. After Santhia, Cumilla. And after Cumilla, Narail. One after the other, there have been communal attacks, mayhem and destruction. And we, the government, the administration, the members of the law enforcement, seem to merely look on as observers. The victims are overwhelmed with grief, but can hardly say word. They have but one question, why are we being attacked again and again? There is no resolution to this. Crimes will continue, but the criminals will remain unpunished. How can this be?
On Saturday night in Khulna, the police arrested the youth who was responsible for uploading a post on Facebook derogatory to religion. Prothom Alo reported that he was arrested at 2:00am Saturday in Khulna. On the night before, a case was filed against him. Akash is the son of businessman Ashok Saha of Dighalia village and a student at Nabaganga Degree College. Earlier the police had taken his father to the police station to ease the tension in the area.
Officials of the law enforcement claimed that the situation was already peaceful and under control. Narail's police super, additional police super and the Lohagara upazila UNO spend the entire night there. A large number of RAB and police force members were also deployed there, on patrol. Despite all this, how were the Hindu homes in Dighalia of Lohagara attacked, damaged and set on fire? Were the attackers even more powerful than the police and the administration?
It is certainly a crime to defame religion or hurt anyone's religious sentiment. It is the government's duty to bring to book anyone committing a crime. But why should the homes of Hindus be destroyed because of that incident? Why will the houses be set on fire? Why will temples be attacked?
Prothom Alo reported that additional police have been deployed in the area to maintain peace and order. RAB and the executive magistrate are patrolling the area. Members of the police special branch and detective branch are also on round-the-clock vigil in the area. Awami League and Chhatra League upazila and union level leaders, and people's representatives are also there. Some of the Dighalia Sahapara residents have begun returning home. Most of them fled the area after the attack. Shops had shut down. Some shops opened on Sunday morning.
Mashrafe Bin Mortaza, the local member of parliament, visited the people affected in the Narail communal attacks. His Facebook post was touching. He wrote with anguish, "I could never imagine that there would be divisions among ourselves. I do not know this Narail.... The incident that occurred in our area has pained me greatly and I am burning every moment." In this post he further wrote, "I take pride in the Narail in which I grew up, I cannot associate that Narail with this Narail. There is law in this country, there is the administration. They will take measures. Under no circumstances can we take the law into our own hands. Even if the allegations are true, no one has the right to assault the innocent people of an entire community just for one person. If anyone has really committed a crime, the court will try them. Neither you nor I can punish anyone."
Allegations had arisen that on Friday afternoon a college student of Dighalia in Lohagara upazila had posted a Facebook status making fun of Prophet Mohammed (SA). This incident created an uproar in the area. The furious people of the locality launched an attacked on the homes and the shops of the minority community in Dighalia bazar. They set fire to a house there. The police fire blank shots to bring the situation under control.
Mashrafe Bin Mortaza did not dispense with his duty with just a Facebook status. He went to the area and talked to the victims. A picture published in Prothom Alo showed him talking to Dipali Saha, the mother of Gobinda Saha whose home the assailants had burnt down. He was consoling her.
Dipali Saha related how a group of people first looted their home and then another group came and set it on fire. When this was happening, the 62-year-old Dipali Rani Saha and her son Gobinda went to another room and hid under the bedclothes. The assailants couldn't open the door to that room and so attacked the temple nearby and broke the statue of the goddess there.
A picture in The Daily Star shows Dipali Rani Saha by her burned down house, her hands on her head in despair. A few other affected persons stood nearby. Another picture showed the inside of the home, the furniture, doors and windows all burnt. Dipali Saha said, "We were attacked because we are Hindus. The boy who posted the Facebook status is Hindu too. How much longer will this violence chase us? Who will protect us? The police came in the morning yesterday and assured us nothing would happen. I did not ask them for assistance. But why was our house burnt?"
From Prothom Alo's report we learned that victim Gobinda Saha's home is being repaired at government expense. But how were the homes of the Hindus attacked and set on fire in the presence of the senior officials of the administration and large numbers of the law enforcement personnel? Speaking to local journalists, it was found out that there were not a large number of attackers. They divided up into groups and attacked Saha Para. The police even responded to the protestors and took the father of the accused Akash Saha to the police station. Even after that how did the incident take place? What were the administration and the members of the law enforcement doing? Many complain that the administration only woke up after the incident took place. Only then was security beefed up. Does that mean they wanted the attack to take place?
It was the same in the places where such attacks took place on the minority. The administration only became active after the incidents. Only then did the senior officials turn up and issue warnings to the criminals. But before the incident they were complacent. This has been happening over and over again. Around a month ago there had been unrest in this same Narail over a status posted by another youth. The acting principal of United College, Swapan Kumar Biswas, was humiliated though he had nothing to do with that status. Another teacher of the college, vying for the post of principal, instigated the students. Hardly had that incident come to a close, when the homes and temples of the Hindu's in Lohagara were attacked.
No one has been punished so far for the past incidents of the attacks on the Buddhist community in Ramu, for destroying the Buddhist temple there, for the attack on Hindu homes in Nasirnagar over a Facebook post, for the attacks on Hindu homes and temples in Cumilla during Durga Puja.
By saying, "I do not know this Narail," he stirred the conscience of the local people. Let the conscience of the people not just in Narail but in the whole country, be awakened
The question is, does the religious sentiment of only the majority in Bangladesh get hurt, not the religious sentiment of anyone else? When the temples and idols of the Hindus in Lohagara were destroyed, were their religious sentiments not hurt? Will they get recompense for this? Merely rebuilding the broken and burned houses will not restore the confidence of the minority community. If the attacks on them are to be halted, the criminals must be punished.
I thank Mashrafe Bin Mortaza. Unlike other people's representatives, he did not merely issue a statement. He actually stood behind the aggrieved people. By saying, "I do not know this Narail," he stirred the conscience of the local people. Let the conscience of the people not just in Narail but in the whole country, be awakened. Let an end come to the tears of Dipali Rani and the others.
* Sohrab Hassan is joint editor of Prothom Alo and a poet. He can be contacted at [email protected]
* This column appeared in the online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir