As many as 100,000 people flocked to the namaz-e-janaza of Maulana Jubayer Ahmed Ansari, a senior nayeb-e-ameer of Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish, in the east central district’s Sarail upazila
Dealing a major blow to the ban on mass gatherings to curb the spread of coronavirus, tens of thousands surged to the funeral prayers for a leader of an Islamist party in Brahmanbaria yesterday.
As many as 100,000 people flocked to the namaz-e-janaza of Maulana Jubayer Ahmed Ansari, a senior nayeb-e-ameer of Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish, in the east central district’s Sarail upazila.
The incident not only raises concerns about the risks of contagion, but also throws up questions about the role of the authorities, especially the law enforcers, who have been constantly maintaining that strict measures were in place across the country to ensure social distancing.
For their part, police in Brahmanbaria say that despite all-out efforts they could not stop the surge of people.
As with several other districts, Brahmanbaria was already under lockdown at the time of Ansari’s death on Friday.
Meanwhile, the government says it had no idea that such a mass gathering was brewing despite the recent surge in coronavirus cases and deaths throughout the country.
“Something could have been done had we known about it beforehand. But it has already happened” is how Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan referred to the incident when reached by Dhaka Tribune.
The incident was a violation of the government’s social distancing rules, he said, before adding: “We will see what can be done to avoid such gatherings in future.”
The prayer service for Ansari, who died on Friday, took place at Sarail’s Jamia Rahmania Bertala Madrasa, of which he was founding principal.
Ansari, who contested the 1996 elections from his home constituency and lost, passed away at his residence at the age of 59.
People in large crowds, from several districts in Dhaka division, had started arriving in trucks, pickups and other vehicles and converging on the place since early morning yesterday.
The rows of people stretched from the madrasa premises, to nearby buildings in the neighbourhood and all the way down to the Dhaka-Sylhet Highway before spreading further on both sides to Sarail intersection and near Ashuganj.
The local administration and police seemed to be at a loss explaining the huge turnout of people.
Deputy Commissioner Hayat-ud-Doula Khan, who is in charge of the district’s administration, claimed the authorities had been assured that social distancing rules would be maintained at the funeral.
"The madrasa authorities told us they would ensure social distancing, which did not turn out to be the case. We’ll look into it,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
Police said they had been in constant touch with the madrasa authorities since the morning, but all efforts went in vain.
“We had repeatedly asked them to ensure social distancing. Announcements through megaphones were made in the area to that end. Despite all-out efforts from our part, it was not possible to maintain the social distancing rules,” said Additional Superintendent of Police Md Alamgir Hossain.
“The law cannot be enforced on tens of thousands of people,” said the senior police official.
A local lawmaker, however, resorted to a reference to what he called the “ignorance of people” behind the massive turnout even as he blamed the administration for failing to stop the surge of people.
“It is just a case of people’s ignorance over safety issues. It could have been avoided, if the administrations in other districts stopped people from travelling,” said RAM Obaidul Muktadir Chowdhury, the MP from Brahmanbaria-3 constituency.
According to the ruling Awami League lawmaker, people from Sylhet, Habiganj, Narshingdi, Kishoreganj, and other districts came to Brahmanbaria for the funeral prayers.
“There was hardly anything to do when people surged to Brahmanbaria. They ignored the lockdown and instructions from the local administration out of maybe respect for the dead,” he said.
Muktadir, however, said the incident was a “disaster” as risks of contagion now ran deep in the area.
Meanwhile, Ansari’s party says it had “tried to keep the numbers to a minimum”.
“We understand the risk. But tens of thousands, who loved him, gathered,” said Khelafat Majlish’s Brahmanbaria unit General Secretary Maulana Monirul Islam.
According to him, those who are at risk were “already under the lockdown put in place by the administration.”
The number of coronavirus infections in Bangladesh topped 2,000 yesterday, 40 days after the first cases were reported in March.
The death toll now stands at 84 with the disease control agency confirming nine deaths in the 24 hours to yesterday morning.
Experts around the world have emphasized practicing social distancing, asking people to keep a distance of at least three feet from others to limit the risk of infection.