Encroachment, illegal structures and antisocial activities have all but pushed the historic Suhrawardy Uddyan in the capital out of the use of civilised people.
Mohammad Robin owns a small tea stall inside the park on grabbed land. He has recently set up a khanka sharif beside his tea stall where, he claimed, people came to pay their tributes, often in the form of money, to a religious preacher.
A khanka sharif is a small makeshift stall made of bamboo strips, typically decorated with colourful paper, red cloth and tiny lights.
“This is called a khanka sharif. It was established in memory of Mohammad Khawaza Moinuddin Chisty [a Muslim religious preacher from India]. On June 6 we will arrange a gathering and feast here,” Robin said.
Robin said he was a follower of the Khwaza and visited Indian every year along with some of his relatives.
The Suhrawardy Uddyan was called the Racecourse ground in 1971 when it hosted Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s historic March 7 speech and the December 16 surrender of the Pakistan army.
But the historic past of the park has almost gone entirely due to the illegal and socially unacceptable activities that go on in the park every single day.
Illegal shops and the uncontrolled movement of drug addicts, sex workers, muggers and petty criminals have robbed the park of most of its beauty.
Razia Begum is a destitute woman who has been living in the park for ten years.
“I live here in a small shed because there is nowhere else to go. I came here with my three children after my husband died. We make a living my selling flowers,” she told the Dhaka Tribune.
The park, meant for the recreation of the citizens, becomes a sanctuary for sex workers and drug addicts at nightfall.
There are allegations that security guards, including Ansar men, often extort the prostitutes and drug dealers and in exchange turn a blind eye towards their activities.
“After the sun sets, the Suhrawardy Uddyan goes under the control of drug addicts and peddlers, floating sex workers, their associates and clients,” Dhaka University student Subrata Biswas told the Dhaka Tribune.
Samad Ali, who runs a tea stall inside the park, said: “Floating prostitutes operate in the areas around the Ramna Kali Mandir, Shikha Chirantani, Mukta Mancha and Lalon Chattar. The security guards take money from them regularly and help carry on with their business.”
Admitting all the allegations, Executive Magistrate of Dhaka South City Corporation Ananda Kumar Biswas said: “We are aware of the encroaching in Suhrawardy Uddyan. If possible, we will start an eviction drive tomorrow on Monday.”