A Muslim businessman has defended his demolition of a 500-year-old Hindu temple in Moulvibazar district, saying he rightfully owned the land on which the temple stood.
Local Hindus filed a complaint with authorities over the incident, which reportedly took place on February 16.
Mohammad Sufi Mian, a member of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, said the 1.33 acre plot of land where the temple stood was purchased by his father in 1975.
“My father bought this land long ago. No one said anything when we broke down the already ruined temple. Now some people are conspiring against me,” he said.
Members of the Hindu community who asked not to be named out of fear for their safety said Mian was politically influential and that they believed he paid off authorities not to investigate the destruction of the temple.
They allege that Mian and more than a dozen other men razed the temple, which was built by Ramshongkor Sharma Chowdhury, according to the only family heir in Bangladesh, Ranjit Sharma Chowdhury.
He added that the rest of his family settled in India after the partition of the sub-continent in 1947.
Mohammad Abdullah, officer in charge at the Srimangal police station, initially declined to comment on the issue but later acknowledged receiving a complaint.
“We have received the written complaint and are now trying to arrest the offender.”
Bangladesh land law prohibits the purchase or sale of land or property belonging to religious prayer houses or institutions such as mosques, temples, churches or pagodas.
Chowdhury said the temple sat on land that his family had designated for charitable works.
“One of my cousins … borrowed money from Lichu Mien [father of Mohammad]. Unable to pay the debt, he … registered the property for Lichu Mian and left the country.”
Chowdhury said Mian’s claims to the land were baseless, as property records from 2000 showed the land and temple was used by Hindu people in the area and that Chowdhury was named as caretaker of the temple.
Moulvibazar district public prosecutor ASM Azadur Rahman said the whole process of land sale was illegal.
“The law of the land forbids buying and selling of property belonging to a temple. Even if the land of the temple was sold and registered to someone else, it is invalid according to land law,” he said.