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Anatomy of instigated violence

AKM Atikuzzaman investigates a recent clash in Dinajpur that led to the loot and plunder of more than 30 hindu households of the area

After the disturbing incidents of violence against nationals of the hindu faith in Hathazari of Chittagong and Kaliganj of Satkhira earlier this year, the latest addition to this list is the violence that occurred at Chirirbandar upazila of Dinajpur in the past month. The highest restraint of law enforcers amidst the violence to disperse the mob gathered from outside the area, has been alleged by locals and victims as possibly ‘intentional’.

An Xtra investigation into the incident found that muslims were informed and asked to gather at the spot of Balai Bazar prior to the violence that broke out on the day.

On August 4, some 2,000 people crowded near Balai Bazar in between Amarpur and Abdulpur union of Chirirbandar, although section 144 had been in force in apprehension of deterioration of law and order situation in the area. They attacked Hindu-majority villages of Rajapur and its adjacent Majhpara. During the violence the attackers set fire to at least 30 houses and looted their valuables. Some 50 people were injured in the incident.

The violence erupted over an attempt to construct a mosque near a temple, while allegedly grabbing public land, in the minority community dominated area. The mosque was set to be built after expanding a two-year-old makeshift prayer room for muslims, by the initiative of Hamida Khatun, owner of 13 shops in the market.

On August 4, around this spot of Balai Bazar area, outsiders began to gather at around 8:00am. As locals and the police had already taken position earlier in the morning, the mob could not come close to the spot of the mosque.

In about an hour, the gathering turned into a mob of thousands of people, some carrying sticks. Union Parishad chairman Liakat Ali Shah tried to calm the mob while saying on microphone that the contenders are about to reach a solution and they should go back to their homes.

Though the gathering was well inside the prohibited area of 500 yards of Balai Bazar, the police neither arrested anyone, nor did they try to dissociate them by charging baton or through other means.

When the situation was almost under control, as Liakat tells Xtra later, two nasimans (human hauler) joined the mob and the situation again deteriorated. Police and union chairman requested Hamida to help calm the situation and gave her the police microphone. Rather than doing this, she allegedly charge the authorities and vowed to lay the foundation of the mosque.

At one point around 10:00am the mob rushed across the arable land to the Kabirajpara of Rajapur village. The miscreants burned some 23 houses and looted valuables including cattle, gold and cash, recently earned from selling of jute.

The police finally acted to bring the situation under control. They fired tear shells and arrested eight people from the spot. However, Hamida Khatun during this time allegedly tried to lay foundation bricks with the help of her aides.

‘Was section 144 for the Hindus only?’ asks Jogen Chandra Roy, a farmer of Kabirajpara. His house, three sacks of paddy, one sack of wheat, 18 to 19 mound of jute were burned in the fire while the attackers looted four of the five cows he had.

‘There were 40 to 50 police personnel in the area. If they had tried, nobody could have attacked the village,’ he says, while adding sorrowfully, ‘While our houses were set on fire, they were laying the foundation of the mosque.’

After a short break, the scattered mob at around 1:00pm again set ablaze seven houses of Majhpara of Abdulpur, across Balai Bazar.

Nareshchandra Roy, who runs a restaurant business in Balai Bazar, believes the attack was pre-planned and well-prepared as no meaningful step has been taken to stop the violence although section 144 was in force and the local administration, law enforcing agencies and local leaders were present at the spot.

‘They knew that the people would gather at Balai Bazar after they were instigated by campaigns during the days prior to August 4 in the mosques of the surrounding areas. There was no initiative to disperse the raging mob. Why should we think that the incident was not a planned work?’ asks Nareshchandra to Xtra.

According to locals, as well as Hamida Khatun herself, only six to seven muslims work in the shops owned by Hamida. The muslim consumers coming to the market and the weekly haat used to say their prayers in the makeshift waktia mosque (where no prayer is held on a regular basis) that was built around two years ago on a piece of land owned by Hamida.

The dispute over the mosque began on July 27 when Hamida with the said committee of the mosque went there to lay the foundation for a pucca building. The location of the mosque is very close to a Hindu temple and closely surrounded by three other temples.

Locals had protested the step as they found the foundation had extended over the road and feared that their rites would be hampered. They also believed that building the mosque by grabbing public land in an area where muslims are hardly found is nothing but a shield of saving other shops of Hamida, parts of which were allegedly built by encroaching portions of the road.

On August 31, construction of the mosque restarted and again it was stopped by the locals as a wall was about to be constructed two feet inside the road. Besides filing a general diary by the initiator of the mosque, negotiation was started from the day.

Later, there was a meeting on Friday, August 3, at the Chirirbandar police station between the parties. In presence of the additional police superintendent Shirin Akhter and local leaders of the ruling party and its different chapters, the meeting decided that the mosque would be built leaving the road space.

The hindu representatives had no objection with the decision. As Hamida was not in Chirirbandar, the contending parties were supposed to sit in the police station on the next day at 10:00am to finalise the decision.

The meeting, however, could not be held due to the crowd that gathered leading to the violence the next morning.

‘They were outsiders. They vandalised and looted right before the police,’ says Prafulla Chandra Roy of Chhoto Hashimpur.

‘We were living here peacefully for years,’ says Maya Rani, adding that the village did not witness any violence even during the 1971 liberation war.

While negotiations were going on, some vested quarters were active to dissipate the wrong message regarding the incident. A letter, addressed to the upazila chairman, was reportedly read out in different mosques over the next few days, and especially during jumma prayers.

The letter contained malicious words about hindu people, their alleged obstruction in the construction of the makeshift prayer room into a pucca mosque, attempted assault on Hamida Khatun and looting of tube-well and tin of the mosque. Finally seeking justice, the muslim devotees were requested to sign the letter.
Learning the scheme in the muslim dominated areas nearby, local hindus informed the administration, law enforcement agencies and the local ruling party leaders about their terror. Due to the tense situation, around late night of August 3, upazila nirbahi officer (UNO) Rashidul Mannaf Kabir declared section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure at Balai Bazar and the areas within 500 yards radius of the spot from 6:00am to 6:00pm on August 4.

‘Though the UNO declared section 144, I would say, his weakness led to the aggravation of the situation,’ says Md Delwar Hossain Badshah, office assistant of Chirirbandar Pilot High School.

However, Xtra has obtained an audio record of the announcement of the declaration of section 144. It stated in a similar manner like the letter, ‘the local hindu community has obstructed the construction of a pucca mosque’. It also worked as a mouthpiece of the propagandists when it says while stating the rationale of ordering section 144, ‘… it is learnt that imams of different mosques along with musallis and general muslims will forcibly build the mosque by gathering there.’

The contents of the letter also led the locals to believe that Hamida Khatun had direct involvement in composing and circulating it. Moreover, local hindus and muslims allege that personal relations of the UNO Rashidul Mannaf Kabir with Hamida Khatun had most likely led Kabir to buy time at settling the issue, while ‘encouraging’ announcement of section 144 despite a literal inaction against the violation of the law that he had imposed.

An Xtra investigation found Hamida’s involvement in collecting signatures from muslims and inviting them to come to the spot on the morning of August 4, in order to ‘aid’ in laying the foundation of the mosque at the given time.

A name frequently connected with the collection of signature is Al-Amin, who used to recite khutba in the Ghughurtali Jame Masjid in Chirirbandar. In the face of Xtra queries he admitted that he read the application, addressed to the upazila chairman, out to the muslims coming for the prayers and told them to sign on August 3 and 4. ‘I only carried out the order of Manik Kazi [alias Kazi Matiur Rahman], the secretary of the mosque committee,’ Al-Amin tells Xtra. He claims that Manik is grandson-in-law of Hamida Khatun.

‘Though I was not supposed to be at the mosque on Thursday (August 2) he [Manik] took me there on his motorcycle around noon. I read out the letter after zohr prayers and asked the people to sign it. After jumma prayers on the next day I only asked the muslim devotees to sign the paper as by then everyone had come to know about the matter,’ divulges Al-Amin.

‘I never composed the letter and neither did I circulate it on my own. I only performed orders and thought that the letter would help the upazila chairman solve the matter,’ adds Al-Amin.

When asked how the people gathered at the spot on August 4 morning at the same time when this was not mentioned in the letter, Al-Amin explains that the secretary had himself invited people to go there at 8:00am on August 4 and help the construction of the mosque.

‘What had been done in Ghughurtali mosque was also ensured at 40 to 50 mosques around the area,’ he says.

While confirming Manik Kazi’s relation with Hamida, locals of Balai Bazar informs that Manik maintains Hamida’s property. Hamida herself lives in Rajshahi and teaches at Rajshahi Metropolitan College.

New Age correspondent from Rajshahi reports that Hamida’s husband M Saidul Islam was the proctor of the University of Rajshahi during January 1989 and February 1992 and is a Bangladesh Nationalist Party loyalist.

Contacted, Kazi Matiur Rahman Manik admits his relation with Hamida but denies knowing anything about collection of signature and inviting muslims to Balai Bazar. ‘My name has been attached to the incident out of vengeance.’

He also claims that though he helps in the activities of Ghughurtali mosque, he is not a member of the committee. Neither does he look after Hamida’s property.

Moreover, UNO Rashidul also admits to Xtra that Hamida Khatun is his relative. Asked about phrasing the announcement of section 144, he admits of ordering the notice the way it was read out. ‘I cannot say any more,’ he says. ‘I have submitted my say about this to the investigation committee. The committee will decide on my role in the incident,’ he adds.

After the incident, Rashidul was first sent on leave. Later on August 14 he was transferred to Phulbari in Kurigram and finally made OSD (officer on special duty) on August 28.

Though locals, victims, officer-in-charge (OC) of Chirirbandar police station and deputy commissioner (DC) of Dinajpur believe that the UNO did ‘wrong’ at least by phrasing the announcement, the charge sheet of the two cases related to the incident did not accuse him.

‘The announcement of UNO was not important,’ says Chirirbandar OC Tariqul Islam adding, ‘The people who came to the spot were motivated earlier through other means.’

He adds, ‘The people who filed the case did not want to accuse an administrative figure like UNO with the incident. We also did not name him.’

On September 4, the committee to investigate the incident, headed by the additional district magistrate Abdul Malek, submitted its report after taking depositions from 37 eyewitnesses. Although the report identified UNO’s inability at handling the situation, it did not press charges against him reasoning that the responsibility to implement section 144 is on the police force, say sources.

In the two cases filed by victims in connection with the August 4 incident, Chirirbandar police submitted on August 26 two separate charge sheets to the Speedy Trial Tribunal against 198 people including Hamida Khatun, Al-Amin, Manik Kazi and Aftab Uddin Molla, Jamaat-backed chairman of Chirirbandar upazila parishad.

No other member of upazila and union parishads and nobody from the police department is in the list, Tariqul tells Xtra on September 4. A charge-sheet in another case for attack on the village would also be submitted soon.

However, the OC tells Xtra that police so far arrested 24 people in connection with the cases. Some 20 people including Hamida and Aftab have already taken bails from high and lower courts.

While denying police reluctance in trying to contain the violence, Tariqul says, they focused on saving the temples in the area and did not think that the violence would spread to the villages.

10 days into the incident of the August 4 violence, one Md Riazul Islam of Mostofapur of Chirirbandar filed a case with Senior Judicial Magistrate Court-3 (Chirirbandar) of Dinajpur, on the incidents of July 31, complaining against as many as 67 people of Chhoto Hasimpur, Rajapur, Abdulpur and other villages, all under Chirirpandar upazila of Dinajpur. The plaintiff claimed to have a shoe-selling shop at Balai Bazar.

However, interestingly, there are no shops of Reazul Islam in the market. His brother used to run a shop which he left around three months earlier, says Pradip Kumar Roy of Abdulpur.

Hamida Khatun claims to Xtra of not knowing about the case.

Talking to Xtra on September 1, Hamida brushes aside all the allegations against her including grabbing land, propagation and instigating repression on minority. She says, ‘These are baseless claims. Why should I do this!’

‘How could I contain the violence where the police failed to stop the raging mob?’ she asks.

But the Dinajpur DC Md Jamal Uddin Ahmed terms the incident as ‘politically motivated’. Claiming that the UNO announcement had ‘serious flaws’, he says, ‘The order was amateurish. It was not administrative. We are alert so that no such violence occurs again,’ he adds.

Gana Oikya chairman Pankaj Bhattacharya says the Chirirbandar incident cannot be seen as an isolated incident. It has relations with communal attacks in Hathazari and Kaliganj.

‘The way the propaganda had been carried out before the incidents, the way the vandals gathered from outside the area and the way law enforcers observed restraint are similar in all three cases,’ he says.

‘Also the administration, intelligence and law enforcing agencies concerned had failed to the stop the propaganda from mutating into the August 4 violence as the political quarters who want to hinder the trial of the war crimes are still quite influential. The incidents will continue to recur until and unless the culprits are brought to book,’ concludes Bhattacharya.


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