Bangladesh: Attack On Buddhists Preplanned

Tearing out the soul

From the ruins of a temple in Ramu of Cox’s Bazar yesterday, a Buddhist monk retrieves scriptures that were left unburned in the arson by a mob of religious fanatics. Inset, idols of Lord Buddha silently testify to the overnight mayhem. Photo: Anurup Kanti DasInam Ahmed and Julfikar Ali Manik, from Ramu, Cox’s Bazar

It has all the telltale signs of a preplanned attack. A very focused operation that targeted Buddhist homes and establishments. The Muslim houses nestled between the Buddhist houses were left untouched.

The attack spanned over six hours. The attackers swept across Ramu, demolishing temples and houses neighbourhood after neighbourhood. And all this while, the role of the police and local administration remains veiled in mystery.

And, most interestingly, nobody in Ramu — neither the Muslims nor the Buddhists — seems to know who the attackers were. They are either telling the truth or are intentionally hiding the identities of the attackers. But one thing is sure: a large number of the attackers were brought in from outside in trucks, pickups and three-wheelers. A spontaneous spark of fury it was not.

A day after the attack on the Buddhist community by Muslims in which 12 temples were either torched or vandalised, Ramu was yesterday seeped in sheer awe, disbelief and depression.

Uttam Kumar Barua, who was tagged in some images insulting to Islam on his Facebook account, is now in police custody. Neighbours saw police taking him and his mother away at 11:30 at night after the attack started. His wooden house is now padlocked. Nobody is there anymore.

The role of the officer-in-charge of Ramu Police Station, Nazibul Islam, is questioned by everyone.

Angry people started gathering close to the Buddhist neighbourhood around 7:30pm and were openly threatening to attack the Buddhists. They marched down the roads chanting slogans and ultimately entered the neighbourhood to carry out the atrocities at around 10:30pm.

All this while, the OC did not send any policemen to guard against the attack. He came to Sima Bihar at 11:30pm and told the Buddhists to hand over Uttam, the man in question. He also assured them that nothing would happen to them and asked them to go to sleep. He promised to send his force and went away. He did not keep his promise.

Scores of witnesses confirmed this version.

But the OC claimed to The Daily Star that he came to know about the issue at 9:45pm on Saturday when a boy went to him and informed him about the photo on Uttam Kumar’s Facebook account.

“I quickly went to a shop at Ramu Bazar near my office with that boy and saw the photo, which other curious people were also looking at,” he said over the phone yesterday.

After that he saw a procession and a rally at Chaumuhuni. He then went there and asked the agitated people to refrain from any violence, the OC said, adding that he sent police to Uttam’s house, which was locked. He later arrested Uttam’s mother and sister from their house.

Nazibul said he had 22 police personnel under his command but on Saturday night he had only 10 to 12. Things went out of control when a large number of people came to Ramu in trucks to join the demonstrators. “There was nothing we could do to control about 10,000 demonstrators.”

The signs of attack were everywhere as we entered the Buddhist neighbourhood through a narrow metalled alley. Each of the houses was fenced in with corrugated tin sheets. But what remains today are some crumpled metals.

The marauding crowd carried machetes, sticks, iron rods and tomahawks which they used on the fences. The scene is of a tornado sweeping over a settlement. And then in the middle of all this mayhem and anarchy, there stand one or two houses totally untouched. They belong to the Muslims. This only proves some local people were also involved in the attacks.

And then the main atrocity scene appeared at the monasteries. We went to Sima Bihar, a 1706 grand monastery. The main pagoda is a still smouldering heap of ash. Only a few burned out wooden poles stand lonely. Half-burnt books lie around. One page gleans “Pali alphabets in Burmese and Roman characters”. Another is the jacket of a book on how to achieve nirvana.

Monks in sarong clothing stood aimlessly. They didn’t know where to start their next prayers.

Buddhists were streaming in silently. They looked on in awe and wondered how somebody could be so brutal as to desecrate a place of worship so ruthlessly. Then they would file in silently to the other temple in the complex. They would lie down, stretch their hands held together and remain in that “Pranam” position. Then they would peek inside.

A huge statue of the high priest lies in a serene posture. A profound smile on his face. His body covering is half burnt. His nose broken by blows of machetes or iron rods. Statues are littered around, broken.

The spectators look on silently. Then they walk away and gather aimlessly on the ground. They look at their toes or draw doodles on the ground. There are hardly any quotes from them; their looks hollow. Suddenly they have found that their existence bears no meaning.

That is exactly what the attackers wanted. To tear out the soul from the body — the ultimate denigration and insult to humanity. The ultimate feeling of shame and nothingness.

This is what exists in Ramu today — a feeling of nothingness. That is the damage done. And success achieved by the perpetrators.

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