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Muslim-Buddhist violence leaves no mood for celebration

Joyous Buddhist festival becomes a day of mourning

Devotees light candles in front of a destroyed temple (Photo by Sunil Barua) Devotees light candles in front of a destroyed temple (Photo by Sunil Barua)
  • ucanews.com reporters, Cox’s Bazar and Dhaka
  • Bangladesh
  • October 30, 2012
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In Ramu, a town in southeast Bangladesh with a sizable Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu population, festivals have lost their age-old color and merriment.

At yesterday’s celebration of the Buddhist festival Prabarana Purnima, only one fanus (paper balloon lantern) flew, and in the river there were none of the usual ships strung with lights to proclaim the festival’s message of harmony and joy.

A banner carried by the Ramu Buddhist Youth Council read, “When religion is used as a hate weapon, religion is not gloried but falls flat on its face.”

The festival, curtailed for the first time, this year became an occasion to mourn last month's anti-Buddhist violence in the Cox’s Bazar district.

There was no loudspeaker playing religious hymns and no one wearing new festival clothes. Instead, thousands rallied in silence wearing black badges and holding placards reading ‘Humanity, Non-violence and Non-communalism.”

Ramu was among the hardest hit towns during attacks on September 29 and 30, when thousands of Muslims, allegedly angered by a photo on Facebook of a burned Qu'ran, destroyed 19 temples and more than 100 homes. It also left a deep scar in the heart of Ramu’s Buddhist community.

“We are in no mood for festivity this year. We just prayed in the broken temples and participated in the peace rally,” said Shyamol Barua, a local resident.

People are still traumatized by the attacks, Barua said, and are not likely to recover soon. “We see only burnt ashes where our historic temples stood all these years.”

Sattyapriyo Mohathero, a senior Buddhist monk in the Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar region, says this year Buddhists have no reason for festivities, only for mourning.

“The rampage last month destroyed not only temples, but also many Buddhist statues. We have observed penitence and fasted for a month and we will continue doing it,” he said.

Police have arrested 250 people in connection with the attacks so far, with more suspects being sought, according to Ramu police chief Shakhawat Hossain. He says justice will be delivered soon and the rebuilding of 12 temples in Ramu will be completed next month.

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