Ex-MP’s sons still have grasp on Teknaf’s first Buddhist temple
The law of the land is quite strict against hurting the sentiment of any religious community or any action that threatens communal harmony.
But in Hnila union of Teknaf, the authorities never took any action against the individuals who demolished and encroached on a 200-year-old Buddhist temple that had an iconic tin-roofed wooden structure.
When the incident took place in 2010, Mohammad Ali, the father of both the accused, was the then president of Awami League's Teknaf upazila unit. Mohammad Ali was a lawmaker with AL ticket in Cox's Bazar-4 (Ukhia-Teknaf) constituency, from 1996 to 2001. He passed away on November 13 this year.
One of Mohammad Ali's sons, Rashed Mahmud Ali, was a leader of Bangladesh Chhatra League in Hnila in 2010. He is now the chairman of Hnila Union Parishad (UP) and also the president of AL in the same union.
In August 27 that year, henchmen of Rashed and his brother Mahbub Morshed forcibly took possession of 11 acres of land belonging to Dakkhin Hnila Boro Bouddha Vihar, the first Buddhist temple in Teknaf upazila. The temple's main building was razed to the ground by the offenders.
Before desecrating and plundering around 18 priceless and ancient Buddha statues kept inside the temple, the goons physically assaulted and drove away the monks from there too, said Kyaw Zaw Aung, secretary of the temple.
He also said he and other monks went into hiding after the attackers issued life threats on them for protesting the grabbing of the temple's land.
The attackers however did not demolish the temple's Ordination Hall -- a separate tin-roofed structure in the compound -- where a massive 150-year-old Buddha statue, made of octo-alloy or Ashtadhatu, is still situated.
Buddhist devotees later recovered a smaller and damaged stone statue as well as a footprint of the Buddha and stored both in the Ordination Hall along with the octo-alloy statue.
Thousands of Buddhist devotees used to gather at the temple every year to celebrate religious festivals as it is Teknaf upazila's first Buddhist temple and it houses a Buddha statue that is around one and a half centuries old, said Kyaw Zaw Aung, the temple secretary.
Burglars had detached and stolen small parts from the statue despite it being under close watch of the monks. But now, when it has been lying unprotected, they might succeed in stealing the entire statue, he feared.
In an effort to get the possession of the temple's land back from the clutch of the encroachers, the Buddhist devotees from the area in 2011 submitted at least six petitions to different offices at the local administration as well as a memorandum to the prime minister's office via the deputy commissioner (DC) of Cox's Bazar. "But no one helped us protect this historical temple," lamented Kyaw Zaw.
"The grabbers completely destroyed the historical temple where our forefathers prayed; we prayed. We want our temple back," said septuagenarian Aung Kyaw Rakhine, a resident of the area.
During a recent visit to the area, this correspondent came across a man who was cutting earth from near the temple site. "It was a historical temple in Teknaf upazila where thousands of devotees from across the country gathered every year... but now it belongs to Rashed chairman and his brother Mahbub," the man said identifying himself as Monir Ahmed.
This paper has obtained a copy of an investigation report dated May 3, 2011. In the report ANM Nazim Uddin, the then Teknaf Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO), recommended that the grabbers be evicted from the land that belongs to the Buddhist temple.
Asked about the report, ANM Nazim Uddin, currently the deputy secretary of fisheries and livestock ministry, said "I might have given [opinion in] the investigation report after visiting the temple site in Teknaf, where I served as a UNO between 2009 and 2012."
Shyamal Mitra Barua, deputy director of Buddhist Religious Welfare Trust, said after visiting the temple site in 2012, he found evidence that the temple and its statues were vandalised by former MP Mohammad Ali and his sons.
He also said although he mentioned it in his report submitted to the religious affairs ministry, "no steps were taken to protect the historical temple".
Asked, Md Nurul Islam, secretary to the religious affairs ministry, said they would take the matter seriously and launch an investigation to find out whether their officials overlooked the allegation of the encroachment and vandalism.
Contacted, Hnila UP Chairman Rashed Mahmud Ali said, "My father took the temple's land from a former monk of the temple via a notary public [deed] in 2001. We later planted trees there... We will return the land if we made any mistake."
After the attention of Cox's Bazar DC (Revenue) Md Amin Al Parvege was drawn on the issue of encroachment and vandalising of the temple in Hnila, he said he would take necessary action after reviewing relevant documents.