An air thick with tension prevails in Rangpur. An errant plume of smoke can still be seen invading the sky. It is from one of the 20 Hindu homes burned by a violent mob. As some embers continue to burn, along with it burns the hopes and dreams of many.
Thirty-year-old Upen, a farmer, was found under the open sky, surrounded by an eerie silence while many who called this area their home have disappeared.
Upen recalls sitting in the backyard of his house when a white microbus appeared around 9:30pm on the day of the attack. He remembers going towards it and then to the market, where a lot of people had gathered.
Police there were looking for Paritosh, the son of his neighbour Proshona Roy. Paritosh had allegedly hurt religious sentiments through a post on his Facebook.
The chairman of the union also arrived at the scene and tried to placate the crowd of hundreds of people who were baying for Paritosh's blood. Then, out of nowhere, a fuse was lit in the minds of the gatherers and they descended on Paritosh's house, which was some 500 yards away.
The attackers vandalised the house once they found that Paritosh and his family had escaped. Then, their attention turned towards his neighbour Upen. As the blood-thirsty mob made their way towards his house, Upen tried to stop them. In return, he was thrown to the ground, stomped and beaten.
When Upen finally gathered himself and made his way towards his house, only the sight of desolation greeted him. He could save nothing. Everything he had was burnt to ashes. His only saving grace was that his wife had escaped shortly before the flames engulfed everything.
Now, Upen and his family sleep under the stars, with no roof over their heads.
Elsewhere, this correspondent ran into 40-year-old Nikhil Chandra Roy. He, too, had lost everything. What he had left were a few questions. "What crime have I committed? Where do I go with my family now? What should I feed the children?" he asked.
Thirty-six-year-old Minti Rani, another victim, wondered why everyone in the community had to pay for the actions of one person. "We have not committed any crimes. If Paritosh has done something, he should be punished. Why should we be tortured like this?"
Who is Paritosh?
Paritosh, whose alleged Facebook status attracted the attention of torch-wielding goons, is known in the area as being a rational, calm and innocent local boy.
The 16-year-old boy from Kashiba Majhipara, North Karimpur, Ramnathpur Union of Rangpur's Pirganj is the son of Kabiraj Proshono Roy. He had just entered college after completing his Secondary School Certificate.
On Sunday, a complaint was lodged against him for making a derogatory Facebook status.
Although the attackers did not find Paritosh or other members of his family, they burned down 19 other houses in the area one by one.
The sky as the only shelter
Niten Chandra Roy, a 27-year-old newlywed, said his family lived in two houses. On the night of the attack, the houses, and the furniture inside those, were all burned down.
Muni Chandra Roy, 32, also suffered extensive damages. She said, "The attackers looted the house of gold ornaments and Tk20,000 in cash. Everything else, including whatever food we had, was burnt in the fire," she said.
Muni's house, however, still stood. She and her family slept that night on a bed made out of straws.
Shyamal, 42, saw his house burn from the nearby paddy field where he was hiding.
He remembers waking up to a lot of shouting. Before he could make sense of what was happening, a number of people began to attack him.
Shyamal ran for his life and took shelter in the nearby paddy field and watched his world burn. His wife, somehow, survived the attack.
He, too, wonders why he was attacked and what his fault was, apart from his religion. Was that his only fault?
Meanwhile, all Niten and Muni Chandra want now is justice from the administration. Two cases have already been lodged; one for arson and the other for vandalism. So far, police have arrested 45 accused.
Besides, there are allegations against more than five hundred unnamed persons in the case filed by the police.
Two more cases will also be filed on behalf of the victims.
Amid the fear of arrests, men from areas where the agitated mob originated from are on the run. At present, homes in those areas only have women and children staying in them.
Meanwhile, Rangpur Divisional Commissioner Abdul Wahab Bhuiyan, DIG Devdas Bhattacharya and District Superintendent of Police Biplob Kumar Sarkar visited the spot of the attacks yesterday.
District Awami League General Secretary Rezaul Karim, district Awami League President Shafiur Rahman, district Chhatra League President Mehedi Hasan Rony and other local Awami League leaders and activists also visited the spot yesterday morning.
The AL organised a human chain in Rangpur district, demanding exemplary punishment of those involved in the arson attack in Majhipara.
Rangpur Deputy Commissioner Asib Ahsan said several initiatives, including rehabilitation of the victims, will be undertaken. For now, 100 bundles of corrugated steel have been distributed among the victims to build new homes.
The Ministry of Disaster and Relief distributed the steel, five kilogrammes of rice, 1kg of pulse, 1kg of salt, one litre of oil and a sari and lungi to each family.
A temporary police camp has been set up at the spot.
In addition, RAB, police, members of Border Guard Bangladesh and plainclothes officers have also been deployed in the area to prevent further untoward incidents. Despite this, a sense of panic, dread and foreboding remains among the locals.
On October 13, the eighth day of Durga Puja, the biggest religious festival of Hindus, a puja mandap in Cumilla city being the centre of social media discussion as apparently the Holy Quran had been disrespected there. After that, the mandap, along with other temples in different districts of the country, including Noakhali, Dhaka, Kishoreganj, Chandpur, Chittagong, Feni, Khulna were attacked over the next three days.