“Can we go now?” the disappointment was evident in Arman’s voice. His father, Rashidul Hasan tried one last time. “Look, this obelisk is over 100 years old,” the Laxmibazar resident told his 10-year-old son.The father and son were visiting Bahadur Shah Park in Old Dhaka on a Friday afternoon recently.
Curious, Arman went a bit closer to take a look but soon returned to his father, as a group of homeless people — who have made the premises their home — occupied it.
By the time this correspondent caught up with Rashidul, he had also given up on finding a place for his son to play.
“I couldn’t even find a spot to sit as most are occupied by vendors or floating people,” said the private job holder.
Only a year after the park was renovated and freshly opened by Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC), the park is no longer a safe and fun place for citizens.
“We don’t have that many open places in Old Dhaka. When the authorities renovated and reopened the park, we were elated. But the present situation is not better than what this park used to be. The authorities should do something about it,” he told this correspondent.
The weekdays at Bahadur Shah Park were not any better either, which became obvious during multiple visits by our correspondents over the last two weeks.
The park remains occupied by floating people and vendors most of the time while people continue to litter the premises.
Plastic bottles, polythene bags, peanut shells, cigarette stubs, torn cloths and papers were either seen piled up in corners or scattered everywhere.
“How can I bring my children here?” said Kamrun Nahar, a local. “Addicts and the homeless have ruined the atmosphere and no one seems to care,” she added.
Meanwhile, a group of youngsters were seen throwing plastic cups in the park after drinking tea from a vendor. When approached, they appeared nonchalant about it.
At the same time, some of the floating population became hostile towards this correspondent upon seeing him talking to people and taking pictures.
About the situation, Abul Hossain, a staffer of Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) at the park, said, “Three of us work in shifts to look after the park. But it’s not enough.”
His co-worker Joynal echoed him. “To tell you the truth, we are also scared of the floating population inside the park. Often times, many of them become violent when we try to evict them,” he said.
Aklima Begum, a worker at the public toilet on the premises, said, “Addicts, peddlers and the homeless often make the place dirty. They urinate here and there and use the park whichever way they want.”
Even police seemed rather indifferent regarding the persisting situation. Asked, some of them, wishing anonymity, said they try their best to avert any untoward situation.
HISTORY OF THE PARK
Enriched with wonderful architectural features, the park is located in Laxmibazar, near Jagannath University.
During the first half of the 19th century, Nawab Khwaja Abdul Ghani, the first Nawab of Dhaka recognised by the British rulers, took the initiative to establish it.
History says, from the time of its construction till 1957, the park was known as “Victoria Park”, named after Queen Victoria. In 1957, the park was renamed after the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah II.
In 1857, during the Sepoy Mutiny against colonial rulers, English soldiers executed many mutineers by hanging them from different trees of the place.
A monument in memory of the sepoys has also been erected at the park.
There are two entrances and two memorials (the tallest one is situated at the eastern side, in memory of the martyred sepoys and the other one is Khawja Hafijullah obelisk) at the park.
There is also a small obelisk signifying the throne of Queen Victoria.
But over the years, due to lack of proper maintenance, the former ambience of Bahadur Shah Park gradually lost its magnificence.
Most of the sculptures as well as the overall environment were in decrepit condition. The park became a gathering place for anti-social activities.
After a year-long renovation work, this historic park reopened in March last year with an aim to provide a green respite for Old Dhaka residents.
The work was done under a “park modernisation project” of Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) with a cost of around Tk 6 crore, according to city officials.
Under the project, four-foot deep drain has been constructed to improve the park’s drainage system. Earlier, the park used to remain submerged due to rain. There are also benches, a fountain, and two restrooms inside the park. Also, the park’s boundary railings have been removed.
There is also a plaque, highlighting when it was reopened.
“Seems like, that’s all the city corporation did. They renovated the park, which we appreciated of course. But what about maintaining it?” said Anwarul Haque, an elderly Old Dhaka resident.
WHAT AUTHORITIES SAY
The park falls under ward-42 of DSCC.
Regarding its present situation, councillor Mohammad Selim (ward-42) said he has asked the city corporation for help but to no avail.
“Visitors cannot sit at the north side of the park as bus drivers park their vehicles there and urinate publicly. To solve the problem, we have a plan to turn it into a garden,” he said.
“This is the only open place we have in the area. Some floating people and junkies occupy the area, but police are not doing anything about it. If they could be rehabilitated, it would have been better,” he added.
“Besides, we need guards and dedicated cleaners for the park. I have to clean the park with cleaners of the ward,” said Selim.
Asked, DSCC zonal officer-4 Haider Ali said, “It’s an open space and accessible to all. Therefore, people from any tier of life can visit the place. But if the floating people sleep at the park and the situation is not environment-friendly, we’ll look into the matter.”
Regarding maintenance, he said, “Our workers keep the park clean regularly. However, visitors need to be aware too. They continue to make the place dirty by throwing garbage. We will take steps in this regard.”
Contacted, Muhit Kabir Serniabat, additional deputy commissioner (Kotwali zone) of Lalbagh division police, said they have noticed that a small group of street children used to take shelter near the park.
“They used to sniff glue (inhalant) there. We often conducted drives and sent them to shelter homes. But more started to gather in Sadarghat area after travelling from different parts of the country,” he said.
Police are also working to create awareness through bit-policing among shopkeepers and local inhabitants in this regard, said ADC Serniabat.
He appealed to voluntary organisations to come forward to help these children and said police would provide all necessary support.