Again another incident of barbarous attack on religious minorities has made headlines in the newspapers. An organized group of religious zealots vandalized and set fire on at least 30 rooms and paddy storages of 8 Hindu houses, looted valuable goods and 25 cattle to launch mayhem in excuse of a Facebook post ‘demeaning’ Prophet Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH) by one Tito Chandra Roy at Thakurpara in Horkoli village in Gangachara upazila under Rangpur district on last Friday. Sirajul Islam, Imam of Paglapeer Jame Mosque, and Alamgir Hossain, a trader from Soleya Shah Bazaar area, filed a case with Gangachara Police Station on November 5, accusing Tito Chandra Roy of hurting religious sentiments of the Muslims on social media. It is mentionable that Tito Roy, son of late Khogen Roy of Thakurpara, has been living in Narayanganj’s Fatullah for the last four years. According to the police, no Facebook post defaming religion was found on the timeline of Tito Chandra. Rather the debatable photo was first posted from the account of Rakesh Mondol and then the post was shared by Khulna’s Maulana Asadullah Hamidi. And Hamidi’s post was shared from the account of one Md Titu on October 29. The relatives of Tito have claimed that the Facebook account of Md Titu was opened using the photograph of Tito Chandra Roy. And the Facebook account of Md Titu was operated and the photo was posted from Gangachara while Tito Chandra Roy was in Narayanganj at that time. Finally accused Tito was arrested on November 14 and now police is inspecting that whether he is involved with the post or someone else has done it to victimize him. But the damage has already been done before this arrest. The aggrieved people in Gangachara could wait for further steps by police after filing the case. But why didn’t the people wait? Why did they launch an attack on the houses of innocent Hindu families of Thakurpara?
It is because the masterminds behind this heinous act planned the whole incident and took the Facebook post as an opportunity to attack the Hindu houses, ransack their wealth and create serious panic. Locals have confirmed that 25-30 people arranged a secret meeting to organize people for conducting demos demanding capital punishment of Tito in Lalchandrapur village on the day of filing the case. Copies of the screen shot of that Facebook post were distributed among the villagers to instigate their sentiments. Announcements were made through loudspeakers hired from shops in the bazaar and mikes in local mosques since November 5 about holding protest rallies and forming human chains. Meanwhile the religious leaders met with the top officials of the administration and handed over a memorandum to arrest accused Tito Chandra Roy within 24-hours on November 7. The issue of the Facebook post was also discussed at a Waz Mahfil (religious gathering) at Hazipur Kabarsthan Nurania Hafizia Yatimkhana in Rangpur’s Taraganj upazila on the night of November 9. Speakers of the mahfil provoked the religious devotees to demonstrate protests.
On November 10, the day of turmoil, after the completion of Jumma prayer local Muslim devotees formed a human chain at Soleya Shah Bazaar for 10 minutes before returning home. The situation turned worse after 3:30pm. About 15,000-20,000 people, carrying sticks and brickbats from different villages of Badarganj, Gangachara and Taraganj upazilas of Rangpur and Jaldhaka of Nilphamari, gathered at Soleya Shah Bazaar occupying Rangpur-Dinajpur highway. Influential religious leaders gave hate speech before the agitated people in presence of police members. When the decision of marching towards the house of Tito Chandra Roy in Thakurpara came from the rally and the infuriated people followed the instruction, only then police force tried to restrict them from entering the village. Fanatics began throwing brickbats aiming the police members but the small number of police had no preparation to control such a huge gathering. They shot tear shells, rubber bullets and shotgun shells which caused the death of Habibur Rahman and injured eleven people. By that time attackers entered Thakurpara and went on a rampage. Using kerosene and petrol oil they torched and damaged Hindu houses and looted valuables.
Mosaddekur Rahman, a fugitive accused in the incident, led propaganda campaign on Facebook about the alleged post of Tito. Even after the clash between police and mass people, he posted on Facebook that more than fifty people were shot by the police in the human chain and at least five of them have died! Besides, some other prime planners including Enamul Haque Mazedi, Masud Rana, Shopon, Md Alamgir Hossain, Julfikar Ali, Raihan Ali, Md Kahar and Abdus Sattar organized the people from different areas with a view to vandalizing the Hindu houses.
Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan and IGP AKM Shahidul Haque visited the tormented area on November 14. Government and different private organizations have come forward to stand beside the victims so that they can rebuild their houses and start life afresh. Aid and money may remove the gash of havoc from their houses, but what would confiscate the feeling of insecurity and trauma from the minds of these minority people?
Thakurpara’s shameful attack on Hindu community was an outcome of planned and continuous attempt. When police and local administration were well aware of the movements of the fundamentalists, then why didn’t they take it seriously? Despite knowing about the consequence of protest programme regarding Facebook posts ‘defaming’ religion in other parts of the country, why they have allowed the angry people to conduct a human chain programme? If they permitted them to carry out programme, why didn’t they deploy enough law enforcement agency members to tackle any unexpected situation? Answers of these questions must be found out. In case of any kind of indifferent attitude from the part of local police or administration regarding the incident, government has to make them accountable.
Thakurpara’s incident is a repetition of an old and familiar narrative. Earlier, minority communities were attacked several times in excuse of Facebook posts. Religious fundamentalists initially looted 12 old Buddhist monasteries and 26 Buddhist houses and then set fire on them on September 29, 2012, claiming that a Buddhist youth Uttam Barua insulted Islam on Facebook. On the same night, miscreants looted and vandalized 6 Buddhist pagodas and more than 100 Buddhist houses in Teknaf and Ukhia as well. In a similar incident fanatics violently assailed on the Hindu community in Brahmanbaria’s Nasirnagar on October 30, 2016, over an allegedly ‘defamatory’ Facebook post by a Hindu fisherman Rasraj Das. They wrecked 15 Hindu temples and more than 200 Hindu houses on that day.
After the latest phase of communal attack on Hindus in Rangpur, Gangachara police station’s sub inspector Rezaul Karim and Rangpur kotwali police station’s sub inspector Rafiqul Islam filed 2 separate cases accusing more than 2,000 people. Mizanur Rahman, superintendent of Rangpur police, has confirmed that 130 people have been arrested so far in accusation of attacking on the Hindu houses in Thakurpara. But the previous records don’t make us optimistic about the punishment of perpetrators regarding communal violence. A total of 19 cases were filed after the attack on Buddhist community in 2012 where more than 15,000 people were accused. There are allegations that police harassed some innocent people only to earn illegal money while many prime perpetrators managed to skip the suspect list prepared by them! One year ago police submitted charge sheet against 948 people. Now Police Bureau of Investigation (PBI) is conducting fresh investigation in 3 cases and judicial procedure of 15 cases are going on. 38 accused are freed in another case as they forced the complainer to compromise with them! Among the 8 police cases about the Ramu’s incident there were 7,875 accused, where police could arrest only 74. In Ukhia’s 7 cases police charged 5,624 persons, but they captured only 116. In Teknaf’s 2 cases police accused 653 people, but arrested only 63.
In 2 cases under Cox’s Bazar Sadar police station 1,030 people were indicted, but only 98 of them were detained. Except a few big names all these accused got bail from the court! Some of them have left the country to avoid trial! Even some accused are now threatening the witnesses so that they don’t attend the court trial! In case of the attack on Hindu community in Brahmanbaria’s Nasirnagar, around 2500 to 3000 people were accused in 8 cases. Police, in these 8 cases, once arrested 124 accused, some of them gave confessional statement under section 164, but apart from 2-3 rest of the arrestees are freed in bail! Now Police Headquarters is monitoring the cases where they have found 200 new names. Earlier, in Ramu’s incident proof was found that Uttam Barua’s Facebook post was not posted by Uttam Barua. And in Nasirnagar’s occurrence evidence proved that Rasraj Das’s Facebook post was posted by someone else! Even then both Uttam and Rasraj have been harassed in the cases under Information-Technology Act, and the original perpetrators are moving scot-free!
According to the expert criminologists, sometimes criminals commit crimes following a certain pattern and they repeat it when they find that they don’t need to face trial for such repetition. Organized attacks on the religious minority communities in excuse of Facebook posts indicate to such patterned crimes.
Perpetrators are planning to attack the religious minorities and implementing their plans without any fear as they have found that the authorities are reluctant to ensure justice against such criminal activities. Law enforcement agencies must take this rising trend of patterned crime into account seriously and take proactive measures. The state will have to create example for criminals or potential criminals by bringing all the original offenders involved in communal attack to book so that no one can dare to think about repeating such heinous act. In the meantime government needs to re-evaluate some state policies in order to bring a drastic change in our social psyche. Otherwise, the world will stop recognizing Bangladesh as an example of communal harmony.