Tuesday, May 21, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

A promise not kept in 32 years

The untold story of legendary Bangladeshi sprinter Shah Alam and his family

Update : 06 May 2023, 12:41 AM

After the untimely death of legendary athlete Shah Alam, the only Bangladeshi to become the fastest man of South Asia twice, the government took a decision to allocate a house to his family 32 years ago which however, is yet to come to fruition.

The sprint legend's life was cut short at the age of 28 following a tragic road accident that left his wife Afrosa Begum clueless with three little daughters and a son in the womb, and no income source.

Dhaka Tribune recently got photographs of some documents showing the Ministry of Defence's promise to allocate a house to Shah Alam's family.

But the pledge was not fulfilled, regardless of repeated appeals for at least eight years afterwards.

Since then until today, the family members said they have been living without a permanent residence.

Their financial condition too is not desirable.

To add to the misery, Afrosa's physical condition is deteriorating with each passing day as she got admitted to Combined Military Hospital where she gave an interview on April 28.

The Bangladesh Athletics Federation initially extended its hand of support after Shah Alam's passing away but later rejected frequent requests from the family members who felt rather disrespected at times and stopped seeking help.

But in his glory days in the 1980s, Shah Alam was the undisputed king on the track and brought the country international achievements which are still unparalleled in the annals of its athletics history.

God gifted

Shah Alam was born in Shahebnagar village located in Gangni upazila of Meherpur district in a family of seven brothers and three sisters.

His father Kabir Hossain was a footballer but none of his siblings pursued any sport.

It was only Shah Alam who got engaged in sports in his childhood.

According to a report published on sports magazine Krira Jagat in 1990, Shah Alam joined Bangladesh Army as a Sepahi in 1977 and started participating in inter-unit competitions where he gained instant success.

He had always represented Army in national competitions.

Shah Alam's results in national and international events were collected from a Bengali book titled “20 Bochore Bangladesher Kheladhula”, which translates to Sports of Bangladesh in 20 years (1971-1990) in English.

It was published by National Sports Council on the last day of 1990.

He won a total of 15 gold medals at National Athletics Championships and Bangladesh Games in six years, and bagged 10 medals at South Asian Games.

His first major breakthrough in the year 1984 was a gold in 200-meter, and bronze in 100m sprint at the national championship.

The inaugural SA Games [then known as South Asian Federation Games] took place in the same year where he jointly bagged Bangladesh's first gold in 4*100m relay along with Saidur Rahman Don, Majibur Rahman Mallick and Aftab Mollah.

Shah Alam surpassed every other countryman the following year, winning gold in both 100m and 200m at the national athletics before becoming the fastest man in the subcontinent with first place in 100m event at the second SA Games in Dhaka.

He clocked 10.8 seconds to beat Mohammad Shah of Pakistan and become the first Bangladeshi to win gold in 100m sprint at SA Games.

The supremacy continued in 4*100m relay, while he also clinched bronze in 200m event.

Shah Alam (No. 245) alongside his relay teammates

In 1987, along with two silvers and a bronze, Shah Alam also grabbed Bangladesh's only gold in athletics in the third edition of the SA Games in Kolkata.

He took 10.79 seconds to top the podium in 100m event, this time in front of more than 30,000 spectators at Salt Lake Stadium.

He also claimed silver in 200m sprint clocking 21.68 seconds.

Shah Alam was the automatic choice when Bangladesh Olympic Association picked him to compete at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea where he participated in 200m sprint.

Bangladesh athletics team could not win any gold at the 1989 SA Games in Pakistan where Shah Alam secured bronze in 100m sprint and silver in 4*100m relay.

Shah Alam (center) celebrates winning gold for Bangladesh at the 1987 SA Games in Kolkata 

It was his last participation in South Asia's biggest multi-sports event before breathing his last on May 29, 1990 following a motorbike accident while returning to Dhaka from his hometown ahead of the Asian Games preparation.

After Shah Alam, only Bimal Chandra Tarafder managed to become the fastest man in the sub-continent during the 1993 SA Games in Dhaka and since then, no other Bangladeshi could achieve the feat.

“He [Shah Alam] was my teammate and also roommate when we were abroad. He was very sincere and kind and always tried to help others,” said Army's current athletics coach Farid Khan Chowdhury to Dhaka Tribune.

The former national athlete added, “He was God gifted. He also tried and worked hard. I have been in athletics since 1982 as both player and coach but I have never seen any Bangladeshi sprinter as talented as him.”

Family in despair

At the time of his demise, his twin daughters Shahanaz Parvin and Shahinaz Parvin were eight years old while youngest daughter Shyamoli Akter was two.

Son Mamunur Rashid was born eight months later.

Shah Alam's son Mamunur Rashid takes a selfie with his mother Afrosa Begum, two sisters, wife and son 

The unfortunate death left his wife Afrosa in miserable condition.

Three and a half months later, the adjutant general branch of Army headquarters with the recommendation of the Army chief informed the situation to the Ministry of Defence.

From a letter dated September 30, 1990, it was learnt that the defence ministry took the decision to allocate a house to Shah Alam's family and requested the Ministry of Housing and Public Works to undertake necessary steps.

In another letter dated November 26, 1991, it is stated that Shah Alam's family had applied for a land of 0.0825 acre with tin-shed house at Dhaka Cantonment with adjutant general's agreement on it.

Their appeals fell on deaf ears but Afrosa carried on her efforts and applied again during the next government's regime in 1997 to Prime Minister's office with the then Youth and Sports Minister Obaidul Quader's recommendation on the letter.

But every time, Afrosa was turned down as she continued her battle for survival with three daughters and a son, living at the staff quarter of Bangladesh Army.

They received some money from a shop at stadium market in Paltan area given by the Youth and Sports Ministry which barely covered their basic requirements.

The family members said their situation got worse after they were forced to leave the Army staff quarter in 2013.

Afrosa started living in a rented house in Meherpur with her two daughters as they had no place to reside in Shah Alam's village.

The eldest daughter Shahanaz got married but her two other sisters are unmarried, and the youngest has mental health issues, said their brother Mamunur.

Mamunur is married with a child and has a private job but he admitted that the income is not nearly enough to run a family of six members.

The family was struggling to meet the cost of medical needs after two kidneys of Afrosa got damaged but thankfully, CMH started providing dialysis free of charge in the last couple of months.

“I have been in a lot of trouble. My right hand was broken in an accident in November last year, and required surgery. After that, my two kidneys got damaged. The suffering has only increased,” said Afrosa, 63, sitting on her bed in a common ward of the hospital.

“My son is the only breadwinner in the family. We are struggling financially. If the government provides us rehabilitation with land and a house, it may lessen our hardship,” she added.

Shah Alam's son Mamunur standing by her side echoed the same sentiment.

Dhaka Tribune recently got photographs of some documents showing the Ministry of Defence's promise to allocate a house to Shah Alam's family

Pledge forgotten

When the matter of the government's promise to allocate a house to Shah Alam's family was brought up to the Youth and Sports Ministry, it replied that the event took place far too long ago for them to know exactly what happened.

Several phone calls to Youth and Sports Minister Zahid Ahsan Russel went unanswered.

Few days later, the minister's personal secretary Arif Billah informed that the Ministry has an advice for Shah Alam's family.

He said they do not know what happened in the past and that the old documents may not work.

The family has to apply again to Prime Minister's office through Youth and Sports Ministry.

The family also has complaints against the athletics federation for not showing support during their tough times.

The general secretary could not be reached for comment despite repeated attempts.

Athletics federation's former general secretary and current vice-president Faruqul Islam though admitted their shortcomings. 

He said the federation helped the family in the initial years after Shah Alam's death but could not continue the support later due to their limited capacity.

He too was unable to remember if there was any decision from the government to allocate the family a house.

Athletics legend Milzar Hossain, who dominated 400m and 800m events from the mid-1980s to early 90s, summarized the case in a nutshell.

“The sudden death of Shah Alam was an irreparable loss. There was nobody like him in 100m sprint. We should have done a lot for him. We still can. If it is possible to help his family now, it would be a great tribute to the legend,” said Milzar.

“He [Shah Alam] could not do anything for his family. When he had the chance to do something he died. If the government does something for his family members, we will get mental satisfaction.”

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