Dhaka, Oct 18 (PTI): A mob has damaged 66 houses and set on fire at least 20 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, authorities said on Monday.
The arson attack by the mob of over a hundred people happened late on Sunday on a village in Rangpur district’s Pirganj upazila, about 255 kms from here, the bdnews24.com reported.
The police rushed to a fishermen neighbourhood as tension mounted over a rumor that a young Hindu man of the village had ‘dishonoured religion’ in a Facebook post, assistant police superintendent Mohammad Kamruzzaman told reporters.
“The incident took place after 10 PM yesterday but fire fighters doused the blaze within a short period (and) the situation is now under full control,” he said.
No casualties were reported but 66 houses were damaged and 20 burnt during the attack, the officer said.
As many as 52 suspects have been arrested while a manhunt was launched for more suspects under a ‘combing operation’ in collaboration with other security forces, he added.
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 Pirganj’s Majhipara, it said, adding that an ‘unruly crowd’ has been identified as the cause of fire.
The fire service received a report of the fire at 8:45 PM and finally put it out by 4:10 AM, the report said.
The arson incident occurred amid rising communal tension over an alleged blasphemy incident at a Durga Puja venue in Cumilla which led to attacks on Hindu temples and clashes between vandals and the police in Cumilla, 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.
Four assumed Muslim bigots were killed in Haziganj, the worst scene of the violence, on Wednesday and Thursday, while the body of a Hindu devotee was found at a pond in nearby Begumbanj of Noakhali district.
Muslim and Hindu protestors took to the streets at different areas of the country, including the capital Dhaka in the past several days.
The Bangladesh Hindu-Buddhist-Christial Unity Council said at least 70 puja pavilions and temples were attacked in the previous three days of violence. The council alleges that at least four Hindu devotees have died in the attacks in Chandpur and Noakhali.
Meanwhile, the elite anti-crime force Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) has 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 here.
“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.
The communal tensions came as the minority Hindus, who constitute 9 per cent of Bangladesh’s 160 million population, celebrated their largest religious festival Durga Puja last week.
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.
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.
Hasina said that the attacks were part of a well-designed plot to destabilise the country.
The Durga Puja celebrations, considered to be the biggest festival of the minority Hindu community in Bangladesh, concluded without the traditional Bijoya Dashami procession.