Hindu refugees from Myanmar living in a camp in Bangladesh have been celebrating the festival of Durga Puja for the first time since fleeing violence in northern Rakhine state last year.
More than 500 Hindus escaped their homes last August along with over 700,000 Rohingya Muslims as Myanmar’s army launched a brutal crackdown that the UN says amounted to “ethnic cleansing”.
Hindu community leader Jibon Sharma told AFP that the terrifying circumstances of their escape prevented them from celebrating the annual festival last year.
But now local authorities in southeastern Bangladesh and the country’s Hindu minority have helped them, including with materials to build the pavilions housing displays of the many-armed goddess Durga.
“When we were in Myanmar we used to worship regularly. But it’s different here. Bangladeshis helped us beyond imagination with money and clothes,” Sharma told AFP.
“We are very grateful to them.”
The Hindu refugees say that their community was attacked in August 2017 in northern Rakhine state by Rohingya militants, and relations with the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh remain tense.
The Hindus are camping only a kilometer or two (a mile) around away from the world’s largest refugee camp — Kutupalong near Cox’s Bazar — where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have been living.
“We have full-time security posted at this camp. We are well aware of the tension between them,” said police official Jahangir Alam.
The festival includes 10 days of music and cultural performances, as well as clothes being gifted to cheering children.
“I forgot when was the last time we had such a great Puja (prayer ritual). I am seeing my kids’ happy faces… I am very happy,” Suma Paul, a Hindu refugee, said as she cried happy tears.