It was Monday morning, at around 11am, when a stroll at Paltan Intersection towards Comrade Moni Singha Intersection revealed heaps of ashes lying on the footpath to the left.
There were rows of bookstalls selling old books there even until Sunday noon. Hifazat-e Islam’s violent blockade of Dhaka on Sunday has gutted almost 40 of these decades-old bookstores along with thousands of its collections.
The bookstores on the opposite footpath and also those under the over bridge, seemed to have shared the same fate.
The loss continues with Hifazat supporters setting fire to another 11 stores located beside the south gate of the National Mosque Baitul Mukarram during their program Sunday. Followers of Hifazat who claim to be the keepers of Islam did not even spare the Holy Quran, books of Hadith and other religious books. The blackened pages of the holy scripture of Islam now lie scattered as ash under the pedestrian feet.
The bereaved booksellers said supporters of Hifazat-e Islam had set fire to almost 55 bookstores. Beyond 50,000 books worth approximately Tk 10 million have been destroyed in the abrupt arson attack on Sunday.
The people who had gathered to see the sight were erupting with disgust for those who assert themselves as ‘keepers of Islam’ but are also desecrators’ of the holy book of Islam.
Chittagong-based organisation, Hifazat-e Islam in its second flight to the capital Dhaka enforced a destructive siege of the city throughout the day. The radical ‘Islamists’ have a 13-point demand that includes the scrapping of the National Women’s Development Act and death penalty for online bloggers, who are massively active in the organisation of ‘Ganajagaran Mancha’ – a mass platform seeking maximum penalty for war criminals and a ban on the political outfit Jamaat-e-Islami, its top echelon now blamed for war crimes charges during Bangladesh’s Liberation War.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police in a media briefing on the day before Sunday’s Dhaka siege said they had information that suggest ‘cadres’ of Jamaat-e-Islami and their student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir were going to join Hifazat’s plan and commit violent acts to render the city unstable.
Hifazat men who were mostly in religious robe/garb and skull caps staged atrocities like vandalism and arson in Dhaka’s Paltan, Dainik Bangla, Bijoynagar, Motijheel and Uttara among other places. Numerous outlets, government buildings, Fire Service and Civil Defence office and the headquarters of the Communist Party of Bangladesh were torched.
Abdul Matin, who sold books on the pavement of Comrade Moni Singha Road for the last 30 years, was seen crouching near a pile of ash, which were once his books.
He described Sunday’s attack to bdnews24.com: “Hifazat activists clashed with police right after the midday prayers. They suddenly shifted to burning books at one point of the clash.
“They had snatched books from the stores to burn them in the middle of the street. They knew they were copies of the Quran and Hadith but still went ahead to desecrate them.”
Matin said there were almost 3,000 books and journals in his shop, worth around Tk 200,000.
Utpol Roy, another trader on the same road, lost his entire book collection to Sunday’s violence.
Roy, who has been in the book selling business since 1988, spoke in a voice full of sorrow. “This shop was my one and only source of income. I had nearly 10,000 books and journals, but they were all burned.”
There were a total of 37 stores that sold old books at Comrade Moni Singha Road, said Roy. Each of these stores had at least 2,000 books and journals. They have all been burned to the ground.
There were five newspaper stands on the footpath before the ‘Baitul Mukarram Market’, adjacent to the national mosque before Hifazat’s rampage there on Sunday. Now they stand charred.
The 11 shops near Baitul Mukarram Mosque’s south gate that sold copies of the holy Quran, collections of Hadith and other religious books also fell prey to Hifazat-e Islam’s fury. The group’s activists were staging the siege on Sunday to press for 13 demands that include the immediate removal of all ‘anti-Quran’ and ‘anti-Sunnah’ Acts from Bangladesh’s constitution. Majority of these holy and religious books have been torched.
Abdul Kadir, who owned one of the shops from the mosque’s south gate, held the forehead in his hand while he sat next to his ill-fated books. He recalled Hifazat’s violence with a dismal expression.
The Hifazat activists launched their mass arson with several book stores near the offices of Communist Party of Bangladesh. The religious-book shops from the national mosque’s south gate came next.
Kadir told bdnews24.com, “The miscreants of Hifazat came out of the mosque after evening prayers (Asr) and began to set fire to our shops.”
“All we used to sell here (south gate) were copies of Quran, Hadith and booklets on Islam. They did not feel the least reluctance before setting these books on fire!”
There were at least 15,000 copies of the holy Quran and Hadith here in these 11 shops, but they are all ashes now.
A total of 18 stores selling religious caps and six stores for prayer beads (tasbih) and incense bottles were also subjected to the arson attacks by the radicals on Sunday.
A middle-aged businessman, Abdul Wadid, who was among the spectators who had gathered to witness the arson at the mosque’s south gate, said, “They burned these books while chanting slogans to save the religion. They didn’t care to burn the holy book of the religion they belong to. They are enemies of Islam and humanity.”