How could they do it?
Hawkers and small entrepreneurs doing business for decades around the Baitul Mukarram Mosque and Paltan had never experienced what happened on May 05, 2013.
Coming back to their business stocks yesterday, all they found was ashes.
During the daylong clashes with law enforcers, Hefajat-e Islam activists burned down around three to four thousand floating shops in the area on Sunday.
Fifty-five-year-old Abdullah, who had been selling books on the footpath in front of Moni Singh-Farhad Smriti Trust Bhaban for 35 years, has witnessed many political commotions in his life.
"When we see trouble we just pack up our goods in polythene and leave it on one side of the footpath. No one has ever looted or set fire to our goods before. This has happened for the first time," he said.
"We had never imagined they would burn our goods," said Mohammad Sirajul Islam, 25, who sells files and folders on the footpath. "They torched everything indiscriminately. They did not even spare the Holy Quran."
"If they had any conscience at all, they could not have torched books," said Abdullah, who sells books on law and hadith. Abdullah seemed lost as he had no idea how he would finance his children's education.
Mohammad Belal, whose shop for caps, essences and prayer mats was gutted, said, "Even people from other religions would not disrespect the Holy Quran and hadith books the way the Hefajat activists did it."
The Janata Bank's branch on the ground floor of the House Building Finance Corporation has become a charcoal skeleton.
The bank had lost furniture and electronics worth about Tk 5 crore, said one of its officials.
Mohammad Harun Sheikh, the bank's security guard, was inside when the Hefajat men torched the establishment after 5:00pm. "I escaped through the rear exit," he said.
Many office personnel in the surrounding buildings were trapped in their respective offices. "We all went to our chairman's office and stayed there when shells of rubber bullets began to hit our windows," said Rumana Sultana, an employee of Probashi Palli, situated on the seventh floor of the HBFC building.
"When they torched the ground floor, all of us came hurrying down. For the first time I realised how garment workers feel when there is a fire," said Rumana, standing at the backyard of the building which looked like a graveyard of burned vehicles.
She feels that the government did the right thing by not letting the Hefajat activists stay at Shapla Chattar.
Mohammad Firoz and Mohammad Ripon, who lost their hardware and toy shop right below the foot overbridge of Paltan, also felt the same way.
"It is beyond imagination what they would have done if they were allowed to stay," Ripon said.
They burned down the Janata Bank and would have done the same to the Sonali Bank, he added.
The small business entrepreneurs, office-goers and pedestrians echoed Ripon, thanking the government for taking the right step and protecting people from further destruction by Hefajat-e Islam.