A group of assailants set ablaze at least 29 homes of Hindus in Bangladesh over an alleged blasphemous social media post amidst protests by the minority community against temple vandalism incidents during the Durga Puja celebrations last week, media reports said on Monday.
The arson attack happened late on Sunday in a village in Rangpur district’s Pirgonj upazila, about 255 kms from Dhaka, the bdnews24.com reported.
The police rushed to a colony of fishermen, as tensions mounted over a rumour that a young Hindu man of the village had “dishonoured religion” in a Facebook post, the report quoted the district’s superintendent of police Mohammad Qamruzzaman as saying.
As the police stood guard around the man’s home, the attackers set fire to other homes nearby, the report said.
The Fire Service Control Room said that their report from the scene indicates that 29 residential houses, two kitchens, two barns and 20 haystacks belonging to 15 different owners were torched in Pirgonj’s Majhipara. An “unruly crowd” was identified as the cause of the fire.
The fire service received a report of the fire at 8:45 PM and put it out by 4:10 AM, the report said.
There were no immediate reports of casualties.
The arson incident occurred amid rising communal tensions over an alleged blasphemy incident at a Durga Puja venue in Comilla which led to attacks on Hindu temples and clashes between vandals and the police in Comilla, Chandpur, Chattogram, Cox’s Bazar, Bandarban, Moulvibazar, Gazipur, Chapainawabganj, Feni and other districts.
Dozens of people have been arrested over the attacks and the spread of communal hatred on social media, the report said.
The Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council alleges that at least four Hindu devotees have died in the attacks in Chandpur and Noakhali.
Meanwhile, the elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) arrested two more men in connection with the looting and vandalism of temples and shops belonging to the Hindu minority community in Feni, about 155 kms from Dhaka.
They were arrested for their involvement in communal violence and inciting people on social media. They were handed over to the local police station, said Imran Khan, assistant director of the paramilitary force’s Legal and Media Wing.
Earlier on Saturday, one person was arrested in connection with the attack which took place when the Feni Puja celebration committee and its supporters were preparing to protest against the communal violence in the country.
The assailants also vandalised and looted several temples and a number of shops owned by Hindus and torched vehicles. They clashed with the police for about seven hours.
Authorities deployed additional police forces and the paramilitary force — Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), after several temples and businesses owned by Hindus were vandalised and robbed during clashes.
Approximately 40 people were injured in the violence, including Feni Model Police Station’s Officer-in-Charge Nizam Uddin.
On Sunday, two cases were filed against 400 unnamed people.
Meanwhile on Monday, a group of Dhaka University students joined hands with protesting religious groups against the attacks on the temples, puja venues and homes of the Hindu community across Bangladesh, the report said.
The protesters called for the formation of a separate ministry to handle affairs related to minority groups.
In a separate report, the bdnews24.com, quoting the prominent rights group in Bangladesh Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), said that as many as 3,679 attacks on the minority Hindu community took place between January 2013 and September this year.
The attacks included vandalism of and setting fire to 559 houses and 442 shops and businesses of the Hindu community, it said.
At least 1,678 cases of vandalism and arson attacks on Hindu temples, idols and places of worship were also reported in the same period, it said.
While 11 citizens from the Hindu community have died in these incidents, another 862 were injured, the report said.
Two Hindu women were raped in 2014 and another four were sexually assaulted, it said, adding that at least 10 Hindu families were evicted from their homes and land in 2016, 2017 and 2020.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina promised to bring to justice the culprits behind the violence, saying anyone involved in the attacks on Hindu temples and Durga Puja venues in Comilla will not be spared.
“The incidents in Comilla are being thoroughly investigated. Nobody will be spared. It doesn’t matter which religion they belong to. They will be hunted down and punished,” she said while exchanging greetings with the Hindu community members during an event at Dhakeshwari National Temple in Dhaka on the occasion of Durga Puja.
The Durga Puja celebrations, considered to be the biggest festival of the minority Hindu community in Bangladesh, concluded without the traditional Bijoya Dashami procession.