On Friday, several shops, houses, and a temple belonging to the Hindu community were vandalised and burnt in the Dighalia Bazar area of Narail’s Lohagara Upazila, in southwestern Bangladesh. The attack was carried out by a mob of people over a Facebook post that allegedly belittled Islam. Subsequently, the country’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) directed the home ministry to probe if there was any negligence in the prevention of the unwanted attack, and whether the police played a role in controlling the situation.
“Communal violence in a secular country such as Bangladesh is not acceptable under any circumstances,” said the commission, condemning the attack on the Hindu community. According to sources, locals alleged that the post was made by Akash Saha, an 18-year-old college student, triggering anger among the Muslim community that gathered outside the student’s house, protesting and demanding his arrest. However, when they could not find him they went on to throw bricks and break furniture at a temple in the village, as reported by the local media. Subsequently, the mob attacked and burnt the houses of Hindu minorities in the area.
“After one group looted all our valuables, another group came and found our door open. As there was nothing left to loot, they set our home on fire,” said Deepali Rani Saha, one of the victims whose house was set ablaze. The 62-year-old was reportedly hiding under the bed, in a shed adjacent to her house, with her son Gobinda. “They could not break in (where we were hiding) as it was locked. They then attacked the temple next door and vandalised the idol,” she said.
Three houses, dozens of shops and a temple were vandalised or burnt down, as per media reports. Reportedly, the police fired warning shots to disperse the mob, as indicated by Haran Chandra Pal, an inspector at the local police station. The police have also detained the student’s father Ashoke Saha to “bring the situation under control”, as they prepare to file a case against Akash under the Digital Security Act. Pal said that legal action will be taken against the attackers, although none of them have been identified yet.
“Only because the student is Hindu and I am Hindu, my house was burnt down,” said Deepali. “I don’t know how long this threat of violence will haunt us. Who will give us justice? Who will give us security? If I were in the house while they set it on fire, I would have died. God saved me. But is this any way to survive? All I have now is the sari on my body,” she added.
Even as the police have tried to reassure the people, the locals reportedly feel unsafe after the incident. Narail Superintendent of Police Prabir Kumar Roy indicated that the police are working to keep the situation under control while also investigating the incident. Furthermore, he asserted that those responsible will face action, and that the situation is normal for now. Police forces have also been deployed in the area to prevent any further violence, as per media reports.
According to sources, there are 108 Hindu households in the Sahapara village. “Almost all houses are locked. Only the elders of some families are home. They too are scared,” said Beauty Rani, a former female member of the reserved seat in Dighalia Union Parishad. She also said that most of the able-bodied people have left the village after the attack.
“When we were being attacked, the police were there. They were watching from a distance and no one came to our rescue. The police can no longer be trusted and that is why people are leaving the village,” said Rani.
The president of the village’s Radha-Govinda temple, Shibnath Saha, echoed a similar sentiment and said, “Police are on guard in the village, but we cannot trust them. After detaining Ashoke on Friday, the officer-in-charge and Upazila nirbahi officer told everyone that they were deploying additional forces and that our community would be safe. The attack took place within a few hours.”
Meanwhile, Azgar Ali, a union parishad member at Dighalia indicated that he visited the place where the incident took place and tried to bring the situation under control. “Police are examining the evidence to see if a case under the Digital Security Act can be filed against the student. In addition, the government is giving Tk. 26,000 to the affected families, with the promise that the houses that were vandalised will be repaired,” said Ali.
The police, on late Sunday, filed a case against 250 unidentified people in connection with these attacks. “So far, three people have been arrested in connection with the case filed over the vandalism of houses, shops and the attack on two temples. The operation to arrest the rest continues and the other accused will also be arrested soon,” said SP Roy. Meanwhile, the police also arrested Akash Saha from Khulna, on the complaint of Kochi Sardar, a resident of the Dighalia area of Upazila, as per local media reports.
This is the second communal attack that Narail has witnessed within a month, drawing criticism from the country’s eminent personalities. “Within a month, Narail has seen two communal attacks. The local administration and political elites in the area can barely criticise these attacks, let alone prevent them,” read a statement released by 21 prominent artists, historians, writers and so on, condemning the attack.
Reportedly, there has been an increase in the attacks on religious minorities in the Muslim-majority Bangladesh, many of which took place after rumours and fake posts spread through social media. A legal rights group, Ain O Salish Kendra, indicated that there have been at least 3,679 attacks on the Hindu community in Bangladesh, between January 2013 and September 2021.