Cops continued the construction of a police station on Tentultala playground in Dhaka's Kalabagan on Tuesday, ignoring protests by children and even the home minister's instructions for shifting to an alternative location.
A good number of police personnel in uniform and plain-clothes detectives guarded the construction of the boundary wall, while children, their parents, environmentalists and rights groups protested it.
Protesters said they will set their next course of action after a meeting on Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) claimed that police received the land from the authorities after maintaining all the required procedures.
Ensuring a playground for kids is not a concern of the DMP, it said in a press release on Tuesday.
The 0.20-acre Tentultala ground is in an alley opposite the Square Hospital. It is basically a vacant lot in the midst of residential buildings home for nearly 30,000 people. Children and teenagers of the area have been playing in the small field, while it has also been used for community gatherings such as Eid prayers, social events and funerals.
Terming the land "fallow", the Dhaka district administration on 24 August last year said the playground was proposed to be acquired by the government for the construction of Kalabagan police station. The announcement sparked outrage among the locals and they started the "Save Tetultala Playground" movement.
On Sunday this week, Syeda Ratna – one of the leading activists of the movement – and her 17-year-old son were whisked up to Kalabagan police station. They were released after 13 hours on condition of "not obstructing government work". Following the detention of the mother-son duo, rights activists joined the growing chorus for saving the playground.
In the wake of the protest, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal instructed the authorities to find an alternative location for the police station.
On Tuesday noon, Syeda Ratna came to Tentultala playground. She looked gloomy and unmotivated while talking to the media. She left the place after 12-15 minutes.
In a separate development, DMP Deputy Commissioner (Media and Public Relations) Md Faruk Hossain told the media that they "rightfully" owned the ground.
"When the land was allotted to the DMP, all formal procedures were followed," he said.
Instead of the playground, the police official proposed that the protestors use the Kalabagan field – near the Dhanmondi lake – for community gathering.
Iqbal Habib, joint secretary of the Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan (Bapa) and a noted architect, told The Business Standard that they want the government to prioritise children above everything.
"We expected the construction to be suspended. But as it did not, we will sit on Tuesday night and decide the next course of the movement," he added.
Environmental attorney and rights activist Syeda Rizwana Hasan told TBS that if the police do not leave the construction, they would wage a tougher movement.
Who is mightier?
Children who gathered outside the empty lot on Tuesday said everyone wants the playground, not a police station.
They said they are disappointed as the construction continues even after the home minister's "move elsewhere" instruction.
"We have watched on television that the home minister instructed police to find another place. But the ground reality is different. Are police more powerful than the minister," wondered Zarif Hossain, a high-school student.
Lakecircus Girls' School student Ayesha Siddique said, "We play here every afternoon. If a police station is constructed, we will have to play on the streets which could cause accidents. The police are saying that no one wants a playground here but it's the opposite. We want the playground to stay, everyone does."
Parul Begum, a resident of the area, said, "We still hope the playground will be saved from the construction eventually."