• Saturday, Nov 27, 2021
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Comilla Carnage: How the events unfolded that day

  • Published at 06:52 pm October 19th, 2021
RAB Comilla
Rapid Action Battalion troops on patrol by a vandalized Durga Puja mandap to avoid communal violence in Comilla town on Wednesday, October 13, 2021 Dhaka Tribune

Eight cases have been filed and police have so far arrested 44 people over the incident

It all started at around 7am, when a man named Ekram Hossain called the police and reported an alleged desecration of the Holy Quran at Nanua Dighir Par puja mandap in Comilla city on October 13.

Soon after, Anwarul Azim, the officer-in-charge of the Kotwali police station showed up at the mandap in plainclothes.

At some point between 7am and 7:30am, one Foyez Ahmed went live on Facebook from the spot and urged people to wake up and protest the alleged desecration. 

His 56-second live broadcast also showed OC Anwarul Azim in the background.

As people started sharing Foyez’s live stream, soon groups of young men began to pour into the mandap by 8am. Within an hour, the throng had grown to hundreds of people.

Ward Councillor Emran Bachchu, in the meantime, erected a bamboo fence around the mandap to keep them out.

As the situation started to spiral out of hand, Deputy Commissioner Kamrul Hasan and Superintendent of Police Faruk Ahmed arrived on scene with additional police forces between 10am and 10:30am.

The DC, SP, a local councillor, and several imams of local mosques were trying to calm things down. But a group of six to seven young men, some wearing red sports jerseys, got into a fierce argument with them.

They demanded that worshipping be stopped right away, the idols be smashed into pieces, and the marquee pulled down. They chanted: "Bondho Bondho, Puja Bondho [stop worshipping]", "Legechhe Re Legechhe, Rokte Agun Legechhe [our blood has been set on fire]".

They kept riling up the mob that started hurling stones at the mandap at around 11am. Meanwhile, the mob grew larger, and by 11:30am, they started vandalizing the mandap.

A few minutes later, additional police forces were called in. Policemen opened fire to disperse the crowds. Around 50 people received minor injuries. The DC, SP and the mayor took shelter at a nearby house during that time.

Chase and counter-chase between police and the crowds went on until 4pm.

Both Foyez and Ekram were arrested that morning and are now in jail.

Between 12 noon and 2pm, processions from at least 10 areas on the outskirts of Comilla marched to Pubali Chattar, considered the city centre. They fanned across the city and vandalized three temples -- Kalighat Tola, Chanmoyee Kalibari Mandir, Anandamoyee -- and 14 puja mandaps.

Some footage shows the processions being led primarily by youths. They vandalized temples and mandaps while shouting blood-curdling chants.

Achintyo Das Titu, general secretary of Comilla City Puja Udjapan Parishad, said the mayhem started around 11am and lasted till midnight. There were 91 puja mandaps in the city this year.

Attackers Were Outsiders

Locals of Nanua Dighir Par, where it all started, said the attackers were outsiders and mostly teenagers. They came from the city outskirts.

Ekram Hossain, who dialled 999, lives one and a half kilometres away from the spot, and Foyez Ahmed was an expatriate who came home from Saudi Arabia a year ago. He now owns two shops selling clothes and mobile accessories in Sattar Khan area of Comilla city, said locals.

Ekram's mother Selina Akther told The Daily Star, "My son has gone astray. He left home after a fight in the family on October 12. On October 13, we learned police arrested him."

Supervisor of the mandap told the Dhaka Tribune that he left the mandap at 2:30am on October 13 after wrapping up worship formalities. At 7:30am, he came to know over the phone that someone placed the Holy Quran on the Ganesh idol.

"I immediately informed the high-ups of the puja committee. When I reached the mandap, I saw the OC and two people talking. A crowd soon gathered on the west and east sides of the Dighi [pond]," he said.

"Given the bonding and harmony between Hindus and Muslims in our area, no CCTV was installed at the mandap. We never thought extra security would be needed. Some people took the opportunity," he added.

Absentee Mayor 

Monirul Haque Sakku, the mayor of Comilla, who lives only 300 yards away from the mandap, was conspicuously absent at the site. Although people of the Hindu community implored him to visit the site and officials called him, he didn't arrive until around 10:00am.

Contacted, Mayor Monirul Haque Sakku said, “Some of the puja committee members came to my house and described the incident. I requested them to stay at the spot. I went there around 9:30am. There were 100 to 150 people. I requested them to stay calm, tried to convince the crowd in the presence of DC and SP, but in vain.

"At one stage, as the situation started deteriorating, I called 40 workers from the city corporation and removed what remained of the mandap. There was no CCTV though I asked the puja committee to set up some."

Meanwhile, he slammed the Kotwali police OC Anwarul Azim for not arresting Foyez on the spot when he went live on Facebook before he could instigate the attack.

Delayed Police Action

The Kotwali OC reached the spot alone between 7am and 7:30am. The SP went there around 10am. The attack started at 11am. In between, the mob grew bigger and got organised.

After the attack, RAB forces and additional police forces dispersed the attackers.

Asked why it took four hours to draft in more forces, Faruk Ahmed, SP of Comilla, said they had enough forces to contain the situation and then he declined to elaborate on the issue.

Police filed four cases and Rab filed one case over the attacks. 

Eight cases have been filed over the incident including ones under Digital Security Act and Special Powers Act.

Police said they have arrested 44 people as of Tuesday.

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