Here's the complete timeline of events that took place in various parts of Bangladesh from 13 to 17 October, during which several Durga Puja pandals were attacked and many Hindus assaulted.
Like many attacks on Hindus of Bangladesh in the past, last week’s pogrom was also triggered by rumours of alleged disrespect to the Quran by Hindus.
Here’s how the attacks against Hindus started from Comilla city (in the eastern part of Bangladesh near the border with Tripura) and were executed in other parts of that country over the next four days:
13 October (Wednesday), Maha Saptami:
Sometime around 7.30 am, one Foyez Ahmed went live on Facebook from Nanua Dighir Par Durga Puja mandap in Comilla city, where he showed what he said was the Quran kept at the feet of Ganesh’s murti in that Puja mandap.
Less than 30 minutes before that, one Ekram Hossain had called ‘999’ (the emergency services number in Bangladesh) to inform that the Quran had been disrespected at that Puja pandal.
The officer-in-charge of the city’s Kotwali police station, Anwarul Azim, rushed to the mandap to investigate. He did find Hossain’s complaint to be true; a copy of the Quran had indeed been placed at the base of Shri Ganesh’s murti.
Members of the Puja committee say they had completed all rituals at 2.30am (Wednesday) and gone home. There was no one in the mandap after that. And the organisers hadn’t installed CCTV cameras inside the mandap.
“Someone must have come in after we left the mandap at 2.30am and before 7am (when the call to ‘999’ was made by Ekram Hossain) and placed the Quran at the feet of Ganesh,” Rathin Ghosh, a resident of the area, told Swarajya over the phone from Comilla.
Hossain, 30, lives 1.5 kilometres away from the mandap and is a known trouble-maker. How did he get to know that a copy of the Quran had been kept at the feet of the murti of Ganesh inside that mandap? More so, since a large screen blocks the view of the mandap’s interiors from the main road.
Foyez Ahmed, who returned from Saudi Arabia a year ago after having worked there, was present in the mandap when police officer Anwarul Azim reached the venue. His live 56-second video clip on Facebook showed Azim inside the mandap. How was he present in the mandap at that early hour?
Ahmed’s video, in which he is heard urging Muslims to wake up and protest the ‘insult to Islam’, went viral and by 8am, about two dozen young Muslim men had gathered around the mandap.
9 am: About 300 Muslim men, all wearing skull caps, sporting beards and clad in lungis had surrounded the pandal. Some were armed with lathis and even swords. They started raising slogans against Hindus for insulting Islam and the Quran.
10 am: Sensing trouble, Deputy Commissioner Md Kamrul Hasan and Superintendent of Police Faruk Ahmed arrive at the trouble spot with about 50 armed policemen. Comilla Mayor Monirul Haque Sakku, who lives barely 300 yards away from the pandal, also arrived after repeated entreaties. Several imams of local masjids also reach the spot and try to pacify the angry crowds.
10.30 am: A group of seven young men, all non-locals who police are yet to trace, start acting as agent provocateurs and demand that the Durga Puja rituals be stopped, the murtis smashed and the Puja pandal pulled down. They incite others and soon angry slogans like ‘bondho, bondho, pujo bondho’ (stop the puja) and ‘legeche re legeche, rokte agun legeche’ (our blood is on fire) are raised.
11 am: The mob starts hurling stones at the Puja mandap, entering it, and vandalising it. They smash the murtis and desecrate the temporary shrine. Some Muslim youth urinate on Puja items and the smashed murtis.
11.45 am: Additional police forces are called in and they baton charge the crowd. But that does not deter the riotous mob, forcing the police to open fire. Fifty people receive minor injuries. It takes another four hours to chase away all the attackers from the locality.
12 noon to 2 pm: As the fake news of the insult to the Quran spreads, Islamists take out processions from at least ten areas in the outskirts of Comilla city and march towards Pubali Chattar, the city centre. Wielding sticks and swords, they shout angry slogans calling for the extermination of Hindus.
On the way, these processionists vandalise and desecrate three old mandirs--Kalighat Tola, Chhanmayee Kalibari and Anandamoyee Mandir--and destroy 14 Puja pandals.
The mayhem continued till at least 10 pm. Terrorised Hindus ran away from the Puja mandaps on what was the most auspicious day of the four-day Durga Puja to the safety of their homes. The police failed to stop the Islamist mobs from their hate crimes aimed at terrorising the Hindus.
Till the weekend, 13 persons (including Ekram Hossain and Foyez Ahmed) had been arrested. Many in Comilla city said that the people who attacked the mandirs and vandalised the Puja pandals were non-locals.
But it is not only in Comilla that the stage-managed ‘insult’ to the Quran was used as a trigger by Islamists to launch attacks on Hindus. The news of the alleged ‘insult’ to the Quran spread to districts neighbouring Comilla and Hindu mandirs and Puja mandaps came under attack at five more places.
Chattogram (south eastern Bangladesh):
12.30 pm: Announcements are made from mosques about the alleged insult to the Quran at a Puja mandap in Comilla city and the ‘faithful’ are asked to congregate and seek revenge for the insult.
1 pm: Young Muslim men start congregating at some small towns in the district and at Banskhali, about 60 km south of Chattogram city, angry mobs shouting ‘death to Hindus’ attack and vandalise several Durga Puja mandaps there.
1.30 pm: A few hundred Muslim young men march through Hathazari, a small town with a sizeable population of Hindus located about 24 km north of Chattogram city, and destroy three mandirs there. They not only smash the murtis at these temples, but also desecrate them by throwing beef inside and then urinating and defecating inside the mandirs.
The police don’t even attempt to stop the mobs and remain mute bystanders.
Cox’s Bazar (southeastern Bangladesh):
2 pm: Trouble starts with Muslim men gathering in small towns of the district after calls are issued from some mosques to avenge the insult to Islam and the Quran. They descend on Kachhara Imura Silpara, a Hindu-majority village, and attack a Puja mandap.
The mandap is completely destroyed and the Hindus have not been able to continue with the Puja festivities there. The Hindus of the village have been warned by local Muslim leaders against observing any religious festivals in public.
The local administration has also reportedly advised them to desist from celebrating any festival publicly and to do so within the confines of their homes as a safety measure and to prevent Islamists from getting ‘provoked’.
Many Hindu houses are also attacked and looted.
Chandpur (central Bangladesh):
6 pm: Triggered by social media posts about the alleged insult to the Quran at Comilla, angry mobs gather at various places at Chandpur, about 60 km southwest of Comilla, and hold protests where death threats to Hindus are issued openly. Some imams also address the crowds and instigate them to avenge the ‘insult to Islam’ by kafirs and malauns (a pejorative term used by Muslims of Bangladesh against Hindus; a malaun is a person who is unworthy of Allah’s mercy and, thus, fair game for assault, rape and murder).
All the while, the police simply watch and do nothing to disperse the crowds that have gathered in various towns of the district.
One such angry mob marches to Raj Lakshmi Narayan mandir in Hajiganj and attacks it around 9pm. Murtis are smashed, murals destroyed and the mandir desecrated. At least three devotees inside the mandir who tried to reason with the angry Muslim young men are brutally assaulted.
The Ramakrishna Mission Sevashram at Hajiganj is also attacked and monks of the order are beaten up. A Puja mandap was also attacked and vandalised.
Hajiganj is about 20 km east of Chandpur city, and has a sizable population of Hindus.
Police try to disperse the crowds and fail, forcing the force to fire. Three of the rioters died on the spot and two others who were injured died later.
A recap of that day's horrific events by The Daily Star, Bangladesh’s leading English newspaper, makes it clear that the entire attack on Hindus was well-planned and meticulously coordinated.
Ramgati and Ramganj (southern Bangladesh):
At these two upazilas (sub-districts, roughly corresponding to administrative sub-divisions in India) of Chattogram district, calls for avenging the insult to the Quran are issued in the evening. Muslim men take out protests and hold demonstrations, but do not attack any mandir or Puja pandal.
However, according to local Bengali newspapers and journalists, the administration was tipped off that an attack on mandirs and some Hindu households was being planned for that night. The administration did nothing to take pre-emptive steps and thwart the planned attacks.
Ultimately, two mandirs were attacked, looted and desecrated that night.
A repeat of this happened at Hatia upazila in Noakhali district, where Muslim mobs destroyed a Durga Puja mandap and assaulted a few Hindus.
14 October (Thursday), Maha Navami:
The attacks on Hindus spread to other parts of the country.
Khulna (western Bangladesh bordering Bengal): Islamists plant bombs near a Kali mandir at Rupsa. The police discover the bombs and defuse them.
Gazipur district (Dhaka division): Islamist mobs attack Radha Gobindo mandir at Kashimpur around 7pm. They were reportedly led by an imam who incited them to avenge the insult to the Quran in Comilla.
Two more mandirs were attacked, looted and desecrated at Paschim Para and Pal Para. The priest of the mandir at Pal Para was assaulted and severely injured.
Bandarban district (Chattogram division, southwestern Bangladesh): Stoked by mullahs making fiery and hate speeches from mosques, scores of Muslim young men attacked a Hari mandir in the district’s Lama upazila and desecrated it. Police intervention led to a fierce battle that left 50, including the officer-in-charge of Lama police station, injured. The purohit and some sevaits of the mandir were also assaulted by the mob.
15 October (Friday), Maha Dashami:
All the attacks on this day happened after the jumma prayers at different mosques in the country. Fiery and hate-filled sermons were delivered at many mosques all over the country with the imams urging the congregations to teach Hindus a lesson for daring to insult the Quran.
Noakhali: Angry Muslims, their passions incited by the mullahs, streamed out of the main mosque of the city and attacked the Bijoya Durga mandir on College Road in Begumganj around 2.30pm. A Hindu man, Jatan Kumar Saha, was beaten to death (read about him here).
Muslim mobs also attacked Puja pandals and Hindu-owned business establishments in other parts of the district: College Road, DB Road and Bank Road in Majidee (the district headquarters) and Chowmuhoni Dakhkhin Bazar.
One dozen mandirs, including the century-old Radha Gobinda mandir and a Ram Thakur ashram, were attacked and vandalised. At least fifty business establishments belonging to Hindus were also looted and destroyed.
Till evening, the mobs were allowed a free run and it was only around 5.30pm that the police, along with the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and troops from the Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) swung into action. Fierce battles between the mob and security forces ensued, with people from both sides sustaining injuries.
The most horrific attack took place at the ISKCON mandir and math (read this). At least two monks of the order were brutally lynched by the violent Islamists.
Chattogram: After the jumma prayers, angry Muslims took out processions and two dozen people attacked a Puja mandap in the Andarkilla area. But police acted promptly, baton charged the attackers and lobbed teargas shells. But the Puja pandal was severely damaged and the religious rituals abandoned.
Sylhet: Muslim mob attacked the Bhati-Bangla Durga mandap in the Hawladar para area of Sylhet city. Five houses and three business establishments belonging to Hindus were also attacked and looted. Local Hindu community leaders say that though the police were present, they did not do anything to stop the attacks.
Dhaka: Fiery and hate sermons were delivered even in the country’s national masjid--the Baitul Mukarram Masjid--during the Friday prayers. Muslims streamed out of the masjid and tried to take out processions. But police prevented them from doing so, leading to many rounds of clashes. Several policemen, including a couple of senior officers, were injured.
Barisal: Three mandirs attacked and desecrated in Gournadi upazila of the district. A few Hindu men who attempted to stop the attackers were severely assaulted.
Kishoreganj: A Kali mandir in Karimganj upazila of the district was vandalised and desecrated. The imam of the local masjid was arrested for leading the mobs that carried out the attack on the mandir.
16 October (Saturday):
Munshiganj: A frenzied Muslim mob vandalises six murtis at the Daniapara Maha Shoshan Kali mandir in the district’s Sirajdikhan upazila in the morning hours.
Feni: Two mandirs and a few houses belonging to Hindus are attacked and looted by a mob. A fierce clash between the attackers and the police ensued when the latter tried to stop them from attacking more Hindu homes. Several people, including police officers, were injured in the violence.
17 October (Sunday):
Rangpur: Fresh rumours started circulating that a Hindu teenager living in Jelepolli hamlet of Majhipara in the Pirganj upazila of the district had posted defamatory content about Islam on his Facebook timeline.
This incited passions, and the post, which local Hindus assert is patently fake--they say that some Muslim zealots created a fake Facebook profile in the name of the teenager and posted defamatory content on it--was shared a few thousand times throughout the day.
Local authorities got wind of the brewing tensions but did nothing. Leaders belonging to the Jamaat-e-Islam and its student wing--the Islamic Chatra Shibir--kept on inciting Muslims throughout the day.
It was only when a large mob of Muslims reached the Jelepolli hamlet around 5pm that a police contingent rushed to the area and surrounded the house of the teenager. They took the teenager into custody, but by then, the large and angry mob started demanding that the teenager be handed over to them. Additional police reinforcements reached the spot.
The mob then vented its ire on other Hindu homes in the hamlet. At least 65 houses belonging to Hindus were set on fire and two dozen of them were completely gutted.
Hindu homes and business establishments were also attacked and looted at Bottola and Hatibandha villages of Ramnathpur union in the Pirganj upazila. Almost all the victims are poor Hindu fisherfolk.
There are six inferences that can be drawn from the above information:
One, no Hindu would have placed a Quran at the feet of Shri Ganesh, more so since the minority Hindus in Bangladesh always live in the shadow of fear. No Hindu would even dream of inviting trouble by showing such disrespect to the Quran.
Two, it is apparent that Ekram Hossain, or an associate, had intentionally brought in a copy of the Quran when the pandal was deserted early in the morning and placed it at the feet of Ganesh to incite attacks on Hindus. It was part of a well-planned conspiracy.
Three, it's also very obvious that Foyez Ahmed was part of the conspiracy since he went live on Facebook to show the Quran at Shri Ganesh’s feet.
Four, the police allowed the crowds to gather and the situation to deteriorate. The police failed to act adequately. A show of force and adequate boots on the ground would have acted as deterrence and foiled the sinister game plan of the Islamists.
Five, the attacks on Hindus intensified after the jumma prayers on Friday (15 October), two days after the Quran was deliberately kept at the feet of a deity inside a Puja pandal in Comilla. The police had already arrested two Muslims (Ekram Hossain and Foyez Ahmed) and would have got to know from them who the prime conspirator was. That he is an influential Muslim man is a foregone conclusion.
But no one in authority in Bangladesh issued a statement saying that the Quran had been deliberately planted by Muslim trouble-makers inside the Puja pandal in order to incite Muslims and provoke them to attack Hindus. Had this been done, the situation could have been defused and the mullahs would not have got a chance to incite mobs.
That the Prime Minister or her ministers, or the police top brass, failed to do so had triggered speculation and charges that Hasina and her party were not interested in preventing attacks on Hindus.
Six, in many parts of Bangladesh, the situation was allowed to drift and Islamists were allowed a free hand to attack Hindus. It was only after protests erupted in many parts of the world and the western world started taking notice of the attacks that the authorities in Bangladesh cracked down on the Islamists.
This has been the case in the past as well: authorities look the other way when Hindus are attacked, thus encouraging Islamist bigots. It is only when the western world takes notice that Bangladesh’s rulers put on the pretence of cracking down on Islamists and protecting the country’s Hindus.
Postscript: Till Tuesday (19 October) evening, 476 persons had been arrested for the attacks on Hindus and 71 criminal cases registered.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told reporters on Tuesday that the mastermind behind the Comilla incident, which sparked attacks on Hindus in various parts of the country, would be nabbed soon and the entire conspiracy exposed.
(This report was prepared after speaking to journalists working for The Daily Star and Dhaka Tribune, leaders of Hindu organisations, senior police officers, leaders of the Awami League as well as the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party)