Amid vibrant celebrations across Bangladesh to mark its biggest Hindu religious festival, a string of attacks on temples and Durga Puja pandals occurred in Comilla district and elsewhere following "rumours" spread through social media.
Authorities have taken serious note of the incidents, deploying paramilitary forces and asking authorities to act against the perpetrators.
A temple in Comilla became the flashpoint on Tuesday night for allegedly disrespecting the Quran.
Local officials told IANS that some BNP and Jamaat-e-Islam miscreants planted a copy of the Holy Quran at the feet of Ganesh in the Durga pantheon at Nanuyar Dighir Par Temple on Tuesday night.
"The miscreants took some pictures of this and ran away. Within a few hours, using Facebook, the propaganda spread like wildfire with the provocative pictures," said a district official.
Angry mobs vandalised puja pandals, and the temple.
Ruling Awami League workers swung into action along with police to cordon off the Durga Puja pandals and temples. Later in the day, more units of security forces were deployed in Comilla town and other sensitive areas of the district and elsewhere in the region.
In an emergency notice, the Religious Affairs Ministry said it had come across news that the religious text had been "disrespected" in Comilla, but urged members of the public not to take the law into their own hands and reiterated calls to maintain religious harmony and peace.
Border Guard Bangladesh personnel were deployed in Comilla in the face of rising communal tensions.
BGB's Comilla Battalion commander, Lt Col Fazle Rabbi said: "Four platoons of the BGB were deployed at noon to ensure that there is no unrest in Comilla. The BGB has been deployed to prevent any hostilities."
The Bangladesh Hindu Unity Council appealed for calm.
"We would like to say to our Muslim brothers, please do not believe the rumours. We respect the Quran. There is no need for the Quran in Durga Puja. This is someone conspiring to create a riot. There will be a fair investigation. Please don't attack any more Hindu temples," it said, in a statement circulated widely through Facebook and You Tube.
But Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Oikya Parishad General Secretary Rana Dasgupta said: "Already, temples are being attacked countrywide, including Banshkhali in Chittagong, Pekua of Cox's Bazar... the communal threat has been spread countrywide. We are going to decide to stop music and use of mikes as a protest... cannot stop the rituals at that moment."
"The District Commissioner of Comilla told me, 'All are 'fake photos' in social media.'... So, what is the role of the state, why doesn't the administration stop Facebook or any social media to assure the security of the Hindu community?
"All of these are prejudicial acts... it is the same practice of political crime, ethnic cleansing practice, to clean 10 per cent Hindu community, which increased 2 per cent in last 10 years, as the government report says. It is a positive sign, which is targeted by the communal groups. It breaks the confidence of the Hindu community. We want the proper responsible role of the administration and political parties," Dasgupta told IANS on Wednesday evening.
Awami League Secretary General Obaidul Quader told IANS that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ordered the criminals behind spreading communal attacks and propaganda be identified and punished as an example.
Mohila Awami League's Commilla Organising Secretary Aysha Zamam Shimu told IANS that "the Islamist opposition of BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami are responsible for this mischief because they want a communal riot to discredit our government and cause bilateral problems with India".
"They tried the same tactics when Indian PM Narendra Modi visited Bangladesh in March," she said.
Awami League social media coordinator Tanmoy Ahmed expressed concern at the role of Facebook, through which the provocative messages of "insulting Quran" were spread, using fake accounts of Jamaat militants named 'Juelpradoxical' and 'Sk Media'.
Ahmed said Facebook refused to block these accounts despite repeated complaints that these were being used to whip up communal tensions and could lead to considerable public disorder, and instead urged complainants "to use the platform for counter-speech in form of accurate information to create a safer environment".
Former Telecommunication Minister Tarana Halim also told IANS that Facebook "must cooperate with the government to prevent the breakdown of public order and it is important for them to tighten their Community Hate standards".
Meanwhile, Awami League leaders noting that Sheikh Hasina donated three crore takas for the Durga Puja, said that party volunteers have been mobilised to protect Hindu temples and "all troublemakers will be firmly dealt with".
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