When defending a playground becomes a “crime”

If the abuses of the police action deserve to be condemned, it is also necessary to consider the decision of the government to acquire the playground to build a police station there.

April 25, 2022, 9:20 p.m.

Last modification: April 26, 2022, 12:50 p.m.

At a time when people keep complaining that today’s kids are too interested in digital devices, Kalabagan police did the unthinkable: they arrested a 17-year-old boy and his mother , and kept them in jail for 13 hours, for trying to protect a playground!

But detention is not the first “unthinkable” thing the police have done. In 2020, Kalabagan Police put up a sign on vacant land in Kalabagan, demarcating it for the construction of a police station building.

The land, marked as “fallow land” and allocated as such by the government, has in fact been used for decades as a children’s playground, as well as a number of other social and religious community uses, such as funerals.

Residents immediately protested the move, removed the sign, and continued to use the space as before.

When Ratna and her son were livestreaming Tentultala Math (pictured) on Facebook, they were practicing their constitutional right to protest. Both were arrested by the police and then released.

“>

When Ratna and her son were livestreaming Tentultala Math (pictured) on Facebook, they were practicing their constitutional right to protest. Both were arrested by the police and then released.

When the Dhaka district administration issued a notice last year clearly indicating the government’s intention to use the land for the construction of the thana building, the people of Kalabagan, environmentalists, various social, cultural and of development, as well as young people, launched a movement protesting against the construction project.

Most recently, construction materials were brought to the site on Sunday when Syeda Ratna, one of the leading activists of the “Save Tentultala Playground” movement, appeared on Facebook live to protest against the construction. Police officers guarding the area forced her to stop the live broadcast and took her and her 17-year-old son to Kalabagan police station.

There, the mother-son duo were held in separate cells and police reportedly prepared to press charges against Ratna for “obstructing the police to carry out their duties”. However, when news of the detention broke, people on social media began protesting the police action. After a 13-hour long detention, the duo were released after signing a bond that they would not interfere with government work in the future.

The police, in doing so, actually violated a number of citizens’ rights.

First, when Ratna and her son were live-streaming the situation at Tentultala Math on Facebook, they were simply exercising their constitutional right to protest, they were not physically preventing any government official from carrying out their duty.

Later, when prominent lawyers, cultural activists and environmentalists – including Chief Executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) Syeda Rizwana Hasan, rights activist Khushi Kabir, City Secretary from Dhaka Udichi Arif Nur – went to the police station, they were not allowed to visit Ratna, which is another violation because detainees have the right to see their lawyer.

Moreover, the detention of the 17-year-old boy who has committed no juvenile crime, or any crime for that matter, is outrageous.

Obviously, the police wanted to teach the protesters a lesson so that no one would have the courage to open their mouths against the proposed construction project. Because at the time of writing, construction work was in full swing and reports indicated that the police deployed to the playground outnumbered the construction workers.

If the abuses of the police action deserve to be condemned, it is also necessary to consider the decision of the government to acquire the playground to build a police station there.

A survey by Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk) reveals that 37 out of 129 wards in the two municipalities of Dhaka have no playgrounds or parks. Considering the size of Dhaka, parks and playgrounds should be 1,137 acres and 1,876 acres in area, but there are parks in only 271 acres in area and playgrounds in 294 acres.

The pressure of urbanization has led to a drastic reduction of playgrounds in the capital. Even most of the available parks and playgrounds remain in disrepair and often off-limits to youngsters.

And here is an interesting aspect of the psyche of our planners and decision makers.

Shahid Alim Uddin’s playground at Dhakeswari in Old Dhaka popularly known as Lalbagh Eidgah Ground had hosted a garbage dump, illegal parking space and shacks. Later, under a modernization project called “Jol-Sobuje Dhaka”, implemented by Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC), the land was transformed into a beautiful grassy playground.

Ironically, although the playground was open to local youth before the improvement project was undertaken, it became off-limits to local children and youth afterwards. Only a select number of teenagers and youngsters from a cricket academy now use it, and the main playing ground remains closed most of the time.

Psychologists warn that inadequate playgrounds and the subsequent lack of physical activity have a negative impact on the physical and mental development of children.

At a time when the coronavirus pandemic and prolonged closures have devastated the lives of children (as well as adults) in many ways, playgrounds, parks and open places could play a vital role in keeping them happy, active and energetic.

These places should remain accessible to the public, but unscrupulous groups have always tried to seize them for their own financial gain. One hardly sees the government doing anything significant to prevent such illegal encroachments.

Now that a government agency like the police is trying to get their hands on a children’s playground in the center of the city, that too by intimidating protesters, citizens have valid reasons to worry about their future and that of their children.

Harold B. McConnell