Silence of the river
Fishermen of Majhipara village look to the Akhira for their livelihood, but since October 17 they have been unable to answer the river's call even though they need its bounties desperately.
Their nets and other fishing equipment lie burnt and in tatters, because religious zealots inflamed by a Facebook postransacked and set fire to Hindu households and establishments in the village located in Rangpur's Pirganj upazila.
The victims of the attack say they are still scared to go back to the river and so, since the day of the violence, the Akhira river has been devoid of human activity, as if stunned into silence.
The Akhira and the Boro Beela -- a 1400-hectare natural water body through which the river flows when it passes through the Majhipara -- have for centuries been the villagers' lifeline and continue to be so for the 180 fishermen there, said locals.
Pushpa Rani, 30, whose house in the village was burned, said, "The attackers burned our three fishing nets and looted the other. The fishing nets were the means of our livelihood."
Fisherman Dholu Das, 38, said, "The attackers did not torch my house but looted all our belongings including three fishing nets. The nets were my only avenue to a livelihood."
"I got a fishing net from the local fisheries office but can't go to the river as I am still in a panic," said 25-year-old Nibash Chandra Das, another fisherman of Majhipara village.
Although the tension first started brewing in Uttar Majhipara area of Boro Karimpur village, the mobs could not get a chance to carry out the attack, but looted several houses of Hindus there,
The mobs attacked the northern side of Majhipara, said the locals.
Around 50 Hindu families live in Uttar Majhipara, mostly managing their livelihood by fishing in the nearby Akhira river and Boro Beel, which flows past the village, said Nripendranath Sarker, another fisherman whose fishing net was stolen by the attackers.
"Since Majhipara came under attack late on Sunday night, we have been living in fear and panic. Everyone is fearful of going out of the village," he said.
Most villagers live on their daily earning, he added.
Since the incident, most of the earning members are staying home and families of Uttar Majhipara have not gotten enough relief.
"If the situation continues, we have to starve along with our family members," he said.
Kartik Das, another villager, said mobs looted his house and took away his fishing net. Besides, his boat was also damaged, he claimed when these correspondents visited his house on Thursday afternoon.
"We are yet to get any relief from the government," he said.
Laxmi Rani Das, a woman of the village, said her husband has not gone to work for the last five days. "We are living on the food that we are getting from relatives."
She also demanded the local administration allocate relief to them.
When contacted, Md Aminul Islam, senior fisheries officer of Pirganj upazila, said, "We have already identified 26 fishing families whose nets were torched during the attacks.
"There are over 100 families who depend on fishing in the Akhira river and Boro Beel. They catch fish the entire day and sell it at Boterhat bazar and Pirganj upazila town."
From the fund of the district fisheries office, he said, they have given 15 fishing nets to 15 families, but were yet to receive any relief and cash from the government.
"When we get it, we will help them [affected villagers] return to their normal lives," said the fisheries officer.