"We must learn to live together as brothers, or we are going to perish together as fools" – the words of Martin Luther King, Junior seemed to be at the crux of what Lakshmipur people did in keeping their religious harmony intact when deadly communal tensions flared up in adjacent Cumilla, Chandpur and Noakhali districts during the Durga Puja celebrations.
"Following the 13 October Cumilla incident, Lakshmipur locals, regardless of their religions, gathered to guard the temples and puja mandaps. The unprecedented help of our Muslim brothers made the celebration smooth," said local Puja Udjapan Parishad President Samir Ranjan Saha.
Samir also thanked the local administration and police for mobilising people to guard the temples, ramping up community engagements and taking up prompt measures to avert any religious violence centring communal tensions.
On 13 October night, zealots set a public vehicle on fire beside Char Sita Temple in the district's Ramgati upazila and tried to crowd the area. But Muslim youths barred them and thwarted the violence instigation bid.
"Some seven-eight Muslim youths were injured while protecting the puja mandaps. But we did not pull out in guarding the temples and mandaps in our area," Mezbah Uddin, a local businessman told The Business Standard.
Around 70,000 Hindus live in Lakshmipur district that has a population of around 18 lakh, according to the 2011 census. This year, Durja Puja was celebrated at 78 mandaps in the district.
"I can tell you that the celebration in Lakshmipur was better than in many other districts. This was possible thanks to the commitment of both Muslim and Hindu communities to religious harmony, the cooperation of the youths and the prompt measures of the local administration," said Ankan Saha, a local lawyer.
Police sat with the locals, engaged communities
Dr AHM Quamruzzaman, superintendent of police in Lakshmipur, told TBS that they were on high alert even before the Cumilla incident. On the eve of the puja celebration, Quamruzzaman said they held several meetings with the religious communities.
"Even the officers-in-charges held meetings at police stations with Imams, madrasa teachers and Hindu community leaders. They involved the locals in maintaining peace and communal harmony," said the SP, adding the celebrations ended peacefully with the cooperation of all.
Mohammed Raisul Islam, assistant superintendent of police (Ramgati Circle), told TBS that they ramped up security efforts after the 13 October violence bid at Ramgati.
He said police subsequently held harmony rallies with local communities, imams, teachers and madrasa students. At the same time, harmony rallies were organised at 74 beat policing areas.
In the district headquarters, the police super and deputy commissioner held an hour-long meeting at Kali temple. Later, Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) members were deployed at the temple and in adjacent areas.
Swapan Debnath, Lakshmipur chapter general secretary of the Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Unity Council, said police spent 72 hours guarding the celebration without any break.
He said the district town has several temples, two large puja mandapas and an upscale Hindu residential area. Besides, mostly Hindu people dwell on both sides of the Hospital Road in the district town. But none of the establishment faced the slightest heat of the recent spate of communal violence.
"Against the backdrop of the simmering communal tensions, such communal peace and tranquillity is a unique example of harmony," noted Swapan Debnath.
Shankar Majumder, Lakshmipur chapter president of the Bangladesh Puja Udjapan Parishad, told TBS that the Hindu community had formally thanked the district administration and police for their appreciable efforts at a programme at the Shyamsunder Jiur Akhra temple in the district headquarters.
There was drone surveillance too
Hindu youth Opu Chandra Das said agitated people tried to gather in the district town during the puja celebration, but police foiled their attempts.
On Vijaya Dashami, perpetrators tried to tear away a banner at a temple, but police immediately moved them away.
According to district police sources, movements at mandaps in the district headquarters were monitored by police drones. Police are still patrolling the entire city, and keep an eye on gatherings at mosques before and after the prayers.
In 1946, a Hindu-Muslim riot sparked in Lakshmipur that later erupted elsewhere leaving thousands of people dead. Mahatma Gandhi visited the greater Noakhali to rein in the religious clash.
"But the harmony shown by the people of Lakshmipur this year is unprecedented," Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Unity Council leader Shankar Majumder told TBS.
Lakshmipur Superintendent of Police AHM Quamruzzaman said they were still continuing the puja-like surveillance, but the Hindu people say they were relieved and there was no fear.
"Life is now completely peaceful and normal here," he added.