Volume 6 | Issue 22| November 17, 2012|


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Ramu: The Ravaged `Land of Yellow Flower'

Audity Falguni, born on 18 February 1974, obtained her Honors and Masters degrees from the Faculty of Law at Dhaka University. She has authored 17 books including six short story collections, two collections of poems, one collection of essays, three research books and five translation works from English to Bengali. Her latest short-story collection "Opaurusheya 1971" won the Prothom Alo Best Book Award 2011 in creative writing category.

Audity Falguni

In our Rakhine language this area was named `Pan-Wa' which means the land of yellow flower, "you, Bengalis, call this area Ramu. But. Today this land of yellow flower is totally ravaged, lamented Rakhine Bhante Cheka Chara sitting before the partly destroyed Budhdha idols of Shriful Piratan Budhdha Vihara. Old Cheka Chara supervises after three Buddhist temples or Viharas named Sada Ching (white diamond as per Rakhaine language), Lal Ching (red diamond) and Shriful Puratan Viharas. Of the three temples, Shriful looked the least damaged partly because of its total wooden structure and partly because the adjacent Muslim localities who resisted the rioters and arson attackers on the horrific night of 30th September so that their houses and shops (Muslim houses and shops) also don't get gutted down. But the condition of two other neighboring temples namely the Sada Ching and Lal Ching was simply beyond depiction.

It was nearly about 1:00 PM at Ramu on 12th October at Friday. Our micro-bus from Gono Swasthya rest house at Cox's Bazar halts down before the Sada Ching Baudhdha Vihara. Noted anthropologist and columnist Rahnuma Ahmed, development activist Shipra Bose, Journalist Supriti Dhar and Sushmita Preetha, young left leaning activist Zonayed Saki and Baki Billah, singer and lyricist Arup Rahee and I boarded on the bus from Dhaka to Cox's Bazar on Thursday night and arrived at Cox's Bazar at around 11:00 AM on Friday morning. The weather was cool and a bit rainy. Personally I came and visited Ramu and its ages' old renowned Buddhist temples three years ago. But this time the experience is surely going to be too different!

When we stepped down before the Sada Ching temple campus, it was all muddy due to unexpected rain at October morning. Ashes, broken pieces of glass, damaged head of Buddha idols and the astonished, panicked and grieved faces of Buddhist devotees. Their silent looks were hard to bear upon.

"What more to tell about? You know everything from newspapers, don't you?" said Pradip Barua and Chotan Barua, two Buddhist young men at their early twenties, "we can inform you nothing new. Yes, they came here at around 8:00-8:30 PM at night from the Chaumuhoni station. At first there was a procession of only 200 persons. Another one to three thousand people joined the procession just within 20 minutes. "

The slogans were terrible: Baruar gal e gal e/Juta maro tal e tal e (Slam shoes on face of the Buddhists upon every bit), Bihar gulo puriye dao/ Jaliye dao Jaliye dao (Burn the Buddhist temples and pagodas) and Naraye Takdir/ Allah Ho Akbar (Allah is One). Actually half an hour prior to the launching of this procession the Imam from local Jam-e-Masjid instructed the Muslims to take eight hours before opening the attack. But the followers were supersonic quick and the attack began within half an hour. Fire Service could not enter as the Muslims drove the service back and we began witnessing the burning down of our holy temples," they added.

The Shima Vihara temple bears upon the following nameplate: "Jayatu Budhdha Shashanam, Ramu Kendrio Shima Vihara. 1112 Bengali, 1706 Englsih, Maunglowa, Ramu, Cox's Bazar." As we climbed upon the wooden stairs, a unique sight caught hold of my eyes. Amidst the debris of piled glasses and ashes male and female devotees were offering their salutation to damaged Budhdha idols and the Bhante (chief monk) of the temple. It's too easy to defile the sacred places of faith but is it too easy to destroy the real faith of the devotees? There were human rights and media activists all around. Some were taking photographs while some were taking VDOs. Glasses of some wooden book shelves looked shattered.

"The rioters also looted a number of Buddhist scriptures written in Pali and Burmese scripts," sighed Payanna Dipa Mahathero and U Wai Nay Shraman (an adolescent monk).

"Please, take this list which notes the damages caused only in three temples of Ramu," a member of the Rakhine Buddhist Welfare Association hands me over some pieces of paper.

The more we proceed the more we hear.

"Yes, six trucks of people came to our locality and they threw gun powder on the idols of our God."

"No, police did not send any troop. Police Super rather said let our people (Muslims) complete the course of action."

"Yes, this Sima Vihara is the largest Kyang (temple). Attackers came at this area at around 9:30 PM and it continued till 12:00 PM. We could not resist an inch as we are less in numbers."

"We did not fight because what most worried us was the security of our women. We thought that we should protect the honor of our mothers and sisters first. So we did silently bear upon everything," said Nirmal Barua, a day laborer at the premises of the Praggamitra Bana Vihara.

"The government has so far paid us 3 crores and 47 lakh takas as compensation. But this temple complex is too old! Three Viharas are in located in this one campus. This Praggamitra Bana Vihara Bhikhkhu Shima was set up in 1767. The attack began on 9:30 PM at night and the army came to the rescue at 3:30 AM. The assaulters came with spades, hammers, iron rods and other stuff," said Jyotimitra Bhikhkhu of the Vihara.

As on second day we visited some affected Buddhist temples cum localities of Ukhia and Teknaf, the scenario was not better anyway.

"This temple is called Dipankur Ashram," said Bijali Barua of Pashchim Marichya at Ukhia. "We were attacked on 30th September. At first we noticed a procession coming out from the nearby market (bazaar) participated largely by a number of Muslims. Thana or police station is eight kilometers away from this place. In this locality no Buddhist temple had been burnt even in 1971. But this time it happened. Around 700/800 people came to attack and plunder us on 30th September morning. It is still a haunting nightmare to us. They robbed us even of our everyday attires and utensils," Bijli Barua mentioned.

According to local people at Pashchim Marichya some of the local Muslims are also threatening them saying how long the police or BGB troops will remain deployed and that after the forces are withdrawn they will chop the Baruas (Buddhists) into pieces.

"Actually some Rohingyas, over the years, are settling down in the areas particularly by marrying local women and thus gaining power, position and privilege in our localities. They may also play a catalyst role in the entire mayhem," the local Buddhists worried.

People echoed in Pashchim Ratna Shashan Kirti Sudarshan Vihara at Raja Palang Baudhdha Vihara of the area though the temple, however, could be saved at the last minute owing to timely intervention of Mahmudul Haque Chowdhury, the local MP from Awami League

"Processions began coming at our area from 7:30 to 8:30 am. The second procession came at 9:30 to 10:00 am. The third procession came at 11:00 am with people comprising of both local Muslims and the Rohingyas. The processions broke the head of the Shiva idol of local Shiv temple and broke some shops belonging to the Buddhists. But immediately before the procession began advancing towards the Buddhist temple to destroy it, the local AL lawmaker came and pacified the people. He, in addition, offered relief to the victim families.

But the condition of Paschim Ratna Shashan Kirti Sudarshan Vihara was not that good. Established in 1848, the major idol of the temple was razed to the ground by a number of 2,000-3,000 people on 30th September evening. "It was the night of Madhu Purnima. Muslims began launching agitated procession from 3:30 at afternoon. Around 1000-1500 men then finally threw the attack after 4 pm. They were carrying sticks, daggers and patrol cans in their hands," said Jyotikaruna Shraman of Raja Palang Jadi (Buddhist temple) at Ukhia established in the year of 1867.

Our last destination was at Howaikong Hindu village of Hle-La union at Teknaf. This Hindu village was entirely looted, damaged and burnt down on 30th September evelning.

"It was evening. We were guessing that an attack may be hurled against us. This is why most of the men and women fled behind the nearby hill. But I was tired after returning from office and so was staying at home," said Ms. Dipu Mullick who works as a field worker of an INGO. "But suddenly I saw around 1,000 armed persons are coming to our village. I called my elder brother at mobile and he said just to keep on hiding. So when the attackers first came and began looting our house, I did hide myself behind a pile of paddy in the yard but said nothing. But when they were proceeding to put fire our house I just cried and implored them not to burn our house. They then bet me up with a huge stick."

"The next morning was the auspicious day of Ashwin Kumari's brata (worshipping of the goddess of the autumn). So we prepared pani-bhat with home made curd, sweetmeats and coconuts to take on the morning. But the attackers threw all those scattered over the floor, looted our utensils, gold ornaments of women, everyday garments, poultry and livestock," said another woman.

Finally again thanks to the local chairman of the area Mohammad Anwar that the village was rescued from getting all gutted down.

"Fire can be extinguished. But the burns in our hearts cannot so easily be cured," said Tarun Barua, General Secretary of the Ramu Baudhdha Samity. "We demand independent judicial probe into the entire mayhem," he said in a nutshell.

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