But such rafts are now being used by Korail slum dwellers in the very capital city of Bangladesh.
Dwellers of Korail slum used to cross Gulshan lake by boats even a bit over a month back but suddenly police stopped the service on “security ground” making commuting extremely difficult for them.
Just a few months ago, if one had taken a look around Kemal Ataturk Avenue security check post, they would have noticed rows of boats crossing the Gulshan-Banani lake from all sides. On the other side of the check post lie lines of makeshift houses of Korail slum.
The lake provides a passage for slum dwellers for commuting to their workplaces and a means of living for the boatmen, most of whom live in the slum.
For over a month, according to the slum dwellers and residents who live nearby, the boat service was stopped by the law enforcers.
Some of the slum dwellers said a dispute arose between the police and the boatmen after which there has been no boats on the lake.
Asked why this dispute arose, they said that the police stopped the boats and asked them not to row any on security reasons.
Sub-Inspector Sohel, who was on duty yesterday at the Kemal Ataturk security check post, said: “I am not aware of why this decision was taken. Please talk to my superiors or Dhaka City Corporation. I am just doing what I was asked to do.”
The only boat spotted on the lake at that moment was authorised by the city corporation to pick up garbage from the water, he said.
The plastic rafts wobble and carry around 10 people at a time. Slum dwellers said this permanent embargo on boats came after a “little dispute” when they could not use boats for a little while around two months ago.
“Many boats were destroyed. It is tough. It takes Tk20-30 for us to go to work by a rickshaw,” a man in his thirties screamed from a crowd of people in Boubazar, at Korail ghat.
Shiuli, 60, came forward and remonstrated: “Either you kill me, or give me an alternative way to travel.”
She works as a sweeper at an office in Gulshan 1 and has to walk all the way to work because she cannot afford the rickshaw fare.
She continued: “We used to pay Tk3-5 for boat fare. Now, we have been facing so much trouble for over a month. I work at Gulshan, my feet hurt from walking. I go to work on foot at 7am. I am old, I did not even get time to eat today. I confronted one policeman in the morning, he was kind and offered me a tea.
“But when I asked him to do something for us, he asked me to go and talk to the mayor as it was the mayor’s decision to stop the boats.”
As the plastic rafts quiver behind the backs of the policemen, a man who wished to remain unnamed, said: “We have to find an alternative to commute even if it is risky. Police told us that they were stopping the boats for security, as it is Gulshan area.”
He was then quickly hushed by a woman who said: “All the boatmen are unemployed now. What are we to do?”
A seven-year old, Rakib, came and said: “It is very difficult to travel without boats. It is not safe.”
There seems to be an uncanny conundrum of “security” and “safety.” The slum dwellers, reiterated the word “security” while they spoke of their unsafe means of commuting with plastic rafts – the alternative that they can only use till they do not get caught. “But rules are rules,” Shiuli uttered sadly.
Asked for comments on the matter, BM Forman Ali, officer-in-charge of Banani police, said: “You should talk to the Dhaka City Corporation about this. If something like that has happened, they are the one you should ask.”