When coming back to Gulshan from the airport, we often take a detour through a posh residential area to avoid heavy traffic. On one such occasion, we were stopped by security guards who are employed by the area society. They wanted to know where we were going. I told them that it was none of their business. They told us that they had been instructed by their society not to allow the passage of vehicles belonging to other localities. I told them that the city corporation owned the roads in the area, and we had every right to use them.
The security guards looked at each other and allowed us to pass. The restriction was later withdrawn. Imagine what would have happened to traffic in Dhaka if all societies in residential areas imposed similar restrictions. Could traffic move anywhere in the city?
The recent promulgation of another rule prohibiting the entry of lungi-clad rickshaw-pullers into the area attracted the attention of the media. The members of the society forgot that the overwhelming majority of the people in Bangladesh wear lungis. Lungi (long gyia) is the typical dress in Myanmar and Sri Lanka (sarong). A vast number of the people in Indonesia, India, Pakistan and in the Middle East wear lungis. So what is wrong with wearing lungis? To put a restriction on a dress, unless it is indecent, is a violation of human rights. Good sense finally prevailed and the restriction on lungis has been relaxed.
Recently, the same society renovated a park on the bank of an adjacent lake. Even though the park has two gates, only one gate is kept open. Being centrally located, this gate is convenient to local residents only. The other gate at one end of the park is deliberately kept closed for "reasons of security." This gate used to be utilised by people of neighbouring areas to visit the park.
There are armed police guards around the clock right in front of the closed gate, and as such, the security of the park would not be at risk if the gate was kept open. It is apparent that the gate is closed to discourage people from the neighbouring areas in using the park. According to another rule, only the members of their society are allowed to use the park after 6pm.
The park is a public place and not private property. The society has no right to close the gate, causing inconvenience to the people of neighbouring areas. Moreover, they cannot use a public park exclusively for themselves during any time of the day or night. The city corporation has allowed the society to maintain the park only. The society has no right to impose rules which amount to discriminating against citizens.
From the above instances it appears that the residential area has become a state within the state. It promulgates rules without respect for the laws of the land, human rights or the traditions of the country. This reminds me of an interesting cartoon I saw in a Saudi newspaper decades ago. It showed a camel sitting on the ground carrying a smartly dressed Saudi young man on its lap and telling something to his ears in Arabic.
As I did not understand Arabic, I asked one Saudi student to translate the dialogue into English. He said that the camel was telling the Saudi man: “My dear son, today you live in a palace, wear beautiful clothes and drive expensive cars. Naturally, you have forgotten me, my ancestors and your past traditions. Do you know that your parents drank my grandmother’s milk, my grandparents carried your parents on their backs when they were young, your grandparents’ house was made of my great grandparents’ skins and they wore a blanket made of my great great grandparents’ hair?”
The writer is a former chief engineer of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission.