The victims of Friday’s communal attack in Rangpur say the incident could have been averted if police had responded to warnings of rising anti-Hindu sentiment in the area.
More than 30 Hindu houses were then ransacked and set on fire in Thakurpara village by a mob who had been incited to avenge a Facebook post which defamed the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
A man was killed in police firing and several others were injured when the law enforcers tried to stop the attack. More than 100 people have been arrested so far.
For several days prior to the attack, announcements were made on loudspeakers asking people to gather after weekly prayers on November 10.
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Locals said policemen deployed in the area did not stop the mob when it was moving towards Thakurpara; rather, some of the policemen were seen taking photos of the moving crowd with their mobile phones.
Police, however, denied the allegations.
Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Rangpur range, Khandaker Golam Faruk, claimed the attackers were “outsiders” while the district’s police chief, Mizanur Rahman, blamed it on “Jamaat-e-Islami activists”.
The path to violence appears to have started after a local named Alamgir filed a complaint with Gangachora police station on November 4 about a Facebook post defaming the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) which was allegedly uploaded by a resident of Thakurpara village.
The resident - later identified as Titu Chandra - was arrested by police, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said on Tuesday.
Dissatisfied with the police response to his initial complaint, locals said Alamgir roped in Sirajul Islam, the Imam of Soleyashah Bazar mosque, and went to Paglapir central mosque to provoke people into action.
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The mosque committee opened a discussion on the matter before resolving to hold a human chain on November 5 after Zohr prayers, and give a memorandum to the district administration and police.
“We did not get a good response from the police superintendent’s office and so decided not to submit the memorandum to the DC,” Rafiqul Islam, general secretary of Paglapir central mosque, told the Dhaka Tribune.
The picture of the human chain was later used as a propaganda tool to rally support for the attack among the locals of Mominpur, Hariar Kuthi and Taraganj areas.
“The human chain did not exacerbate the situation,” Rafiqul claimed.
ALok Nath, the joint secretary of Rangpur Mahanagar Puja Udjapan Parishad, told the Dhaka Tribune that they had not been made aware of the propaganda and the announcements over loudspeakers.
“Had we been informed, we could have contacted the higher authorities to prevent the human chain from taking place. This could have helped to avert the attack,” said Alok Nath, who was backed in this claim by Subrata Sarker Mukul, the parishad’s president.
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Locals who spoke to the Dhaka Tribune said the attack would not have taken place had police taken early preventative measures.
“A huge number of people moved towards Thakurpara after the human chain at Soleyashah Bazar,” Sharafi Begum of Lalchadpur village said. “Why didn’t police disperse the crowd? If they did, the Hindus would not have been attacked.”
Salim, who identified himself as a journalist, told the Dhaka Tribune that he had informed local Awami League leaders and the administration as soon as he heard about the announcements on loudspeakers.
“I warned that something bad was going to happen but my words fell on deaf ears,” he said.
Rangpur district community policing committee member, Secretary Sushanto Bhoumik, said they had also passed the information they received to police.
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However, Rangpur SP Mizanur Rahman said the damage to the Hindu properties had been minimised thanks to police’s efforts. “We mobilised police soon after receiving information about the protest on November 6. We are arresting those responsible,” he said.
Police sources said hundreds of policemen were deployed at four points in the area on that day.
On Sunday, Rangpur range DIG Faruk said: “The attack was an act by outsiders. We did our best to protect the people (and) an investigation is ongoing.”
Police detained 36 people from Gangachhara and Kotwali areas on Friday night and filed a case against more than 2,000 people over the clash on Saturday.