Movement thru’ engaging local youths can help save rivers, speakers say
Prominent cultural activists have demanded stern action against land grabbers for eating up the rivers, changing their courses, and hindering the life and livelihood of scores of people across Bangladesh by using muscle power.
Expressing frustration over the government’s inaction about stopping unabated land filling and establishment of illegal structures on the grabbed land of the rivers, they stressed the need for mobilizing the communities who live beside the rivers.
Eminent actor Hasan Masood, artist and Jagannath University Lecturer Nazmunnahar Keya, daily Prothom Alo Photo Editor Abir Abdullah and filmmaker Muktadir Ibn Salam raised the issues at a River Talkie event, entitled “Influence of rivers on Culture, Art and Artist”, at Khagail Durga Mondir Ghat of Keraniganj on the outskirts of the capital on Tuesday.
The discussion was organized as part of an anti-pollution advocacy project, “Promoting Democratic Governance and Collective Advocacy for Environmental Protection in Dhaka city.”
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Waterkeepers Bangladesh is implementing the project in collaboration with USAID, FCDO and Counterpart International (CPI). The project aims at collecting information on pollution, and changing the behavior and mindset of citizens as well as policymakers.
Sharif Jamil, coordinator of Waterkeepers Bangladesh, moderated the event. He said that due to the grabbing of the banks of the Buriganga River, the local Durga temple and many houses had gone under water.
Hasan Masood recounted that Kamrangirchar was a shoal of the Buriganga River and was separate from the capital city, but it was later linked to the city by land grabbers filling up the channels of the river. Dholaikhal is now a canal only in name.
He also said that many films produced in the Pakistan period and in independent Bangladesh had highlighted the rivers and haors, and the lives of the people who depend on them. But things have deteriorated due to the activities of the land grabbers, an increasing number of engine-run vessels and unabated pollution by people and industries.
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Filmmaker Muktadir, who has produced “Ronger Duniya”, said that in his films he has underscored the lives of people who live close to nature.
He observed that rivers were turning into canals, and canals into drains over the past decades.
“Many fishes are going extinct while some influential people are occupying water bodies to farm fishes. Moreover, the negligence of the authorities has led to a loss of navigability of the rivers, hampering irrigation in the dry season,” Muktadir added.
Photojournalist Abir Abdullah shared his childhood experience when tidal water entered his family home every day, and of peaceful rivers with boats and fishermen.
“Now the peace has gone as engine boats ply in rampant manner. The riverbanks are being occupied illegally.
“Once upon a time, Dhaka city was built on the bank of the River Buriganga. But now we are killing off the river. One day nature will take revenge. The future generation will blame us for the sorry state of the rivers,” he added.
Artist Keya said at the discussion how joyful her childhood was when she used to visit the Buriganga River with her father.
“We loved to watch nouka baich (boat race) and fishing on the river. Rivers were prominent in the artworks of legendary artists Zainul Abedin and Quamrul Hassan,” she said, adding that a cultural movement would be more effective than traditional interventions to create awareness to save the rivers.
Actor Hasan Masood stressed the need for creating awareness among tourists as well as locals to stop a further degradation of tourist spots, established around rivers and haors.
Abir Abdullah mentioned the Hindu rituals linked to rivers. He thought that community engagement in the government initiatives and social media campaigns could make rivers more beautiful in future.
Moderator Sharif Jamil asked the authorities concerned to spend more on the construction of bridges with a focus on protecting riverbanks and not allowing land grabbing anymore, adding that the country had already lost a large portion of the rivers and canals in the past decades.
Saving rivers should become a responsibility for everyone, he said, adding that the High Court in 2019 had accorded all rivers of the country the status of “legal persons”.