Nine years ago, Uttam Kumar Barua was accused of posting ‘blasphemous’ photos on his Facebook page. The claim ignited a communal riot and, on September 29, 2012, Seema Bihar, a Buddhist monastery, was torched.
More than 250 Buddha statues were destroyed and looted while another 18 monasteries in Ramu and Ukhiya were set on fire. Even the homes of Buddhist families were not spared from the violence.
The chaos came to an end when a police investigation revealed that the photos posted on Facebook were ‘fake’. They had tagged Uttam intentionally in an effort to agitate local Muslims.
Uttam, a member of the Buddhist community, went missing at the time. Nine years have passed, but he has yet to be found.
Uttam, the son of Sudatta Barua from Haitupi Village, was a clerk at the sub-registry office in Ramu.
On the day of the incident, Uttam left home around 8:00pm and never came back, his wife Rita Barua said nine years ago.
"We have no idea if Uttam is alive or dead," his mother Madhu Barua said the following year.
Police tried their best to find Uttam, but their search has not yielded any result, Babul Akter, then additional police superintendent in Cox’s Bazar, had said.
“He hasn’t been found yet,” his wife Rita said on Tuesday. “We have no clue where he is. What more can we tell you?”
Fatekharkul Union Parishad Chairman Faridul Alam could not provide any information about Uttam either.
Rumour has it that Uttam fled to Thailand or Myanmar, but no one could confirm it.
“Some people say that he is still here, but I haven’t seen him,” UP Chairman Faridul said.
Following the riots in Ramu and Ukhiya, Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua filed a writ petition to the High Court challenging the inactivity of police during the violence. He too said the government’s efforts to find Uttam had not progressed, reports bdnews24.com.
Uttam was accused in one of the cases filed over the incidents in Cox’s Bazar, Ramu and Ukhiya.
Md Anwar Hossain, chief of Ramu Police Station, said he has no information about Uttam as he only joined the station two months ago.
“I got to know about him through different discussions marking the ninth anniversary of the communal riot in Ramu. Uttam is the prime suspect in one of the cases, but police have no information on his whereabouts,” he said.
HOW IS UTTAM’S FAMILY DOING?
Aditya Barua was only four years old when his father Uttam went missing. He is now a student in Class VII and lives with his mother Rita.
“I have nothing more to say,” an angry and frustrated Rita said. “You people have been writing about this for the past 10 years, but what help have we received?”
“We want to forget this pain. Please leave us alone. We don’t even want protection. We just want to survive.”
People only ask how they are doing on the anniversary of the communal violence in Ramu, Rita said.
“Everyone calls us on September 29. Otherwise, no one cares if we live or die. They don’t mention the suffering we endure. You can write this -- I still have a child to raise.”
Rita does not see much hope of an end to her anguish anytime soon.
“People serve their own interests at our expense, while we suffer. I don’t want to say how difficult our days are. We can’t even stay at home. We have to move around.”
UP Chairman Faridul claims he keeps track of Uttam’s family through the local UP members.
“Uttam’s family is doing fine. They have no problems. I always ask about them. They would inform me through the local UP member had there been any issues.”
The divide between the Muslim and Buddhist communities does not exist anymore, Faridul said.
He claims no communal issues currently exist in his constituency.
The government rebuilt the Buddhist community’s houses, 19 monasteries and a temple in the year following the communal riots.
NO PROGRESS IN LEGAL CASES
The cases filed over the communal riots have made no progress, said Barrister Barua.
“At least 18 of the 19 cases are pending and one has been withdrawn. An order was issued for further investigation of 18 cases filed at the Ramu, Cox’s Bazar and Ukhiya police stations. There was no progress in the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
As many as 1,500 people, including Naikhanchhari Upazila Parishad Chairman Tofayel Ahmed, GM Rahimulla, secretary of the district’s Jamaat-e-Islami, and Sadar Upazila Vice Chairman Shahidul Alam Bahadur, were named in the cases. The charge sheets included the names of 936 people, all of whom were granted bail.
Jyotirmoy Barua also said the petition he filed over the riot in Ramu and Ukhiya has made no progress.
“The High Court formed a committee. A judiciary inquiry committee was also formed. After they submitted the report, the case was not scheduled for hearing in any court.”
“As the case is a sensitive one, the witnesses may face violence or threats when the documents are opened to the public. That’s why I haven’t asked for a court hearing yet. This is the reality of the situation,” he said.