I often think of all the times our children took to the streets to demand something: justice for their friends who were killed in traffic accidents or raped and brutally murdered. They were only demanding road safety or an end to the culture of impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators. Each time, the authorities turned a blind eye to these demonstrations. Sometimes their voices were simply ignored, while at others they were violently silenced.
But imagine something as harmless as asking for the protection of a playground. How can this lead a parent and their minor child to prison – and without just cause or an arrest warrant? Where does this vulgar desire to display power come from?
This is exactly what happened with Syeda Ratna, coordinator of Tentultala Math Rakkhya Andolon, and her 17-year-old son, who were arrested on Sunday morning when they went live on Facebook to show Kalabagan police in building a wall on the playground, while a group of children accompanied by their parents also protested the act. When contacted, Sharif Mohammad Faruquzzaman, Deputy Commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (New Market Area), said the two men were arrested for “obstructing the police to carry out their duties”.
The Tentultala Playground has been under discussion for several months now, after the Dhaka Deputy Commissioner’s Office handed over the Playground to the DMP on January 31 this year to construct a new facility for the post of Kalabagan police. The only bigha land has been a playground, an Eidgah and a place of namaz-e-janaza for over 50 years now. The inhabitants, of course, refused to hand over the playground and for several months they have been demonstrating against the decision of the DMP to take possession of the land. It was a continuation of the ongoing protests that when Ratna saw the walls rising around the playground, she decided to inform her fellow protesters of the turn of events, using whatever tool was most viable. at your fingertips: social networks.
After 13 hours of negotiations and arguments, Ratna’s teenage son was finally released around 10.30pm on Sunday, while Ratna was freed after signing a bond saying she would not get involved in any protests over the matter. How can a law enforcement agency restrict a citizen’s right to protest and so demand their authorities?
Other questions remain, even after their release.
A video recording has gone viral after fellow Ratna protesters and reporters went to the police station following the arrest of the mother-son duo. When asked if the officer on duty knew how old the boy was, he replied, “We can’t always confirm their age just by looking at them.”
And yet, without any confirmation, without any offense, they detained him.
When people at the police station asked the officer on duty if they had issued an arrest warrant before arresting Ratna and her son, he replied, “We don’t always need a mandate.
According to Article 54 (1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, there are nine cases where a law enforcement officer can detain an individual without a warrant. A peaceful protest or documentation of an event could, by our definition, not fall under any of these clauses. But somehow, for our law enforcement, it was an act of “obstructing a police officer in the performance of his duty”. A crime so horrific that a protester can be arrested without a warrant.
The police, as we have learned all our lives, are the “friend” of the people. Officials, we call them. How exactly are they serving the public if they are making unlawful arrests to instill fear among citizens, to prevent a peaceful protest by children? How can we trust them to save us when they become criminals themselves?
And more importantly, where do they get this idea that instilling fear among law-abiding citizens with a vile display of power can get things done in their own way? When did they become so irresponsible?
Construction work is continuing on the playground, even after Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said he had asked the municipality and others concerned to find another location for the Kalabagan police station. .
In the Draft Detailed Area Plan (DAP) of Dhaka, Tentultala Playground is not designated as a play area. But in sub-area 17 (Dhanmondi, Zigatola, Kalabagan and Kathalbagan) it is proposed to retain sufficient open spaces for the area. According to the law on the conservation of playgrounds, green spaces, parks and bodies of water, no one can modify the characteristics of a playground. Environmental activists say the place has long been used as a playground and it would be illegal to alter its features.
In 2014, the High Court ordered the DC office to take action against any encroachment on open spaces or playgrounds in Dhaka. The office, too, remains silent when it comes to Tentultala’s play area.
How many times have authorities banned or proposed a ban on social media or gaming apps to keep our kids from wandering off? How many times have they advocated “healthier” modes of entertainment for teens?
And when they ask for just that – a mere playground – why are they taken away and thrown in prison?
Why, amidst many protests, are all the arrangements for a playground in place, and most importantly, after assurances from the Home Secretary, is construction still ongoing? What does this say about our law enforcement? That they won’t leave a chance to proudly show off their vehement power, even when it comes to a children’s playground?
With each passing day, our right to dissent and to have our voices heard is restricted. There is something so difficult – or dare I say “anti-establishment” – about a group of children and their parents demanding to protect their local playground that they must be detained.
Resisting this culture of irresponsibility is a timely need. And when I look at the photo of Ratna and her son upon their release – the pure love and indomitable spirit with which they walked through – I can sense an air of resistance. Yes, sir, you need a warrant. No, you cannot detain a minor, nor can you stop protests. Try us.
Nahaly Nafisa Khan is a sub-editor in the Daily Star’s Metro bureau.