- 18 cases filed till Friday
- 285 named accused, over 5,500 unnamed
- 130 people arrested till Friday evening
- The allegations include murder, arson, vandalism, and obstructing police officials from discharging their duty
- No case for deliberately hurting religious sentiments or spreading hatred
Police arrested some 130 people until Friday evening for their alleged involvement in the attacks on a number of temples and houses of the Hindu community in Noakhali after jummah prayers last Friday.
Senior officials of the district police said most of the accused, arrestees, and those who took part in the attack were adolescents and youths. Among the offenders, there were children as well, they added.
Human rights organisation Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) also came with similar observations after visiting Cumilla, Feni and Noakhali following recent attacks on local Hindu people there.
After analysing at least 12 video footages and speaking to over 50 eye witnesses of the Friday violence in Noakhali, The Business Standard too found a similar picture.
During interrogation, many of the arrested young men said that they were not informed about the whole incident, according to the police. The rumour that Hindu people desecrated the Holy Quran was what incited them to carry out the attack, they added.
Till the filing of this report on Thursday evening, 18 cases were filed across the Noakhali district, accusing 285 persons by name. Besides, at least 5,500 other accused are unnamed.
These cases have been filed over allegations of murder, arson, vandalism, and obstructing police officials from discharging their duty.
The police have told a Noakhali court that no case has been filed as yet over allegations of deliberately hurting the religious sentiments or spreading hatred.
Asked, if politics was the key reason behind the recent communal attacks, Shahidul Islam, superintendent of police in Noakhali, told TBS on Thursday that they were yet to find any evidence to support such claims.
"Surprisingly enough, most of those who took part in the attacks are aged 18-20 years. They were basically used as a shield. Meanwhile, the kingpins have fled the area," he said.
ASK Senior Coordinator Abu Ahmed Fayzul Kabir said, "If some adolescents and youths had been prepared beforehand to carry out the atrocity, some must have influenced them like the Pied Piper of Hamelin. They have mentors and it is important to nab them."
Anant Kumar Bhowmik, manager of Sri Sri Radha Madhab Zeeur Mandir in Chowmuhani under Noakhali district, told TBS that more than 100 people broke down the iron gate of the temple between 2.15 pm and 2:30 pm on Friday. "As far as I saw from a distance, all of the attackers were young people and children.
Durant Kishore Shyamal Das, servant of a Iskcon (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) temple, said both of the two persons who died in their temple were killed by adolescents.
Noakhali SP Shahidul Islam told TBS that the adolescents and youths who participated in the attack were divided into several groups and launched attack on several temples at the same time so that the police could not face thwart them. "They got divided into small groups and carried out attacks on at least 10 places at the same time."
Eighty-five-year-old Pushpa Rani Das, a resident of the house next to the Iskcon temple at Narattampur in Noakhali, told TBS on Thursday that she saw some youths, as young as her grandchildren, vandalising the temple, and beating up the servants of the temple.
"Surprisingly, they were not grown-up men. I saw even an eight-year-old child rushing in with a stick in his hands. I did not see such a picture even during the Liberation War. How will the country move forward with such a young generation?"
Meanwhile, a number of teenagers aged 15-16 have been shown 18 years of age in the cases, as alleged by their families.
One of them is Monir of Alaiyatpur of Begumganj upazila. Monir's father Joynal Abedeen said Monir went to the mosque to take part in Jummah prayers on that day. He does not believe that his son was involved in the attack on temples. "My son is aged 15-16 but the police say he is 18. He is supposed to be corrected, but he will now have to spend his life in the jail or visiting court premises."
A juvenile named Hanif from Ganipur has also been accused, his father Jahangir Alam claimed.
Besides, one Rakib, son of Abdur Rashid of Char Shamsuddin in Laxmipur upazila, and one Jasim from Chowmuhuni municipality, also have been shown 18 years of age in cases, although they are juvenile as per claims made by their families.
None from the Begumganj police station and Noakhali district police agreed to make any comment on this matter.
Sabina Sharmin, professor of sociology at Jagannath University, has said as per the laws of the land everyone aged below 18 years will be considered as children or juveniles.
"The Children Act says children will not be tried with grown-up people and they will be tried in separate children's courts. They cannot be called criminals. The term for them will also be different and the trial process also will be different. Although they are arrested, they cannot be kept in general jail."
Some officials involved in the investigation of the cases told TBS that most of the shops of the Chowmuhani town were closed on the day of the incident as it was Friday. Apart from this, the market is the biggest wholesale market in Chattogram division after Khatunganj, where a lot of vagabonds and labourers work, they said, adding that the communal attacks were carried out basically by inciting these groups of people and a large segment of them are teenagers.
Mentioning that this age group is vulnerable, Professor Sabina Sharmin told TBS, "It is easy to motivate them. And they too willingly take part in such crimes intending to show heroism. These people are often driven by whims, and they do not think much about the probable consequences of any misdeed. But, arresting only the young people who took part in the attack will not be enough. Those who provoked them must also be brought to book."