Monday, November 11, 2013

The haunted Hindus of Santhia

Saleem Samad in Santhia, Pabna

As she loiters past damaged houses in Sahaparha village, 5-year old ‘Orgho’ fumes over her smashed water mug, plastic chair and, most loudly, about the damaged television in her house.

She blames the Nov 2 mayhem on Kali Puja day on 'dustu chelera’ (naughty boys).

Her mother is cautious, as she recollects how she hid in a smelly toilet for three hours to escape an armed mob of fanatic Muslims.

A part of her house was smashed to smithereens.

The State Minister for Home Shamsul Hoque Tuku had gathered at Karamjat madrasa ground to thwart Opposition protests, barely 10 kilometres from Bongram bazaar at Santhia.

That was just before the Muslim mob, fuming over a reported Facebook posting denigrating Prophet Muhammad, went on an orgy of violence in Santhia.

Sahaparha was one of the worst affected because the Facebook posting was blamed on Rajib Saha, a resident of the village.

The conspirators deliberately chose Saturday, a weekly haat-bazaar day.

On the day hundreds of photocopies of an alleged Facebook posting were distributed, indicating that Rajib Saha had insulted the Prophet.

The distribution left Muslims of all parties inflamed.

What followed was hours of violence in which atleast 40 Hindu homes were ravaged.

The young women are yet to return to villages, as fear grips the Hindus in the area.

They are worried because those suspected of perpetrating the mayhem have not been arrested.

Worse, the Hindus now suspect that many who made up the violent mob enjoy protection of senior Awami League politicians including local MP and State Minister for Home Shamsul Hoque Tuku.

This is what has shocked them most -- how could those attacking them enjoy Awami League protection!

Tuku has also been blamed for letting the police on Awami League dissidents close to senior leader Prof Abu Sayeed, one time close confidante of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

But what about the alleged Facebook posting!

Like many similar so-called Facebook postings that inflamed Muslims and led to anti-minority violence elsewhere in the country like Ramu, this one allegedly by Rajib Saha also appeared a complete fake.

Journalists in Pabna argued that the photocopy of the Facebook ostensibly posted by Rajib was 'photoshopped' from a fake account “Innocent Rajib”.

Much like the alleged Facebook posting at Ramu in Cox's Bazar in September last year, in which hundreds of Buddhist homes were vandalised and scores of pagodas desecrated.

The miscreants in both Ramu and Santhia seem to have lost no time to loot valuables and cash in the second wave of violence following the initial fury.

Superintendent of Police (SP) of Pabna Mirajuddin Ahmed promised that the perpetrators would be brought to justice.

But he was quick to add that the attackers had not been identified. Except for those who spoke to Rajib's father Babul Saha in the morning.

Have the conspirators been arrested? ‘No,’ said Babul Saha who filed the case with police.

Ataikula Police Station OC Rezaul Karim claims they have arrested several of the suspects. Three cases have been lodged including one by police for obstruction to perform duty.

Police officials told visiting civil society groups, rights activists and journalists that those named by Babul Saha have been arrested.

But Saha said he had only heard of the arrests and was not able to confirm them.

Deputy Commissioner of Pabna Ashraf Uddin explained it was a 'police matter' and progressing “very well”.

But he said the civil administration had nothing much to do, except for initiating a confidence-building process after the violence.

The victims of Bonogram, Sahaparha and Goshparha have rejected the district administration’s offer of relief of 30 sacks of rice (each weighing 28 kg).

Rajib's uncle Kartick Saha says they need protection, not rice which they can afford to buy.

Like the Buddhists in Ramu, the Hindus in Santhia want the government to compensate them for the damaged temples to facilitate reconstruction.

A RAB platoon and two platoons of armed police have been deployed in Santhia. Police presence, says the SP, will deter a repeat of Nov 2.

He added a permanent police camp will be established there.

Local journalists say minister Tuku received news of violence in 10 minutes. But he did not do enough to protect the Hindus.

A small police contingent arrived within 30 minutes after desperate phone calls from Babul Saha.

But the larger force of police and RAB came only after three hours of intense violence, the elders complain.

Most Hindu elders do not remember when they had faced violence like they did on Nov 2.

Some recollect violence during 1971 by marauding Pakistan army and their local collaborators.

As most Hindus here had fled to India for safety, they did not have any direct experience of violence -- not until Nov 2.

Like other planned attacks on religious minorities elsewhere in Bangladesh, the perpetrators targeted the house of worship to break the morale of the minorities.

It is a pattern that has often been repeated -- at Taindong (Khagrhachharhi), Ramu and Ukhia (Cox’s Bazar), Sathkira, Begumganj, Gaibanda, Lalmonirhat and other places.

But the biggest worry -- leaders of all political parties belonging to the majority community, despite their political differences, seem to take the same line of connivance or indifference when minorities are attacked.

First published in BDNEWS24.COM, 11 Nov 2013

Saleem Samad, ian Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative reporter, is a freelance contributor to

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