‘Friends became strangers in the blink of an eye’
"We have been living together in this area like brothers and friends for 30 long years. We shared our lives – our happiness and sorrows. But within the blink of an eye, these familiar people became strangers," said Madhu Kanti Das, a shopkeeper in Lama Bazar, Bandarban.
Madhu's shop was among 30 Hindu-owned shops that were vandalised and looted on October 14 in Lama upazila.
The shops were targeted after several hundred religious extremists attacked the Lama Kendrio Hari Mandir temple on Thursday morning – the ninth day of the Durga Puja festival.
At least 25 people including 10 police personnel were injured in a clash between the mob and law enforcers during the attacks.
"I escaped through the back door of the shop to save my life," said Madhu.
"They smashed three computers, four photocopy machines, two cameras, an IPS of my shop and destroyed almost a truckload of paper," he added.
"How the people with whom we had such close ties suddenly changed themselves is beyond me," he said.
"About 400 Hindu families live in the Lama Bazar area. After the incident on Thursday, these families are living in fear", said Prashanto Bhattacharya, president of the Lama central Hari Mandir.
"Around 11am, they started attacking our temple after the procession and ransacked it for about three hours," he said.
"They attacked our temple in front of members of the law enforcement agencies and injured our people," Prashant alleged.
Md Mostafa Jabed Kaychar, Upazila Nirbahi Officer of Lama, told The Daily Star that he gave verbal permission to hold the assembly following "instructions from the higher authorities."
"I was told there would be a protest rally in the presence of about 200 people. But thousands of people gathered there all of a sudden," he added.
The protest started at around 9:30am, and Lama Upazila Awami League general secretary Zahirul Islam also addressed the rally, a police official said.
This correspondent called Zahirul Islam multiple times, but his number was found switched off.
Lama upazila chairperson Mostafa Jamal said, "A group carried out the attack as planned."
"As soon as the meeting ended, a lot of people joined the procession. We had nothing to do by then," said Bandarban Additional District Magistrate Suraya Akter Sweety.
Ashok Kumar Paul, additional superintendent of police (DSB) Bandarban, said about 25 people, including the officer-in-charge of Lama Police Station and about 10 members of the police, were injured in yesterday's attack.
"No case has been filed so far and no arrests have been made in connection with the attacks on police, demolition of Hindu temples, vandalism of their shops and looting," said Bandarban Superintendent of Police Jerin Akther.
"We are still investigating who were behind the attack and who were involved," the police superintendent said.