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No festivity for Buddhists in southeastern Bangladesh

Publication Date : 30-10-2012


Given its age-old culture of religious harmony, Ramu could well be a town of a series of great festivals this October. And why not? This year, three major religious festivals -- Durga Puja, Eid-ul-Azha and Prabarana Purnima -- of the Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist fell one after another.

But Ramu, a town in southeastern district Cox's Bazar, suffered a deep scar, too, this year. Its people are yet to overcome the trauma of the heartbreaking attack on the Buddhist on September 29. The fire the communal forces set to Buddhist temples and homes has indeed burned more things than a place of worship or someone's dwelling. Those blazes have wounded those parts of their hearts where harmony and joy lived.

In a town where communal harmony has been so prevalent that its entire population regardless of religion shares the joy of each other's religious festival, it is the first time that the Buddhist in Ramu has curtailed their most colourful programme, Prabarana Purnima.

Also for the first time, the Buddhist community refrained from flying paper lanterns (fanus) yesterday. The shell-shocked community will not float, as they do every year, decorated ships on the Bakkhali river in Ramu today. This festival is popularly known as Jahaj Bhasha Utsav.

Instead of flying those traditional "fanus" yesterday evening, Buddhists wore black badges to take to the streets in a procession, calling for peace. Organised by Central Ramu Buddha Jubo Parishad, some 7,000 people from 14 villages joined the march.

"We have postponed the programme in protest against the violence. The atmosphere is not favourable for the festival," said Swapan Barua, acting chairman of Rajar Kul union of Ramu and also the president of the central committee for the ship floating festival.

Eid-ul-Azha, the second biggest religious festival of the Muslim, also came and went without much festivity, as there was no spontaneous participation of the people.

In Ramu's Buddhist neighbourhood, it was never an issue as to who eats beef and mutton and who does not. Ramu's was an age-old tradition of sharing the spirit of the festival, Buddhists visiting the Muslim homes on the eid day.

"Many Buddhists used to join the festival [eid] wearing dresses like the Muslims wear during their festival to share the joy," says Nitish Barua of Uttar Mithachari in Ramu.

Others say the Muslim and the Buddhist in Ramu have always spontaneously participated in each other's religious festivals and their relations have been so cordial that it was hard to separate them on occasions like eid, puja or Buddha Purnima.

"It was the first time in my life that I spent the eid without spontaneous participation of my Buddhist neighbours," Shamim Ahsan Bulu, a social activist and politician in Ramu, told The Daily Star.

"It was beyond imagining that our Buddhist neighbours and friends refrained from visiting our home on the eid day, which was Ramu's age-old custom. Some of them did come to my house having been unable to turn down my invitation. But the usual cheerful spirit was missing," he added.

On the night of September 29, Muslim zealots in their dozens burned to ashes 12 Buddhist monasteries and vandalised six pagodas in Ramu. The unruly mob also damaged dozens of Buddhist homes.

It took several hours before the marauding fanatics could go on the rampage over a faked Facebook page insulting the Quran. All this while, the local police and intelligence personnel remained conspicuously inactive.

Nazibul Islam, who was the officer-in-charge of Ramu Police Sation and was later closed, is one of those who acted mysteriously during the overnight mayhem. Some locals chased him when he went with a minister on October 1 to visit Shima Bihar, burned to ashes by the bigots.

Top police officials of Cox's Bazar and Ramu went to the Bihar on the eid day with some food to distribute among the Buddhist. In their efforts to show things were all right again, the law enforcers had a meal there with some Buddhist priests, including the chief of the burned down monastery.

While locals take it for a "drama," it was an embarrassment for the Buddhist priests.

Progyananda Bhikshu, a priest of Shima Bihar, said they had some restrictions on taking food.

"And we told the superintendent of police [who went there] about it," he said, adding that they still had to share the meal avoiding the chicken just to show courtesy.

Police also sent some food to eight other Buddhist monasteries, much to the embarrassment of the priests.

Nurul Islam, a local Awami League leader and lawyer, doesn't take the police effort positively.

“I am sure the police have other motives for offering food to the priests at the temple," he said adding, "Looks like it was an attempt to soothe their anger against the police."

Police and local administration were also desperate to persuade the Buddhist community to fly "fanus" and float ships and offered to help arrange these programmes.

But Buddhist leaders said they were not in a mood to celebrate the occasion amid festivity and that they would only offer prayers. In silence.

“We were mortified to witness the incident of September 29. We have lost words to describe our feelings," said Satya Priyo Mahathero, chief of Ramu Central Shima Bihar.


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