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Shahid Anwara Park: Give back that woodland

Amin Al  Rasheed

Amin Al Rasheed

Wed, 22 May 24

Some Placards:
1. Save Anwara Park.
2. Stop Commercializing the Park.
3. No Shopping Mall in Shahid Anwara Park.
4. We Want Anwara Park Back.

A group of environmentally conscious individuals stood with numerous placards bearing various slogans and demands under the busy Farmgate Metro Station in the capital. Announcement was made at this event last Saturday (May 18th) evening that if the Dhaka North City Corporation, the Department of Public Works, and the Dhaka Mass Transit Company Limited (DMTCL) authorities do not remove the metro rail installations from here within 30 days and if no initiative is taken to restore Anwara Udyan to its previous state, then a call for a rigorous protest will be made.

The gathering was held under the metro station where there were once numerous trees and greenery before the metro rail construction began. However, the large concrete structure of the station has now buried the park, the trees, and the wildlife that depended on this park. Yet, Shahid Anwara Park is a place rich with memories of the 1969 mass uprising. After clearing the park of trees to make way for the metro station, there are now plans to build a shopping mall in its place.

This park is located in the electoral area of Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan. In October of last year, environmentally conscious individuals held a human chain to demand the preservation of the park. The heroic freedom fighter came to the event to show his solidarity. He stated, "In the late 1960s, when the Six-Point Movement began, Anwara Begum, a woman feeding her child, was killed by Pakistani forces in 1967 during one phase of the ongoing movement."

Later, to preserve her memory, this park was renamed 'Shahid Anwara Field'. Subsequently, a scenic park was also established here. However, now, those grounds, fields, and parks are merely memories. Without a signboard bearing the name "Shahid Anwara Park," there is nothing left here anymore.

Looking down through the south end gate of the metro station, it would be seen that a large part of the park is now a metro rail entrance. The rest of the area is surrounded by walls. There is various metro rail equipment in it. Within this park, there were numerous trees. Many large Kamini flower plants were present as well. Beneath the large trees, there were concrete benches. There was also a pathway for walking. Tired people used to sit on those benches. They would chat during leisure time.

Health-conscious individuals used to walk there, but now there are only a few medium-sized Ashatha and kadamba trees left; in other words, the entire park has been destroyed. The park's space is now barren land, with some construction materials left scattered around. It's heard that a shopping mall will be built here. However, when the construction of the metro station began, it was said that once the station's work was completed, the park's space would be returned, and the park would be rebuilt as before.

In reality, it's not possible to return this park to its former state in any way because the large trees that were there have been cut down. Even if the authorities allocate the space back to the park, it will take 10 to 20 years for newly planted trees to become suitable for providing shade.

Perhaps by planting some flowering plants and grass, the park can be made green again. If desired, a small lake can be created, with pathways built around it for walking. Benches can be installed for sitting. However, even with these efforts, it won't be possible to fully restore the park to its previous state. But whether these actions will be taken or not remains a huge question, as a large portion of the park now falls under the ownership of the metro rail.

When will they vacate or will they ever vacate the remaining area that's the question indeed. Because it's heard that a shopping mall will be built on this vacant land now. What a strange development plan, what a vision for development! Is it justified to seize and destroy a place imbued with memories of Bangladesh's struggle for independence just to build a shopping mall there? How many shopping malls does a city need? Will people only shop and eat in restaurants? Do not they need oxygen? Would not they need the shade of trees? Do not they need pathways for walking, benches for sitting like before? Will all people just enter shopping malls and breathe air conditioning? And is a park or garden only for humans? Do humans have the sole right to live on Earth? Won't there be any other animals? Who gave humans the right to destroy the habitats of those birds and butterflies that used to live in those big trees and fly around the flowering plants?

Last year, when such a gathering took place here, Mayor Atiqul Islam of Dhaka North City Corporation also visited and expressed his solidarity. He stated, "There are plenty of shopping malls and markets in Farmgate. There is no need for new ones. The park that was here will be restored and opened up for students. He said, "Those who want to turn the field into a market, I am telling them, I will resist with the people. There will be no kind of market here, it won't happen, and it won't be allowed. This place will be a field for the residents of the Farmgate area."

When the respected Home Minister recounted the history of this park, and when even the City Mayor declared that there would be no shopping mall here - at those moments, we felt hopeful. However, it became difficult as in recent years, along with development, rivers, canals, water bodies, trees, and nature have been confronted so directly that now it seems they are adversaries to development! In a project, cutting down trees is synonymous with progress. Over the past half-century, we have become a nation where factories are more important than rivers, roads and bridges are more important than canals, and housing projects are more important than ponds and natural water bodies. Shopping malls are more important than parks, railway lines are more important than protected forests, shrimp enclosures are more important than mangrove forests, and ultimately, money holds more importance than life—be it flora, fauna, history, culture, or even human lives.

Standing in such a national framework, at such a strange time, when so many people stand by the roadside with banners and placards to demand the preservation of a small park, it's not unnatural for the question to arise: Are these protesters fools, or are the policymakers, our representatives, our state machinery, our businessmen, are blind? Because the engineer who designed this metro station is a highly skilled individual. He graduated from renowned universities in the country. Similarly, the ministers and secretaries who have signed off on this project are not lacking in education either. However, the person selling tea by the side of this park also knows how much of a blessing this park was to them. They understand the significance of a park in a neighborhood, in a community. Ten big trees mean a great blessing for an area. A pond can be so essential.

Even an ordinary person knows that with ten crore taka, one can build a factory, but even with hundred crore Taka, one cannot create a river. However, in recent years, we have seen that many of our national development projects have been anti-river, anti-tree, anti-waterbody. The development projects that destroy a river from a community, transform a canal into a drain, require cutting down thousands of trees, demolish parks to create barren land, are clearly anti-country and anti-people. Distorted development is not development at all. Instead, sustainable development, which respects the environment and wildlife, is the true essence of modern development thinking—we are moving far away from that ideal.

Rabindranath Tagore had felt our self-destructive development mindset many years ago.
He wrote:
"Give me back the wilderness, take away this city.

Take as much iron, brickbat, wood, and stone as needed.

O modernity! O ruthless conqueror!"

Give me that woodland, the abundance of virtuous shadows."

The people of the country desire development. They also want to quickly hop on the metro rail and travel from one place to another. However, that doesn't mean that in exchange for this metro station, their park will be snatched away. They would have to uproot oxygen and shade-providing trees there to build shopping malls. People want roads, they want bridges; but going to build those roads and bridges, it's the rivers of Bangladesh that will be sacrificed - such suicidal development is not desired by the people of the country. It has become difficult, as in every development plan, the need to consider the environment and biodiversity is not being addressed. As it is not happening, even though the party that led the liberation war is in power, ordinary people have to take to the streets to demand the protection of a small park full of memories of the 1969 mass uprising. It's more disgraceful than painful.

Author: Editor, Current Affairs, Nexus Television

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