Heroes of our time
Even in the middle of mindless mayhem, sanity still prevails.
Meet the heroes -- Masud Rana, Harun, Osman, Mosharraf, Helal and Kamal -- who risked their lives to stop the Muslim mob from attacking the monasteries and Buddhists' houses.
As Ramu turned volatile with militant processions moving in every direction, as infuriating slogans flew in the air, as flames leaped all around, these few young men came out of their houses and took up sticks to defend the Buddhists.
Saturday night. Masud and his friends could feel that the mob was going to attack their neighbourhood as well.
Masud, a young man whose father was a valiant freedom fighter, said he was in shock. Why should they attack all the Buddhists for the mistake of one? He could not find an answer.
The procession came around 8:30pm. A group of 50 to 60 young men armed with sticks and machetes. Rana and his friends were no match for them.
“We are only six and they were a big group,” Osman thought. “Can we defend ourselves? But these are all local people and they know us well. They cannot harm us.”
So they held their ground and faced the invaders.
“Why are you doing this? Is this what Islam preaches? Why do you want to punish all Buddhists for the fault of one?” Rana shouted at the crowd.
“We want Uttam's head. Give him to us,” the crowd roared. Uttam is the person whose Facebook was tagged in a photograph maligning Islam.
“Uttam does not live here,” Osman shouted back. “It is only his father's house. Go away.”
The crowd argued for some time, but they were hesitant. After all, they were all from the same locality.
The mob turned back and went away. But Rana and his friends were not very sure as news after news arrived of the atrocities. So they called some of their relatives to come and join them. After a while, they grew in number to about 30.
Rana called the police, seeking help. A little later, six policemen came. The young men armed with sticks took up positions at the entrance to their neighbourhood.
True to their apprehension, the attackers returned around 11:30pm. It was a huge crowd of 400 to 500 people. It was even more militant. And none of them were from the locality. Some distinctly looked like Rohingyas as they had tucked their shirts inside their lungis. Some spoke in Rakhine dialect.
The young men told them to go back and blocked their way. But the mob was hurling abuses at them.
“If you are Muslims then you should join us,” some from the mob shouted. They were trying to push through the rickety human barricade.
Somebody started throwing stones at Rana and his friends. Osman was hit in the head and was bleeding. Somebody hit Mosharraf in his arm with a stick.
Then the barricade fell away. The mob rushed in like a tsunami. The homes of Buddhists were being battered. Somebody scaled the wall of a monastery and opened the gate from inside. The mob swept in.
Rana and his friends ran after them.
“This is not a Barua [Bangalee Buddhist] temple. This is a Rakhine temple,” Rana shouted, thinking this piece of information might dissuade the attackers.
But it did not. Someone set fire to a structure. Rana and his friends used their sticks to beat out the flame. Then he thought of another trick.
The young vigilantes started shouting, “Don't torch it! Don't! The Muslims' bazaar is just beside it. If you torch it, the whole market would be gutted. Muslims' houses will be gutted too!”
This had an immediate effect. The attackers were puzzled. They did not attempt to torch the temple again. But they vandalised the monastery.
They smashed the statues and went away.
Rana and his friends stood stupefied on the ground in front of the monastery of Cheranghata. They felt drained of all feelings and strength. They had tried and failed. Still they had tried.
A few kilometres away stood the oldest monastery of the country, Raung Kut Bihar, built some 2,700 years ago by the emperor Ashoka. It is a grand monastery. Inside the complex sits a beautiful modern structure that houses orphans.
On that fateful night, local headman Kamaluddin and a local leader Shehab were woken up by a phone call. The caller said Buddhist temples in Ramu were being torched.
They rushed out of their homes and saw the flames leaping in the distant.
The children! They must be saved! The thought passed through their minds. The monastery, a rare monument of history and culture, must be saved.
They rushed to the monastery and found the monks in stark fear. They had already shifted the children to a small house some distance away. But it was too crammed a place to accommodate 75 kids.
My villagers might come out and attack, Kamal thought. He and Shehab ran back and formed a small group. They stood guard at the entrance to their village and ordered all to stay indoors.
They spent the whole night there until the army came.
They heaved a sigh of relief and, their eyes red shot, went back to sleep. They were happy. Their heritage had been saved. Their prestige had been saved.