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Bangladesh: Punishing the innocent | Govt response to communal attack in Ramu

18 November 2012

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New Age (Bangladesh), 12 November 2012

PART I Punishing the innocent

by Rahnuma Ahmed

‘Everyone, regardless of whether they belonged to the Awami League or to the BNP or Jamaat, or was an ordinary citizen, suddenly became a Muslim.’
– Adnan Wahid

He was speaking of September 29, 2012, trying hard to explain to us, as we sat at a cafe in Dhaka, of how it could have been possible for local Bengali Muslims — who had lived peacefully with Buddhists, both Bengalis (Barua) and Rakhains, for many generations in Ramu — to take part in wave after wave of assaults which destroyed innumerable Buddhist monasteries and temples where neighbours had worshipped and prayed, to take part in armed attacks which set fire to houses where Buddhist neighbours had lived.

Things were different in Ramu, as far as I can tell we’d always been different from people in other places, what mattered most, what we’d always been proud of, was that we belonged to Ramu. We were Ramu-bashis. But the September 29 attacks have shattered our feelings of collectivity, they have struck a terrible blow at our bonds of togetherness.

Many Buddhists in Ramu confided to us, it’s not like before, we don’t know if it’ll ever be the same again. People have received threats over the phone, especially those who spoke to the media, spoke to outsiders who rushed to Ramu after the violence, ‘how long will the police and BGB (Border Guards Bangladesh) protect you? See what happens after they leave.’
It all depends on whether the guilty are punished, they said, asking me worriedly, what do you think? Will they be punished? I was forced to lower my eyes, even though I knew my silence added to their uncertainties, for, on what grounds could I utter words of reassurance?

A Rakhain schoolteacher told us, a group of young men armed with sticks and swords rushed into our neighbourhood. I heard voices say, those are Hindu homes, hey, no, those ones are Muslims. Of course locals were involved, how else could they have known which ones to attack? Another Buddhist, a young Barua man, in the middle of a long conversation thoughtfully said, even though it’s been a fortnight, I find it difficult to get back to work. I call my boss each morning and say, sorry, I can’t make it today, I’ll definitely be in tomorrow. But I haven’t, I just can’t concentrate, I feel restless. I meet Muslim friends in the streets, they ask me, ‘Ki khobor?’ Good, I reply, but I don’t look them in the eyes. It’s all changed. (I conceal names of all Buddhists I spoke to, out of concern for their security).
Ramu-bashis are now divided into ‘Muslims’ and ‘Buddhists.’ Into ‘attackers’ and ‘attacked.’ Into those who stood by, and those who failed. Everything has changed.

The incident which is reported to have sparked off hours of unfolding violence in Ramu was the discovery of an offensive picture on the Facebook wall of Uttam Kumar Barua, a Buddhist youth. It showed the feet of a girl (how do you know it was a girl? because ‘her’ toes had nail polish, I was told) planted squarely on the open pages of a copy of the holy Quran. News of this discovery which was made by Muktadir, a polytechnic student, spread quickly; it travelled outside the small computer shop located in Fakirabazar, Ramu town, owned by Faruk, Uttam’s FB friend. It was a market day, crowds thronged the bazar, and soon enough, a small group of Muslim men entered the shop, including two who were reportedly strangers. They were curious, they wanted to see the offensive photograph.

The Facebook page, with Uttam Kumar Barua’s profile, was saved and photographed, photocopies of the page bearing the picture were later distributed. It incited anger and hatred. Local boys and men gathered after esha (nighttime) prayers at Choumuhoni Chottor (Ramu’s town centre), processions of 50 or so, marched up and down the town streets before circling back to Choumuhoni, they chanted slogans against the alleged offender: ‘Uttam Barua’r gale-gale, juta maro tale-tale’ (Slap Uttam Barua on both cheeks with a shoe). ‘Quran akromonkarir shasti chai, fashi chai’ (Punish and hang him for having attacked the Quran).

But there were other slogans as well, expressing a leap, a jump, from the individual to the community, one which constructed the entire community of Baruas (Bengali Buddhists) as being a unified whole, as being guilty of a crime which demanded collective punishment: ‘Baruader astana jalie dao, purie dao’ (Set fire, burn down the dwellings of Baruas). The unified whole extended to include Rakhain Buddhists too, as Bengali Muslim men, mostly youths, poured into Ramu town, some on motorbikes, many in hired buses and trucks. The gathering at Choumuhoni swelled, speeches were delivered, the mood grew angrier; groups armed with sticks, curved swords, stones, gunpowder, petrol and home-made cocktails broke away and entered streets and lanes, they attacked Buddhist monasteries and temples belonging to both Baruas and Rakhains, they struck down statues of Lord Buddha, beheaded some, looted those made of gold, broke open donation boxes, helped themselves to the cash. Some moved from one monastery to another, other groups went directly to ones more distant from Choumuhoni Chottor. They ransacked, looted and burned, their actions seem to have been well-coordinated.

Everyone seems to agree that the attacks were planned, pre-meditated, even the government and the major opposition party, the BNP, which might be a cause for celebration since they seem to agree on so little. And even though Uttam Barua is still in hiding, most agree that he is innocent, since the photo had been tagged to his FB account.

Harmony was instilled in us from childhood, says Adnan reflectively. My father would always tell us, ‘ami Musolmaner cchele kintu boro hoecchi Baruader ghore’ (I am a Muslim boy but I grew up in Barua homes). Never forget this, he would tell us repeatedly.

Or, as a highly-educated Bengali Buddhist man told me, you don’t go out and make friendships on the basis of religious belonging, friendships are formed (dhormo dekhe to ar keu bondhutto korena, bondhutto to gore othe). Religious belonging is secondary. But his elderly parents, I was distressed to discover, had been forced to flee from their home, to take shelter in the woods behind their house when the Ramu Shima Bihar, located in their neighbourhood, not far from Choumuhoni Chottor, was set on fire.
Violence erupted in Ukhiya and Teknaf sub-divisional towns the next day because of the offensive photograph, which is said to be one of a stock of other equally offensive photographs, found on a website called Insult Allah. Hindu women and girls in Hoyaikong (Teknaf), afraid of being raped, took shelter in a nearby stream. They stood half-submerged in water until the attacking crowds had left, several hours later. We were reminded of 1971, the older ones said.

I myself am reminded of attacks on Hindu homes right after the 2001 parliamentary elections, generally known to have been committed by supporters of the Jamaat-e-Islami and the BNP. I am reminded of the mother in a Barisal village who had pleaded with the men who’d invaded her house. She’s so little, she’s only thirteen, one after the other please, I beg of you. I was reminded of Prashanta Mridha’s short story, based on the incident, where he’d drawn parallels with Saadat Hasan Manto’s partition story, of the worried-to-death Muslim father who had been separated from his daughter during the riots, of his being vastly relieved when his daughter was brought into the hospital. The doctor, unsure of whether the girl was dead or alive, instructed someone to open the windows, it’s stuffy in here. Khol do. Her fingers quivered, her father was overjoyed that his daughter was still alive, but the doctor was aghast, for her fingers had imperceptibly moved down, to loosen her trouser string.

While recounting the violence in Ukhiya, Buddhists spoke of Muslim neighbours who had stood by them, who had rushed forward to protect them. ‘The principal of the madrasa behind the school next door, Moulana Abul Hasan Ali,’ said a bhante (monk) of Raja Palong Jadi Bouddho Bihar, ‘leapt over the wall and came charging down, I don’t know how he could, he’s so fat and heavy, but the minute the attackers saw him they ran away. They seemed to disappear into thin air.’ I was eager to meet the principal but we were on our way to Teknaf, dropping in at the madrasa would have delayed us.

Shameem Ahsan Bulu, son of professor Mushtaque Ahmad (founder, Ramu College) suffered pretty severe injuries because the hujur leading the attack on Baruapara in Ramu, had thrown a brick which hit him on the head. But there had been others as well, who had risked their lives to defend their neighbours from the attacks. ‘I don’t think any member of advocate Nurul Islam’s family was free of injuries, the whole family rushed forward to save us, all his Barua neighbours took shelter in his home,’ said a young Barua student. But his eyes looked vacant, staring apprehensively into the future. However they lit up a little later when he recounted another tale. A reporter who had come from Dhaka had pointed at a Barua boy and asked Shameem Ahsan, ‘who is he?’ Bulu bhai had replied, ‘my nephew.’ The reporter had been startled. A Muslim man with a Buddhist nephew?

Not all ties of good neighbourliness had frayed. Nor had all fictive kinship ties and the obligations they demand, collapsed.

Some had resisted the attackers out of religious convictions, ones put to practice, ones that were enacted, as we see happen in the case of Mohammad Moinuddin, assistant superintendent of Khorulia Talimul Quran Dakhil Madrasa and chairman of East Khorulia Sikdarpara Jame Mosque. I told believers who came to the mosque for Fazr prayers, of course you should condemn the act, but remember, ‘if neighbouring Buddhist villages are attacked’ you are obliged to protect them. Islam teaches us to protect those who are innocent. I was away in Cox’s Bazar but when I received frantic phone calls from villagers that night, they said, crowds had gathered in Khorulia, Buddhist homes were likely to be attacked, I rushed back. I was met by a crowd of 400-500 people, ‘all unknown.’ I challenged them, I told them, I have studied the Quran and the Hadith. Nowhere does it say that a community can be held responsible for an offence committed by one of its members. But convincing them was not easy, they insisted, they were obliged to take ‘revenge.’ I argued with them for about an hour, they relented only after I’d said, if they have sinned by not taking revenge, I would take ‘responsibility’ for it on the Day of Judgment (New Age Xtra, October 12, 2012).

To return to the quote at the beginning of my column, ‘Everyone suddenly became a Muslim’, while I would fully agree that the statement itself calls for a lot of unpacking and deconstruction, for now, it is important to recognise how it resonates at the level of everyday cognitive action. Of how it creates a shared language post-attacks, through its ability to capture and convey both the sense of betrayal felt by Buddhists, and the feelings of guilt suffered by those Muslims genuinely opposed to the attacks. Both Buddhists and Muslims who I spoke to, repeatedly said, harmony was not lived through the absence of religious differences, we would go to their weddings, they would come to ours, food was exchanged on our Puja and their Eid, didi-apa, mashi-khala, nomoshkar-salam, these flowed naturally. Nor was it unknown, confided young men, for a Muslim who relished crab to secretly request a Buddhist aunt, or, a Buddhist man wishing to eat beef, hop over to a Muslim uncle’s home.

Buddhists cite two instances, overheard, to illustrate how police officials of Ramu thana contravened their official pledge to protect all citizens, irrespective of religious belonging (constitutionally enshrined), in other words, how they ‘became Muslims.’ The officer-in-charge of Ramu thana was overheard as having said at Choumuhoni Chottor, ‘my blood too is boiling’ [because of Uttam Kumar’s alleged offence]; while another official belonging to the same thana had reportedly said, ‘if I had not been wearing this uniform [I too would have joined the attackers].’ But there seem to be contrary instances as well, where members of law enforcing agencies, along with elected representatives of all major political parties, Awami League, BNP and Jamaat, had collectively fought off hundreds of processionists, bent on destroying the Buddhist temple in Joarikhola. I spoke to a UC member of Joarikhola village (Hoyaikong, Teknaf) affiliated to the BNP, and the son of the president of the upazilla AL (the son is a former member of the Chatra League), who recounted how they, together with the upazilla chairman, Nur Ahmed Anwari, Jamaat leader, and local police officials had risked their lives to fend off the attackers. When I wanted to know where the upazilla chairman was, I was told he’d gone into hiding because he had been accused of instigating the torching of Hindu-Barua houses, of looting and vandalism (banglanews24. com, October 1, 2012). But, why? you say, he hadn’t..? Oh, its ‘political’, said the former Chatra League leader, a bit embarrassed.

Every Buddhist monk I spoke to in Ramu had repeated these words of caution, we have been done wrong, it is necessary that the guilty be punished but it is also essential that the innocent should not be punished. It is against our religion; our monks in Ramu, I would like to add, were calm, unhurried and serene, a far cry from the ones I have watched on YouTube (before it was banned), participants in communal riots in Sittwe, Myanmar.
Members of the ruling Awami League, I was told, had advised some monks to name opposition political party leaders and members as having led the attack. But that would be a lie! replied the monks. When they still insisted, the monks reportedly said, okay, we will say we destroyed our own monastery.

I now turn to the government’s response to the Ramu attacks, particularly to the report submitted by the high-powered probe committee formed by the Home Ministry.

The New Age, 13 November 2012

Concluding Part: Govt response to communal attack in Ramu

by Rahnuma Ahmed

In today’s column, I basically deal with three issues, firstly, a brief review of the government’s administrative responses, these suggest that higher-ups have ‘settled’ on making the officer-in-charge of Ramu thana the “fall guy” for the devastating waves of attacks on Buddhist temples, monasteries and houses on September 29; secondly, my examination of the report of the probe committee formed by the home ministry to investigate the occurrences in Ramu inclines me to think that the committee has produced a report according to the home minister’s requirements and guidelines as outlined in his public speeches instead of investigating impartially as the committee is duty-bound to; third, in order to create appearances of communal harmony post-Ramu, government officials, ruling party members and ideologues, mostly Muslims (plus a few Buddhist quislings), have participated in government-funded Probarona celebrations this year, which has led to the (forceful) de-linking of religious rituals from a set of embodied practices which are a part of the Buddhist tradition; it bespeaks of government interference (hijacking), which again, is unconstitutional (freedom of worship).

The fall guy

THE GOVERNMENT probe committee report has not yet been made public, despite assurances given by the secretary of the home ministry (New Age, October 19).

I have secured a copy of the report through New Age, I assume copies became available to the media as a consequence of the writ petition moved on October 3 (sworn afidavit on October 1) by Supreme Court lawyer Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua, who, since he belongs to Ramu, has initiated the move on the basis of being personally “aggrieved.” The petition has challenged the “inaction” of the police in protecting temples, monasteries and homes of Ramu’s Buddhist community.

What I find most significant is that the writ seeks a directive from the High Court to summon before it three key people in the local administration: deputy commissioner (DC), Cox’s Bazar district; superintendent of police (SP), Cox’s Bazar district; officer in charge (OC), Ramu police station. Many inhabitants of Ramu, including Barrister Jyotirmoy himself, says the writ, had directly contacted these officials before and during the attacks (which, as we know, raged for several hours), but they had failed to take action. In other words, they had failed to discharge their duties in accordance with the Constitution, they should therefore be held answerable for their conduct.

A few more words about the writ petition and the probe committee, to add more context: the petition, which, interestingly, had been turned down by an HC bench on the grounds that it would “interfere” with steps already taken by the government, was accepted by the HC bench of Justice Mirza Hussain Haider and Justice Kazi Md Ejarul Haque Akondo. The latter directed the home secretary and, the inspector general of police to submit a report to the court by October 17 after the government’s investigation into the Ramu attacks had been conducted; as background information I add that, on September 30, the newly-appointed home minister Dr Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir had announced the formation of a probe committee, headed by Nurul Islam, additional divisional commissioner, Chittagong. It was tasked with investigating the communal attacks in Ramu.

The probe committee was due to submit its report to the ministry of home affairs on October 11, however, from what I gather from press reports, it delayed the submission by a couple of days because Abdul Muktadir, who is believed to have instigated the violence (he had discovered the offensive picture on Uttam Barua’s facebook wall), had been arrested on the night of October 9, and the committee wanted to include his testimony in the report (Samakal, October 12, 2012). The probe committee report was finally submitted to the ministry of home affairs on October 18; the report was submitted by the ministry to the HC on November 8, a good twenty days later (bdnews24.com, November 8, 2012).

In the meanwhile, on October 17, the inspector general of police submitted his report (prepared by Senior Assistant Superintendent of Police (Law) Md Mizanur Rahman, on behalf of the IGP) to the HC which details steps taken by the local police after they received information from Ramu on the night of the attacks, and after. According to news reports, the IGP’s report finds no fault in the actions taken by the Cox’s Bazar SP: he had “immediately deployed additional forces” on the night of the 29th (however, no mention is made of the time when the police had been informed), the next day, when he accompanied the home minister to Ramu, he had instructed the DIG (deputy inspector general) of the area to take “immediate action” against the perpetrators in Ramu and other places; it was Ramu thana’s OC who had failed to “tackle the situation” for he had provided “incorrect incormation to his superiors”, hence, it recommended that disciplinary action be taken against him. (bdnews24.com, October 17, 2012).

The IGP’s report also mentions that on September 30th, the SP had instructed the police to “secure the lives and property” of all minority communities including their places of worship, as I read this I was left wondering whether the IGP report had mentioned that attacks similar to Ramu had occurred in Ukhia and Teknaf (Cox’s Bazar district), and Potiya (Chittagong district), on both Buddhist and Hindu temples, monasteries and homes, on September 30th. How could they have occurred despite his order? (More on this, below, suo moto rule).

The hearing of Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua’s writ petition on police inaction is to be held today, November 13. Let’s see what happens.

To add more context, another writ petition was filed by Supreme Court lawyer Yunus Ali Akond on October 3, in the HC bench of Justice Naima Haider and Justice Muhammad Khurshid Alam Sarkar. Local law enforcers, said the petition, had failed to take appropriate measures to protect Buddhist temples, monasteries and houses in Ramu. The bench issued a rule asking the government to explain within a week why its inaction to provide security should not be declared “illegal.” The same bench issued another rule in a suo moto move, this occurred because Supreme Court lawyer Advocate Shubroto Chowdhury placed before the court newspaper reports detailing vandalism in Ramu; the bench asked the government to explain why its “inaction” in protecting Buddhist temples and houses in Ramu, Ukhia and Teknaf in Cox’s Bazar, and Patiya in Chittagong, should not be declared “illegal.” The respondents to these rules are: home secretary, inspector general of police, deputy commissioners and police superintendents of Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong, and the OCs of Ramu, Ukhia, Teknaf and Patiya police stations (Daily Star, October 3, 2012).

I must mention a series of administrative actions taken since the communal attacks in Ramu (in chronological order): (a) on October 2, Nazibul Alam, OC, Ramu thana was closed and attached to the office of deputy inspector general of police, Chittagong Range (b) on October 14, Jaynul Bari, DC, Cox’s Bazar, who had been transferred to Chittagong (hence, the farewell party), was withdrawn from his new posting and attached to the public administration ministry (c) on October 22, Jasim Uddin, the acting DC of Cox’s Bazar, who had taken charge on September 30 from the outgoing DC, was transferred (d) on November 4, Selim Mohammad Jahangir, police superintendent, Cox’s Bazar, was withdrawn and attached to police headquarters. It is pertinent to mention that several commentators have queried, particularly on TV talk shows, as to why, given the gravity of the incidence, and widespread allegations that the administration and police officials had been inactive during the attacks, they have merely faced “withdrawal”, “closure” and “attachment.” The situation is more complex in the case of SP Jahangir, who was possibly withdrawn because it was one of the 7-point demands made by the Buddhist community when Gowher Rizvi, advisor to the prime minister, and Dilip Barua, industries minister visited Ramu on October 3. In other words, even soft disciplinary measures have not been readily forthcoming on behalf of the government.

The IGP report to the HC bench had mentioned that a three-member team led by Md Nawsher Ali, deputy inspector general of police, Chittagong Range had been formed to investigate the incidents of September 29; its three-page report was finalised on October 18, it was submitted to the High Court bench of Justice Naima Haider and Justice Muhammad Khurshid Alam Sarkar on November 7, a good 19 days later; the bench will issue its order on November 20 regarding Yunus Ali’s petition.

I have not seen the police probe committee report but according to press reports, although it acknowledges that both the SP, Cox’s Bazar and the OC, Ramu police station are to be blamed for having failed to take appropriate action, it recommends disciplinary action be taken against only the OC (“negligent in discharging official duties”). The SP is blamed only for being “confused” and “out of touch with local sentiments.” Likewise, the DC, who is blamed only for being “busy” with his farewell party, and for failing “to judge the gravity of the situation.” The failure of the intelligence agencies was not mentioned at all (Daily Star, November 8, 2012).

Would it be wrong to assume that the OC of Ramu thana Nazibul Alam is possibly, being made the “fall guy”?

Made-to-order probe committee report

I write on the basis of the copy which I have received; it has 61 pages, the page numbers are entered in hand, pp 16-87. I refer to this as the “report,” it consists of two Annexures, Annexure-1 and Annexure-2.

My first impression (a lasting one) is that the report is sloppy, both in its language use and in typo errors and, in spelling mistakes which abound profusely (“shortgun” instead of shotgun, “nibrito” instead of nibritto, “brigate” for brigade, “payjama poRa” and not pora, the same name being variedly spelt, Tohid, Towhid, p. 54). Grrrrr!

But it is difficult to regard some things as merely sloppy, and it is here that I’m at a loss, are they mere carelessness or deliberate? I provide two instances. The report which I have received has a covering letter (p. 16), signed by the senior asstt secretary (Annexure-1, dated October 14, 2012), the subject of the letter, written in English says: “Alleged Attack at Buddhist Temples and homes at Ramu, Cox’s Bazar.” Why “alleged” attacks? What does it imply? That there are (only) “allegations” that the attacks had taken place; that, they may, or may not have occurred?

The second instance: Uttom Kumar Baruar shathe tar [Omar Faruk, computer shop-owner] bektigoto jogajog acche kina ta nishcheet howa jayni. This sentence would have made sense if it had read, we have not been able to ascertain whether Omar Faruk is personally known to Uttom Kumar Barua. But “bektigoto jogajog” means “being in personal contact”; there are two problems here: if the issue is one of whether the two knew each other, why didn’t the committee members go ahead and ask Omar Faruk, who was arrested on October 6. However, Omar Faruk’s testimony is not part of the 21 testimonies included in the report. Was Faruk questioned by the committee or not? According to p. 65, he was. To make matters worse (downright suspicious?), the testimonies are not numbered, but since none of the pages are missing, I am left wondering what happened to Faruk’s testimony? The other problem is, if the authors do not mean whether the two knew each other but whether they are (still) “in personal contact” that also stretches credulity because Uttam Kumar Barua has been in hiding since the night of September 29, there is some speculation that the government knows of his whereabouts, that possibly, he is in government custody; if one ignores the speculation, one is still left wondering how Faruk, who is under police arrest, could be in personal contact with Uttam, who, the authorities officially claim, is untraceable.

I will now briefly touch on three inter-connected points: (a) the absence of a timeline providing a chronology of the attacks (which monastery, temple, house was attacked when/estimated time); and, focus on two of the objectives that the probe committee was tasked with (b) “to identify the individuals responsible for the attacks” and (c) “the role of the law-enforcing agency[ies]” (Bangla does not distinguish between plural and singular).

– The absence of a timeline: There is no indication whatsoever that the members of the probe committee thought it necessary to reconstruct a chronology of the events systematically; therefore, one is left with individual testimonies which contradict each other on what happened when, who was where when etc.; this, indicates to me, that the ability to determine who should be held responsible for what manner of negligence is forestalled. I provide a few instances: in her testimony, upazilla vice-chairman of Ramu Musrat Jahan Munni states, Ethin Rakhain, the Cox’s Bazar’s woman MP, called Ramu thana’s OC and told him that the Cherengghata Boro Mondir [Shada Ching] and Lal Mondir were being attacked, it was “about 10/11pm” (p. 51). But according to the testimony of upazilla parishad chairman Sohel Sarowar Kajol, Lal Ching was set on fire at “about a quarter to midnight” (p. 44). This is contradicted yet again by the testimony of Mohd Abul Kalam, assistant commissioner (land), Ramu, who states that the SP arrived at 2am with 8-10 police personnel, he tried to calm down the crowd, but that the angry crowd set fire to Cherangghata’s Lal Ching and Shada Ching temples (p. 48).

Matters are made far worse when the authors themselves write in Section 10. Porjalochona o Bisleshon (Review and Analysis), that, at about 12:15pm riotous crowds began attacking, looting and setting fire to Cherangghata’s Lal Ching, adjoining Shada Ching Bouddho Bihar, Moitri Bouddho Bihar, and the Boro Kyang belonging to Rakhains.

How did the members of the probe committee determine the time? On the basis of which testimony or which other evidence, and why are they not presented in the report?

– The role of the law-enforcing agency[ies]: To investigate how a rampage of such proportions, over a considerable land mass, one which continued for many hours (if one counts the hours from the first gathering at Choumuhoni Chottor, about 8:30/9pm, to the flames dying out after the last attack, 4:30am, it means that the attacks lasted for roughly 7½-8 hours) could have continued largely undeterred until towards the end, then a timeline of when the police force arrived (alongwith names and ranks of personnel) would be absolutely necessary. But more importantly, if the team had been serious about investigating “police inaction” then, instead of a flattened out “Role of law-enforcing agencies”, the wording itself should have been different, something on the lines of “Precautionary or Preventive Measures taken by Police, the adequacy of these measures to control violence.” It is pertinent to point out that here too, the testimonies given by government and police officials give diverging accounts of when the army and BGB had reached the site of attacks: according to Debi Chondo, upazilla nirbahi officer (UNO, the chief executive officer at the sub-district level), it was “2:30am” (p. 47). According to the OC, Ramu thana, it was between “1:30-2:00am.”

– Individuals responsible for the attack: According to the authors of the probe committee report, one of the tasks of the committee was to investigate the “individuals who were responsible for the attack” (p. 23), but this category (“individuals”) mysteriously expands and gets re-worded as “Responsible groups, parties, organisations and institutions” at the end of the report, in the sub-section (11.1) following Section 11. Identifying responsible individulas (p. 70). This re-wording enables the committe members to find the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Rohingyas, the RSO (Rohingya Solidarity Organisation) responsible for having organised, incited and participated in the attacks. They may well have, that is not my point, my point is, if the initial objective had been to identify “groups, parties, organisations and institutions” responsible for the attack (instead of merely “individuals”), would that have neccesitated that the probe committee equally investigate the local Awami League, its leaders, its activists?

My own scrutiny of the report inclines me to think that the probe committee’s investigation in practice was guided by what the home minister had said in press briefings and publicly delivered speeches post-Ramu: “leaders and members who subscribe to a politics different from ours and extremist fundamentalists” are responsible for the attacks (Kaler Kantho, October 1, 2012), that “national and international organisations were involved” (Samakal, October 2, 2012). In other words, I would argue that it is a tailor-made report, and, that those who have provided its guidelines and those who have authored it, should be held legally accountable for their acts.

Lastly, in the introduction to Annexure-2 (How the Incident Began), I stumble over the authorial voice, who is the author: probe committe members, or Muktadir? Look at what the authors’ write while describing the sequence of events after the offensive picture had been discovered in Faruk’s computer shop in Ramu’s bazar, some men entered the shop saying they wanted to see it: “since people had [already] learned about the picture, fearing that Uttam Kumar Barua may delete it from his account Abdul Muktadir went to Faruk’s facebook wall from his own account and captured a [screen]shot with his [Uttam’s] profile.” Since Muktadir’s “fear” led to actions which had disastrous consequences, is it not necessary that his fear not be viewed unproblematically? What was he fearful of? That Uttam would not be found out? That he would not be punished? If so, shouldn’t Muktadir’s self-righteous “fear” be interrogated and examined for the harm that it did? Instead of being written about as “normal.” Is this an unconscious “Muslim” voice creeping into the report? Or, is there something more devious at work? But I’m in two minds here, for, what could be more devious than unconscious Muslim voices creeping into committee reports.

Government interference in Buddhist religious practices

Originally, Buddhists countrywide had decided to not celebrate Probarona Purnima this year, because of the attacks on September 29. But to create appearances of communal harmony, government officials, ruling party members and ideologues, mostly Muslims (plus a few Buddhist quislings), have participated in government-funded Probarona celebrations where fanooshes have been lit and set afloat. But as Pragyananda Bhikkhu of Ramu Shima Bihar writes, a fanush is not a balloon which one can, at any time and under any circumstances, joyously set afloat. There is no timing to the flying of balloons, or any notion of when it is circumspect, when it is not. No rituals or invocations are needed. But fanooshes are different, one must follow a distinct set of rules because the act of setting afloat a fanoosh is closely entwined with the essence of what Buddhism preaches (Dainik Cox’s Bazar, November 4, 2012).

To make my point clearer, if Bangladesh had been a Buddhist-majority country, and the reverse had occurred, if the government had then arranged for cattle slaughter for Korbani Eid, would that have been Korbani for the Muslims, as understood and practised, or something else? The government’s actions (or hijacking?) have meant that a set of embodied practices have been de-linked from the Buddhist religious order, and turned into a “spectacle” (tamasha). It is unconstitutional (freedom of worship). Shouldn’t it be Buddhists who practise Buddhism?

P.S.

The above two part article from New Age (Bangladesh) is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use