Suhrawardy Uddyan transforming glory into gloom

Kazi Mukitul Islam

Prophet Mohammad (SM) said, “Whoever reclaims and cultivates dry, barren land will be rewarded by God for the act. So long as men and animals benefit from it He will record it for him as almsgiving.” – (Majmau al-Zawaaid, iv, 67-8.)
Why we put up a garden in town and take care of it? There can be plethora of answers of it. But plainly speaking, we do it for the banquet of eyes and mind, to have our lungs some fresh air, our body a free space. Above all, a site for recreation of densely inhabited people of city. A park or garden is like a jewel for a city or town. It is our religious duty as well. Allah has not created anything of this universe in vain, without wisdom, value and purpose. The entire things created in this universe serve the one lord who sustains them all by means of another. Being his Khalipha (steward), we have responsibility of adornment and beautification of his creation. In our capital Dhaka, we have very few of them. Suhrawardy Uddyan is one of them. It reminds us of our independence and heritage of beauty of Bengal. Along with many events of history, this ground nurture most of the glorious part of 1971. But, unfortunately archetype of this Uddyan lost it’s plead and turns into breeding space of illicit activities due to carelessness of the authority.

Sketch of Suhrawardy Uddyan:
Suhrawardy Uddyan , formerly known as Ramna Race Course ground is a national memorial located in Dhaka, Bangladesh. It is named after Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy. Originally it served as the military club of the British soldiers stationed in Dhaka. It was then called the Ramna Race Course and later Ramna Gymkhana. It is the resting place of three great national leaders, Sher-e-Bangla A.K. Fazlul Huq (1873-1962), Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy (1892-1963) and Khwaja Nazimuddin (1894-1964). Ramna Race Course was renamed after Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy.
Geographically it is located at the hub of Dhaka city. It is surrounded with ample of significant places. At the south of this Uddyan there is old High Court building, Tin Netar Mausoleum, at the west, Bangla Academy, Atomic Energy Commission, TSC, Fine arts institute, Central mosque of DU, Public library and National Museum; at the north side there is BIRDEM hospital, Dhaka Club and Dhaka Tennis complex and at the east there is Supreme Courte, Engineers Institute and Romna Park.
Along with Shikha Chirantan, there is Swadhinata Stambha, the independence monument, in memory of the people who sacrificed their lives for the country between 1948 and 1971. The project began in February 1997 as ‘Bijoy Stambha’ involving Tk 76 crore and it included an open stage with a capacity of 2,000 people, mural work depicting historical events from 1947 to 1971, liberation war museum, 157-seat underground audio visual auditorium, and an artificial water body with fountain and plaza.

Past memories of Suhrawardy Uddyan:
History of “Ramna” dates back to year 1610 AD, when Mughal Subehdar Islam Khan Chistia founded Dhaka as the Capital of Subeh Bengal and developed Ramna for the place for ‘nobles and Amirs’. They created many gardens there as thus the place was referred as Bagh-e-Badshahi also Muhallah Sujatpur.
At that time two beautiful residential areas were developed in the northern part of the city. One of them, the Mullah Chistia and other is Mullah Shujatpur. The greater Ramna covers Azimpur, New Market and Dhanmondi to the west, Secretariat building, Curzon Hall and Chankhar Pool to the south, Puran paltan, Segun Bagicha and Rajarbagh to the east, the Central Road , Paribagh and Eskatan  to the north. Then at the time of British and Pakistani period, one of four Thanas of Dhaka was named as Ramna.
British Period : But later, the elegant lush green areas lost all its glory and turned into filthy jungles with abode for wild animals in later centuries. Although Dhaka was founded as capital much before Kolkata. Ramna started to regain its glory since 1985. During Company Rule in 1825, British Collector Mr. Dowes, a workaholic person, cleared a large area of the jungles from Ramna area to bring back its lost glory engaging the jail convicts. Magistrate Walters’s recorded 595 structures in Mullah Shujatpur of which 52 were masonry (stone work).
After intense drive and clearing of jungles for several months, Dowes demolished the ruins, tombs and monuments that stood there, except the Greek tomb structure (now inside TSC), Kali Mandir on the south and Mosque of Haji Khwaja Shahbaz Khan that stands by the western side of Old High Court building behind ‘Tin Netar Mausoleum’. Finally a big oval shaped area was recovered and its periphery was protected by wooden fence for horse racing and other games. It became a place for promenade for the Europeans living in the city. The mound is still present inside the National Children’s Park. Dowes also built a road for access from the town.
After Dowes’ departure, the area was once again neglected and herbs and shrubs grew everywhere in abundance. Horse racing stopped. Around 1840 and onwards, the Zamindars and newly rich of Dhaka began acquiring large tract of land on the north for making ‘Bangan bari’ (pleasure houses). The Maharaja of Bardwan built a mansion Bardwan House (CM’s house in 1948, now Bangla Academy) on the west fringe of Race course. Nawab Abdul Ghani acquired land in Shahbagh and Paribagh, took lease of race course from the British to patronize horse racing which became very popular. A club was built (Gymkhana club) on the north edge which was opened in 1911 by Lord Lanslott, the club was out of bounds to the non-whites. This is now ‘Dhaka Club’. A stable was built for the horses of the Nawabs of Dhaka at Katabon.
Pakistan Period: During the year 1947-48, the then Dacca was a sleepy town. There was no motor cars, no buses , no trucks or any motorized vehicles. There were only horse –drawn carriages, occasional rickshaws and a population of 2-3 lacks. Ramna in those days was considered rather a remote place from the main Decca town. New road was build from Shahbagh to Eden Building (Secretariate building). The zoo located at the north-eastern side of Supreme court was still present at that time. Then it was transformed to Mirpur.
Nazir Hossain in his book “Kingbodontir Dhaka” wrote that, Ramna at the British period was famous for horse race and it was a recreational site for both the ruler and the rule at once. After 1947 during Pakistan Period, under the huger protest of then famous Mufti Deen Muhammad, horse race was stooped after two years. Ramna Race Course Maidan has been the hot spot of many historical events of the country-starting from the first and last public meeting of Quaid-e-Azam in 1948, the historic 23rd March. In 1969 civil reception of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on his released from jail and accorded title of Bangabadhu. On 3rd January of 1971, Awami League arranged a huge congregation here and the elected member of 70s election, took oath for being trampled to their demand and not to let down the people in any cost.  Again on 7th March in the same year Bongobondhu gave a his historical speech of “Ebarer Songram Muktir Songram, Ebarer Songram Amader Sadhinotar Songram”. Informally he declared our independence that day. The original flag of Bangladesh was also hoisted here for the second time since it was first unfurled at the University of Dhaka. Incidentally it became the setting for the surrender of Pakistan Army under Lt. Gen. A. A. K. Niazi on December 16, 1971 after their defeat in the Bangladesh Liberation War to the allied forces of Mitro Bahini led by Jagjit Singh Aurora. The instrument of surrender was signed at this place and the date is celebrated by Bangladeshis as Victory Day. The place is currently maintained as historic park with an eternal flame setup in 1996 to symbolize freedom. Again after the independence, another important event in this Uddyan was the speech of Indira Gandhi (then prime minister of India) on 17th March in 1972. Ramna Race Course Maidan was renamed as Suhrawardy Uddya after the liberation of Bangladesh.

Suhrawardy Uddyan nowadays:
The historical Suhrawardy Uddyan stands with Shadhinota Sthombho, Shikha Chirantan as symbol of our miraculous independence as a free nation. Recently a number of cultural activities are evident in this ground. Moving forward from Shahbagh towards its entrance, there is Chobir Hat. As being opposite to Fine Arts faculty, exhibition of many paintings are visible in the weekends. Especially those young artist who cannot afford to rent big hall room, find this place appropriate. Along with many programs all the year round in different occasions, they have own unique programs like kite flying in Chobir Hat. This ground gets crowded on the day of Pohela Boishakh every year with different arrangement from different franchise. Again, for last one /two years, Lalon Chorcha Kendra is found based on this ground. This organization arranges Lalon music programs every year. Students of nearby Universities, school and collages come here and lend a hand towards the rootless children and other disadvantaged people. They also arrange different cleaning campaign here. Generally speaking, Suhrawardy Uddyan is kind of laboratory for people of different class, who experiment, or get experimented every day here.

Other side of the coin:
With the sun going down, addicted people, drug peddlers, floating prostitutes, their associates and clients, reckless motorbike ramblers and others become hyperactive in Suhrawardy Uddyan, the capital’s one of the prime greeneries today. The city people, having too few recreation spots to go to, avoid going to the park nowadays. Law enforcers, including the Ansars on duty, seem to turn a blind eye to the activities in the park covering an area about 70 acres of land near Dhaka University on one side and the High Court and the Shishu Park on the other.
‘Illegal make-shift shops, which sell chatpatis, teas, paan and cigarettes, keep mushrooming at the park which also become a safe harbor for the city’s homeless migrants.  All types of wastes from these shops litter the open space of the park, spreading unbearable stink.  As soon as the sun sets, it turns into safe haven for these devils. You would find drugs anywhere in the Uddyan. Chhabir Hat, Kali Mandir and the areas beside the Eternal Flame (Shikha Chirantan). According to a report of New Age in 2011, ‘a drug dealer, popularly known as Yaba queen, of Nazimudin Road in Dhaka controls the drug trade.’ Adding that, phensidyl, ganja and Yaba are available on asking.. A number of shop owners and visitors alleged that law enforcers collect toll both from the sex workers and their clients and drug peddlers. They act like devil’s advocate.
From the daybreak to midnight, motorbike riders, often in groups, keep the walkway occupied, irking the park visitors.  The park’s official keeper Public Works Department’s Dhaka Circle-1, superintending engineer Abdul Kader Chowdhury admitted that Suhrwardy Udyan was in bad shape because of the unsocial activities. He said only 19 Ansars were not enough for ensuring security of the entire park. ‘We have requested the authorities on several occasions to increase the number,’ he said.‘All the entrances to the park remain open and the motorbikes enter through them.
Though according to authority there must be more than twenty lights in the different places of this ground, but only seven lights found on ground. Three of these lights are surrounded by Shikha Chirantan.  For very reason, most of the places around the temple, Charukola and TSC remain dark at night. For people in charge, there is no way to fathom or cheek evil deeds. There is allegation of lights getting stolen.  This is due to insufficient number of law enforcing agencies in the ground. According to the authority of Suhrawardy Uddyan, every day there is assignment of five police in each of the three shifts duty. But only two police present on each shift. This induces frequency of immoral activities.
Over again, corruption within the authority is quite prominent through different projects for this ground. A capital share of this illegal money goes into the pocket of this police and other agencies responsible for safety and security of this Uddyan. Because of this, responsible authority cannot make police accountable for duty. There is reciprocal relationship among the drug dealers, police and higher authority.

On migrating to Medina, God’s Messenger (PBUH) organized the planting of trees and of date groves. He made the forests and green spaces conservation areas. A strip of land approximately twelve miles wide around Medina was proclaimed a sanctuary and made a conservation area. All these show the paramount importance —as a religion— Islam gives to nature conservancy and protection of all nature’s living creatures.
One of the most important topics that come to mind when one says “environmental health” is the cleanliness of the common environment. These are places such as roads, places of worship, schools, parks, children’s playgrounds, stadiums, excursion spots and picnic places, public lavatories, public beaches, and other such places. God’s Messenger (PBUH) forbade the dirtying of the roads and paths people used, and the places they sat and rested, like shady places and under trees and walls. He said that to remove a branch or a thorn that would cause hurt to people as they passed is a part of belief (Iman).
Suhrawardy Uddyan, once an extravaganza of green, stood a great landmark of Dhaka. Once famous for horse race, this park has lost appeal. Like a heaven turned into hell and we remain silent spectator of such anomaly. Existing condition of this ground makes the glorious past of Suhrawardy as myth to our boys and girls in this new generation. As history repeats itself, this Uddyan needs a savior to get its credit back. It can be a single person like Mr. Dowes during British period, or it can be all of us play role in restating the glorious past of Suhrawardy Uddyan.

“And cause not corruption upon the earth after its reformation. And invoke Him in fear and aspiration. Indeed, the mercy of Allah is near to the doers of good”.
– [Quran, chapter 7, verse 56]

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