Some Hindu families at Shikdermallik union of Pirojpur Sadar upazila have fled their homes in the face of rape, extortion and arson by an infamous band of robbers.
Villagers are tight-lipped in fear of further torture by robber Ashraf Ali Sheikh and his gang, who with blessings of Jamaat-BNP men are committing the crimes as police take no action over the incidents, said victims.
Robbers broke into the houses of Nimai Mistri and Girish Mistri in Gabtola village in mid-September last year.
“Actually, the perpetrators stormed the poor households of Nimai and Girish to rape women,” said an arson victim of South Gabtola village.
Invariably, it is the Hindus who fall victims to such heinous crimes as they are believed to be in a weak social position and do not protest, he rued.
Nimai Mistri said a gang of masked criminals broke open the door of his house on September 14 midnight and two of the gang held him on the bed.
“Please forgive me. I can't tell you more. The criminals are publicly known and they will just kill me if I name them. I've to survive with my wife and daughter,” he mentioned.
Judhishthir Roy of Jujkhola village left for India along with his young daughter soon after she was raped and did not return yet, said other villagers. The daughter was to take the SSC exams this year.
“In fact, at least 100 incidents of rape have occurred in the area over the past couple of months, but the victims suppressed the incidents fearing social disgrace,” said a witness, who testified in a rape case.
After being violated, some of the victims left the village to stay in Pirojpur town.
Judhishthir's family member Porimol Roy and two brothers from Gabtola village, Bhabotosh Mistri and Shailen Mistri, left for India to avoid the extortion racket of Ashraf, complained villagers.
Krishna Haldar, whose house in Gabtola was plundered and set afire on December 5 midnight, said, “Criminals ruined me as I have sent my wife to my in-laws' house for security.”
His nine-year-old daughter Ripa Haldar said, “Four masked men broke into our house, beat up my father and looked for my mother.”
Shikdermallik union has a population of around 16,000 people. Among them, 6,000 are Hindu voters and 5,000 Muslims.
Gazi Nuruzzaman Babul, president of Pirojpur district BNP, said his party did not use Ashraf Ali for political end.
“But he [Ashraf] might have worked for Jamaat-Shibir, who have been committing crimes protesting the war crimes trial,” he mentioned, adding that police are well aware of the repression of religious minorities.
Sayedee Foundation, named after convicted war criminal Jamaat leader Delawar Hossain Sayedee, operates a technical madrasa at the union. Many believe that it is the den of local Jamaat-Shibir thugs, said Babul.
Criminals on December 13 last year burnt down the house of Bidhan Chandra Mistri at South Gabtola village. Bidhan is a union-level Awami League leader and retired founder headmaster of South Gabtola High School.
“We've never before seen such incidents of robbery, rape, extortion and arson that we are facing recently during hartals and blockades,” said Bidhan. Majority of the Hindus lived here with the Muslims in traditional harmony.
Criminals twice robbed the house of Kiran Chandra Mirbar, a Hindu priest in Jujkhola, he mentioned.
Abdur Razzaq, officer-in-charge of Pirojpur Sadar Police Station, said the “crimes arose out of the internal feuds of the local Hindus” and the incidents have no connection with politics.
He, however, later admitted that Ashraf Ali Sheikh was accused in half a dozen criminal cases with the police station.
SM Akhtaruzzaman, superintendent of police (SP) in Pirojpur, said, “Ashraf is a criminal listed with the police. We've heard of rape and arson allegations against him.”
“Despite all our attempts, police and Rapid Action Battalion have not yet been able to arrest Ashraf as he doesn't stay in the area,” he added.
It's very difficult for police to raid the villages in Shikdermallik union as those are surrounded by wetlands and paddy fields, with the main road to the union tattered, mentioned the SP.
Police deployed at a local camp have been patrolling the area, said the official.