Bangladesh govt warns of tough action after mobs vandalise Durga Puja celebrations in Cumilla

14-10-2021

Dhaka, Oct 14 (UNI) The Bangladesh government has warned of tough action against Islamist mobs after several instances of vandalism at Durga Puja pandals and temples across Cumilla were reported following a rumour circulated on social media alleging besmirching of the Quran at a puja venue.

Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said the authorities will track down the people who were behind the spread of communal hatred in Cumilla, in Chittagong subdivision.

Speaking to bdnews24.com on Wednesday night, the Minister said he suspects the incident was an act of sabotage, and added that the authorities will also look into this angle.

Religious fanatics shared photos and videos of an incident in which the Quran was allegedly besmirched and they called on Muslims to attack Hindus amid the Durga Puja celebrations.

“I personally don’t believe [a Hindu person] can gather the courage to do it. Let’s see. Now we are trying to keep everything under control. We will find out the facts,” the Minister said.

“The authorities have been ordered to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Mobs attacked temples in Chandpur’s Hajiganj, Chattogram’s Banshkhali, Chapainawabganj’s Shibganj and Cox’s Bazar’s Pekua and vandalised the Durga Puja pandals, and smashed the idols in many places.

The Hajiganj Health Complex in Chandpur received the bodies of three people believed to have died in violent clashes with police, a doctor on duty, Sultan Mahmud, said. But the police did not confirm the deaths linked to violence.

The clashes erupted after police tried to stop assailants who attacked temples. Witnesses said police opened fire at that time.

“We are trying our best to keep the situation under control. The attackers will be identified and face legal steps,” said Harunur Rashid, chief of Hajiganj Police Station.

The government announced a ban on assembly in the area and tightened security with the deployment of Border Guards Bangladesh troops.

About 230 kilometres away in Chattogram’s Karnaphuli, assailants vandalised Durga idols in at least three venues, bdnews24 said.

In Cumilla, the authorities deployed border guards along with police to maintain law and order after clashes.

Shibu Prasad Dutta, general secretary of Cumilla Mahanagar Puja Udjapon Committee, said someone placed a copy of the Quran at a Durga Puja pavilion in Nanua Dighir Par early in the morning when the guard was asleep.

Photos and videos of the Quran were swirling on social media within 6 am. The matter was reported to the chief of the local police station via the 999 national helpline and the police officer subsequently recovered the Quran.

In an emergency notice later in the day, the religious affairs ministry said it had come across news that the central religious text of Islam had been 'disrespected' in Cumilla.

But the ministry urged members of the public not to take the law into their own hands over the incident. It also reiterated calls to maintain religious harmony and peace.

Meanwhile, Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader said the perpetrators behind the incident will not be spared, regardless of their political affiliation.

Lt Col Fazle Rabbi, commander of BGB's Cumilla battalion, said, "Four platoons of the BGB were deployed at noon to ensure that there is no unrest in Cumilla."

Telecom Minister Mustafa Jabbar said steps were taken to take down the Facebook posts as tensions simmered after a photo of the Quran at a temple began circulating.

Many online activists questioned the authenticity of the incident, calling for calm and criticising Facebook and Bangladesh authorities for their failure to take down the posts.

Minister Jabbar said they were maintaining communication with the Facebook authorities after noticing the posts. “We’ve requested the removal of more than 100 Facebook links. We hope they will be blocked soon.”

He said the government also limited internet access in Cumilla to stop any disinformation campaign.

The government took steps to remove the posts from other social media platforms as well, according to him. "We are more capable of controlling disinformation campaigns now than ever before because we’ve taken immediate steps this time.”