A certain quarter took full advantage of the irresponsible acts of local Muslim religious leaders and police in Bhola and steered the situation towards violent clashes that left four people dead and hundreds injured on Sunday.
Many who took part in the ill-fated demonstration pointed to a lack of foresight and preparedness to deal with the situation on the part of both the groups as being responsible for the tragedy.
"Religious leaders and police attempted to resolve the situation in a peaceful way, but some culprits took advantage of the lack of preventive measures from both groups," Borhanuddin Municipality Mayor Md Rafikul Islam told The Business Standard.
He also claimed that leaders and activists from the BNP-Jamaat group were behind the barbaric clashes.
"The rally was called off, but the organisers failed to send messages to the Muslim community about it. The police were not sufficiently prepared to deal with the fallout. We fell victim to a lack of leadership," said Md Hasnat, a resident of Kachia union.
According to sources, a status defaming Prophet Mohammad (SM) was posted from Biplob Chandra Boidya's Facebook account on October 17. The post went viral in a very short time.
Biplob visited the Borhanuddin police station to file a general diary, stating that his Facebook account had been hacked. Without comprehending the grave nature of the situation about to arise, the police sent Biplob home without taking any action on his complaint.
As the situation worsened, Biplob finally was able to file a general diary with the police on October 18. By then, the social media post had begun snowballing into a rolling ball of catastrophe.
The local Muslim community initiated multiple demonstrations throughout the Borhanuddin area on October 19. Religious leaders announced a mass rally on October 20 at Borhanuddin High School Playground to condemn the Facebook post and seek punishment of those responsible.
The announcement was made through loudspeakers at every mosque in the area.
Local Muslim religious leaders held a meeting with Officer-in-Charge M Enamul Haque at the Borhanuddin police station on October 19. At the meeting, it was decided that no rally would be held on October 20.
The religious leaders also agreed that those who showed up at the venue to protest the issue would be sent home peacefully.
Intriguingly, though the religious leaders had used the mosques' loudspeakers to call people to the rally, they conspicuously neglected to inform them that it had been called off.
A committee, led by Maulana Mohibullah, known as the Batamara Peer, was formed at the meeting to decide the next course of the protest movement.
But, as unfolding events were to show, nothing went according to plan. Committee member Maulana Mizanur Rahman failed to control the crowd at the rally and Batamara Peer was nowhere to be seen near the venue.
"We ended our meeting with the police at 11pm and came out of the station at midnight. We sent messages to the people, asking them not to attend the rally on Sunday. We had decided to ask the people who showed up at the rally to go home peacefully, but we could not control the crowd," Maulana Mizanur Rahman told The Business Standard.
Explaining his helplessness during the incident, Maulana Mizanur continued, "Deputy Inspector General of police for Barishal Range Shafiqul Islam and Superintendent of Police of Bhola district Sarkar Md Kaiser spoke at the venue.
"Religious leaders then requested the people to leave the area. But suddenly, two large processions from Manika and Kachia areas arrived at the venue. They immediately went for an altercation with the police."
Shamsuddin, a local youth, said Maulana Mohibullah, who did not participate in the programme, was the only one with enough influence to control such a large crowd.
Responding to a query, Maulana Mohibullah said,"The police asked us not to hold the rally in order to prevent any untoward incident and we had agreed to the request. I then tried to inform people about the decision at night, but failed to reach everyone.
He made his position clear. "I did not participate in Sunday's gathering. The people were angry and the leaders who were present there failed control the agitated crowd," he said.
Meanwhile, sources have mentioned that altogether 20 police personnel were on-duty at the rally venue, but they failed to calm the protesters and have them go home. The police soon became the target of the protesters.
On condition of anonymity, a police official expressed his disappointment that the authorities concerned did not deploy additional forces in the area during the rally. In his view, that was a serious oversight.
In his account of the details of the night prior to the incident of the next day, Officer-in-Charge M Enamul Haque said, "After Saturday's meeting, we were quite confident about defusing the ongoing situation as the scheduled rally had been cancelled.
"We were aware of the risk of sabotage centring on the rally. In the circumstances, we summoned the Muslim religious leaders to a meeting and conveyed the message to them. They agreed and decided not to hold any rallies, but they did not convey the decision to people."
Stating that the police had run out of options, Enamul said, "We had to open fire. Some of the people attending the rally were vicious. They tried kill the policemen along with the religious leaders. They were not interested in anything we had to say.
"We [the police] were taken by surprise. We did expect violence, but we were not at all prepared for such barbaric mayhem to be unleashed. We have filed a case against 5,000 unidentified people and sent three suspects, including Biplob, to jail."
Narrating his version of the incident, Babul Hossain Rasel, a local resident, told The Business Standard that he considered himself very lucky to be alive.
Babul, who is now undergoing treatment at Sher-e-Bangla Medical College Hospital, said, "The rally venue is a three-minute walk from my home. I went there and started chanting protest slogans along with everyone else.
"The Muslim religious leaders soon ended the programme, but hundreds of people suddenly arrived at the venue. They began an altercation with the police and religious leaders. Then the agitators started hurling brickbats at the police."
Adding that the police took shelter in a nearby mosque in order to avoid attacks on them, he continued, "The agitators followed the police personnel inside the mosque. The police then began firing indiscriminately.
"I thought it was the end of the world [Keyamat in Islamic scriptures]. The police could have fired tear gas canisters instead of bullets. They [the police] were not prepared for the rampage."
A tense situation has been prevailing at the Borhanuddin area, with the neighbourhoods giving a deserted appearance.
"We are making serious efforts to prevent any further untoward incident. We have no plans to conduct any drives at the moment,"said Officer-in-Charge M Enamul Haque.