Durga Puja Brings Brief Burst of Joy to Hindu Refugees in Bangladesh

By Muktadir Rashid   22 October 2018

DHAKA — Despite the heightened security, Hindus sheltering in the refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar say this year’s Durga Puja was a much happier affair than last year’s celebration of the religious holiday, thanks to a helping hand from Bangladeshi authorities.

Local authorities also helped the roughly 100 families erect a pavilion for the festival and even supplied the small community with a week’s supply of electricity for the first time since they arrived late last year.

“This time the Bangladeshi authorities have arranged everything for us,” said Sumanta Rudra, a Hindu commune leader in the camps. “Our Muslim neighbors in Myanmar who also came to Bangladesh have visited us during the celebration,” he added.

Last year, having fled the latest outbreak of violence in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State only weeks earlier, the newly arrived refugees marked Durga Puja in a far more modest fashion while taking shelter in an abandoned poultry shed.

Local Bangladeshi authorities later moved the Hindu families to comparatively improved accommodations.

Accompanied by traditional drum music, this year’s festivities kicked off on Oct. 14 and carried on into Friday afternoon.

“We could not enjoy the Puja with such festivities in Myanmar. But it’s different here in Bangladesh and we are celebrating it here,” Sumanta Rudra said, escorting the Hindu idols on their way for immersion.

Shishu Shil, another Hindu, said that in Myanmar they did not have experienced and skilled craftsmen to make the idols.

“We used to celebrate in front of our temple and build idols with some hard paper,” he said. “But here we can enjoy a real festival…. It’s the first time in my life to see the festival like this.”

Swarasati Das, however, was feeling nostalgic and said she would still prefer to be celebrating back home in Myanmar.

“However, we have enjoyed the festival here,” she added.

Cox’s Bazar police chief ABM Masud Hossain, who visited the festivalgoers on Wednesday, said security had been stepped up for the holiday as a precaution.

“We have covered all the costs for their festival and we even arranged two trucks so that the immersion of the idols could take place without any trouble,” said Ukhia Sub-District Executive Officer Nikaruzzaman Chowdhury.

“We also distributed family relief hampers that contain clothes and food items so that they can bring some joy on these days,” he said.