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They desperately pleaded for help. But police were slow to respond to Cumilla temple attacks

  • Golam Mortuja, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2021-10-15 01:19:03 BdST

Leaders of the Hindu community in Cumilla have alleged that police did not respond to their calls for help fast enough to avert attacks on temples and Durga Puja venues.

The Durga Puja venue at Nanua Dighir Par at the heart of Cumilla came under attack on Wednesday morning after photos and a video spread on social media, claiming that the Quran was dishonoured at the temple.

Attackers targeted Chandmoni Kali Temple in the city three times between 11 am and 3 pm. The members of the temple’s governing body said they called the police and tried to reach officers through the 999 national helpline, but the help did not come in time.   

Committees of two other temples raised similar allegations. Gobinda Chandra Pramanik, secretary-general of Jatiya Hindu Mohajote, said all temples in the area complained of the police’s slow response.

The devotees said they contacted police when the temples, one after another, came under attack since morning, but police did not come. The attackers scaled the wall of Chandmoni Kali Temple using a ladder to set fire. But the police did not arrive even in four hours.

Faruque Ahmed, superintendent of police in Cumilla, denied the allegations that the puja venues were not provided with adequate security and that Ansar members were not deployed either. “Foolproof security measures were taken at the venues. Ansar members were on patrol,” the officer said at a news briefing.

Chandmoni Rakshakali Temple in Cumilla’s Kapriapotti came under attack by religious fanatics following the spread of inciteful posts on social media. Photo: Mahmud Zaman Ovi

Chandmoni Rakshakali Temple in Cumilla’s Kapriapotti came under attack by religious fanatics following the spread of inciteful posts on social media. Photo: Mahmud Zaman Ovi

THREE ROUNDS OF ATTACK IN FOUR HOURS

Chandmoni Rakshakali Temple, a century-old place of worship, is situated in Kapuriapotti neighbourhood, about one kilometre from Nanua Dighi and Kotwali Model Police Station.

The Chawkbazar police camp is half a kilometre from the temple and the police lines are not far away. But no law enforcer showed up during the attacks.

On Thursday, the idol of the goddess Durga lay in tatters inside the temple, with shards of broken glass and pieces of vandalised furniture littering the floor. 

Haradhon Chakrabarty, general secretary of the temple committee, said the attackers’ first attempt to storm the venue at 11 am failed. They returned at 12:30 pm and left after pelting brickbats at the temple.

Witnesses said the temple's 10-foot high steel gate helped repel the first two attacks. But the gate was breached on the third attempt.

At 3 pm, they arrived back in full force, equipped with ladders, hammers and petrol. They left the scene after vandalising and torching the temple.   

Haradhon spoke to an officer of Sadar Police Station by phone after the first attempt by attackers. The officer said he would send a police team, but they did not come.     

Haradhon said the authorities assured that Rapid Action Battalion personnel would arrive at the temple, but the assurance remained unmet. 

Deputy Commissioner Kamrul Hasan and SP Faruk visited the scene in the evening and deployed policemen and Ansar members.

Biplab Dhar, a member of the temple committee, said police and local politicians assured them of sending help several times throughout the day. Biplab called the 999 helpline during the attack in the afternoon. The official who received the call also said police would be sent.

Religious fanatics vandalised the gate of Chandmoni Rakshakali Temple in Cumilla’s Kapriapotti in an attack after inflaming communal tensions on social media. Photo: Mahmud Zaman Ovi

Religious fanatics vandalised the gate of Chandmoni Rakshakali Temple in Cumilla’s Kapriapotti in an attack after inflaming communal tensions on social media. Photo: Mahmud Zaman Ovi

SOME LOCALS TRIED TO HELP

Sajal Kumar Chanda, vice-president of the Kaligachhtala Temple committee, said he called police several times before the temple was attacked at about 2:30 pm.

A group of young men from the neighbourhood tried to save the temple. The attackers targeted the Hindu homes and other establishments on the temple premises, but could not enter the main temple building as it was locked.       

Ekramul Hossain Babu, councillor of ward No. 8 under Cumilla City Corporation, and his followers were among the locals who tried to save the temple, said temple committee members Rana Chakrabarty and Bappi Das. The councillor’s calls for help went unheeded.

The councillor said he called the officials in charge of the beat police of his ward and then Kandirpar Police Camp, but both asked him to contact the chief of Kotwali Police Station. Ekramul could not reach the OC. 

But a source in the district police said Ekramul, a local leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, was accused in one of the cases over the attacks on the temples. 

Ekramul said he heard about the case. He also claimed he and his followers were rather injured in the attack.

Religious fanatics vandalised an idol of goddess Kali at Chandmoni Rakshakali Temple in Cumilla’s Kapriapotti in an attack after the spread of inciteful posts on social media. Photo: Mahmud Zaman Ovi

Religious fanatics vandalised an idol of goddess Kali at Chandmoni Rakshakali Temple in Cumilla’s Kapriapotti in an attack after the spread of inciteful posts on social media. Photo: Mahmud Zaman Ovi

"THEY WEREN'T FROM HERE"

After the attack in Nanua Dighir Par, the miscreants descended on other parts of Cumilla city in a group and vandalised Hindu temples. But locals said they could not recognise the vandals.

They say many of the attackers carried bags on their shoulders, packed with stones picked off railway lines. They also had ladders and hammers with them.

Shibu Prasad Dutta, general secretary of the Cumilla Metropolitan Puja Celebration Committee, said a total of eight temples were vandalised on Wednesday.

Police have beefed up security at the temples since Wednesday's attack, while border guards are patrolling the streets. But even then, the panic has not subsided.

Adhir Saha was sitting in the Chandmoni Rakshakali Temple premises with a glum face on Thursday. His house is next to the temple. He said he had never seen such carnage before in his life.

Adhir was born and raised in the area but he said there weren't any familiar faces among the attackers.

"The way they brought ladders, hammers and petrol -- it's unimaginable. It is apparent that the attacks were planned.”

Gachatala Kali Mandir is less than one kilometer away from Nanua Dighir Par. The Hindus there also claimed that no one from the locality was a part of the attackers' group.

Anwar Hossain, deputy inspector general of police for Chattogram Range, speaks to the media at a Durga Puja venue in Cumilla’s in Nanua Dighir Par on Thursday, Oct 14, 2021. Religious fanatics launched attacks and vandalised puja venues after stoking communal tensions on social media. Photo: Mahmud Zaman Ovi

As word of the attack on the Nanua Dighir Par temple reached them, the youth of the area gathered around the temple to defend it, said Sajal Kumar Chanda.

The doors of the temple building were locked. The temple of Shiva next door was also locked.

Hundreds of people came and launched an attack around 2pm, Sajal said. “None of them were from this area. There were teenagers and as well as people in their mid-20s and early-30s."

"Many of them had school bags on their shoulders or market bags in their hands. They pulled took out white sandstone (railway stone) and began hurling it towards the temple like rain. ”

A railway line cuts through the city of Cumilla and it is believed that stones were collected from there.

Sajal said the youths of the area stood up to the attackers but they were outnumbered.

The assailants smashed all the decorative items and artefacts in the temple premises. Lamps and banners were ripped to shreds.

Robi Majumder, a member of the temple committee, was locking up the temple of Shiva next door. That was when the assailants bore down on him. They beat him with sticks, leaving him with injuries to his hands, back and waist.

"Apart from sticks, they (the attackers) also had sharp weapons of different sizes," Sajal said.

Border Guard Bangladesh personnel patrol Salahuddin Road in Cumilla on Thursday, Oct 14, 2021 after attacks on Hindu temples and Durga Puja venues by religious fanatics who stoked communal unrest on social media. Photo: Mahmud Zaman Ovi

Border Guard Bangladesh personnel patrol Salahuddin Road in Cumilla on Thursday, Oct 14, 2021 after attacks on Hindu temples and Durga Puja venues by religious fanatics who stoked communal unrest on social media. Photo: Mahmud Zaman Ovi

FEAR AND PANIC

After laying waste to the temple, the attackers set their sight on several Hindu houses in Pastarpara. They tried to hack down the tin fences in the area but they eventually retreated in the face of resistance from locals, according to Sajal.

Shilpi Chakraborty, a resident of Masterpara, said, “The boys of the neighbourhood put up a resistance together. But the children of the house are very scared. ”

Shilpi said her 12-year-old son does not want to leave the house anymore out of fear.

None of the 26 resident Hindu families were in the area on Wednesday night. They left their homes in panic and spent the night with their relatives in the city.

In the wake of the communal unrest in different parts of the country, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina vowed to bring to justice those who incited the violence and said exemplary punishment will be meted out to the culprits to deter such communal incitement in future.

Apart from Cumilla, puja venues were also vandalised in Chandpur, Chattogram, Chapainawabganj and Moulvibazar and clashes resulted in casualties.

At a press conference in the deputy commissioner’s office, the authorities said four cases, including one under the Digital Security Act, have been filed over the violence.

Police arrested 41 people and charged more than 100 unidentified assailants in the cases. The arrestees include Fayez Ahmed, who posted the first video of the Nanua Dighi puja venue.

 

[With assistance from bdnews24.com’s Cumilla correspondent]