Uday Sankar Das


The scars inflicted on September 29, 2012 in Ramu will take a long time to heal.


It has been two years now since a number of Buddhist monasteries and houses of Buddhists were razed to the ground in Ramu, Ukhia, Teknaf, and Cox’s Bazar on a night of mayhem on September 29, 2012. This carnage no doubt tarnished the image of Bangladesh both at home and abroad. The events, painful as they were and still are, still rekindled hopes about the kind of country we fought for and long for.


The Bangladesh Army has since helped in reconstructing and restoring the damaged Buddhist monasteries, and many of the homes belonging to the Buddhists have also been reconstructed with the help of the authorities.


I visited Ramu exactly a month after that fateful night on October 29, 2012. It was the evening of Prabarana Purnima, one of the biggest religious festivals of the Buddhist community. According to scriptures, it was on this moonlit night that Lord Buddha, the greatest preacher of peace and non-violence, returned to Earth after visiting the gods and blessing his mother. This ritual is celebrated on the full moon of the 11th lunar month.


Standing in front of the charred remains of Shima Bihar, a very large religious complex of the Buddhist community in Ramu, I could not control tears flowing down my cheeks. Only a hundred yards from the debris of the damage inflicted on the fateful night of September 29, 2012, a Buddhist Vante (priest) was preaching the teachings of Lord Buddha, and hundreds of men, women, and children with their eyes shut and fists closed were listening to him in rapt attention.


I walked past the burnt religious books in the complex, which was built in 1706, to look at the recently brought huge statue of Lord Buddha, which, despite frantic efforts by the perpetrators of the most heinous crime in the annals of Bangladesh’s history, could not be burnt down. The scars on the statue were however very visible.


Suddenly, it dawned on me that Lord Buddha could not stare at us or look at the damaged structure in the Bihar. It seemed that the tears in his eyes had dried up, and with a heavy heart and utter shame, his looks were fixed on the ground.


I expressed this feeling of mine to the Buddhist youth standing next to me. Swapan Barua, a resident of nearby Ukhia and a primary school teacher, while describing the horrific events of that dreadful night, said the bright stones in the eyes of that particular statue were uprooted by the gangs who carried out the mayhem in that Bihar.


Exactly a month after the carnage in Ramu, Ukhia, Teknaf, and Cox’s Bazar, the local Buddhist community, in a somber mood on the day of Prabarana Purnima, decided to observe the day with a deep sense of grief and anger. Residents of 15 villages, whose houses were burnt down and whose places of worship were desecrated, assembled at Ramu to take part in a silent procession.


The messages that they wanted to send were loud and clear: They wanted the perpetrators to be punished, they wanted to live in peace and harmony with members of other communities, and have the same rights to observe their religious festivals like all other communities.


Although civil society members also wanted to join in this procession to express their solidarity with the Buddhist community, the organisers insisted that only the Buddhists would take part in this silent procession, which saw an impressive attendance of a few thousand men, women, and children.


The scenes in nearby monasteries and pagodas of Aparna Charan Mandir, Lal Ching, Shada Ching, and Bara Kiang were equally heart-breaking. Hundreds of devotees assembled to take part in evening prayers amidst the charred ruins of these very ancient places of worship. Rafiq, a local resident told us how the statues were being beheaded with sharp knives by the mad crowd that went on a rampage in that area.


In Bara Kiang, the religious zealots had faced resistance from the local youth and the Kiang was saved from being razed to the ground. But the internal decorations, and fixtures and fittings were destroyed. The cupboard containing religious scriptures was still lying on the floor upside down, the broken wall clock had its glass panel open and broken, and the broken rail pieces were strewn all over the floor. Amidst these ruins, women and children came to the Kiang to light candles and offer their prayers in grim silence.


We took a rickshaw to return to the local high school where concerned citizens took an initiative to preserve communal harmony and hold a candle light vigil. The whole area wore a tensed look. Salam, our rickshaw-puller, suddenly shouted, “Namashkar, Sir,” and I was totally taken aback. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would hear such a greeting from a rickshaw-puller. When I asked who he was greeting, Salam said he was showing respect to the local retired school teacher who happened to pass by and who was a Buddhist. I told myself: “This was the Bangladesh that we fought for and dreamt of.”


The candle light vigil was held in front of the Shahid Minar in Ramu High School in the presence of eminent people of the locality representing all sections of the community. The whole area was under a heavy blanket of security. Army and BGB personnel, RAB members, and police were seen in and around most places of worship. The Buddhists were in no mood to take part in any sort of festivity, and heeding to the advice of the Vante, refrained from releasing candle-lit paper balloons, popularly known as Fanush, in the air, although it is a salient feature of this religious occasion.


It was amply clear that the scars inflicted on September 29, 2012 on the Buddhist community in Ramu and adjoining areas would take a long time to heal. But still, while returning from Ramu late that night, two persons’ words were ringing in my ears. Swapan Barua was whispering to me: “I am a Buddhist. I want to live as well.” But, a more positive note ringing in my ears was Salam’s greeting while pulling his rickshaw: “Namashkar, Sir.”


That is the Bangladesh we all long for, and let’s hope that this positive vibe is the true outcome of the carnage that the whole nation had to witness with a very heavy heart and utter shame.


(Dhaka Tribune, 29 September 2014; (Supplied by SACW)

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