I will forget everything if the playground is saved

Syeda Ratna

Syeda Ratna and her young son were in lock up at a police station for 16 hours for their movement to protect a playground in Tetultala in the capital’s Kalabagan area. Prothom Alo’s Iftekhar Mahmood interviewed Syeda Ratna for the details and background of the movement and her experience in lock-up.

Q :

How and why have you got involved with the movement to protect the playground?

My family started living in this part of Kalabagan back in 1971. I spent my childhood and adolescence here. The Tetultala ground was larger before. My children also grew up playing here. Around 300,000 people live in our ward. Tetultala ground is the only open place and playground in the locality.

Suddenly in the beginning of 2020, I saw posters pasted in the walls of two sides of the ground that said a police station would be constructed there. Why does the police station building have to be constructed in the only ground in the area when there are so many buildings here? No people in the area including myself could accept this. Immediately we protested. My husband passed away in 2013. His namaz-e-janaza was held in that ground. Namaz-e-janaza of most of the people who have died in the locality has been held in that ground.

Q :

That means, the ground is not a playground only, it is used in social purposes as well …

Eid prayers are also held here. Every year the Independence Day, Victory Day and Language Day programmes also take place on that ground. The local youth exercise and play football there. There are two slums nearby. Children from there play with the children of well-off families together here. Men and women converse there in afternoon. That’s why I cannot accept that the space would be spoiled in the name of constructing a building. So several of us started the movement two years ago to protect the ground. I’m a very insignificant person and I have little power. Still we tried to move ahead with the movement. We tried to mobilise people by giving out message over mikes in the area. Local children also joined the movement to save their only playground. Almost every Friday, people from the mosque have been coming and joining rallies and demonstrations. That’s why I would say this is an ardent demand of 300,000 people in this locality.

Q :

You were vocal in social media as well?

We use a Facebook Page as a platform of this movement to protect the ground. There is updated information and videos of this movement there. We have also uploaded reports and opinions different news media about our movement. We have done what we could have to protect the ground.

Q :

Why did the police detain you and keep in lock-up? They detained your son as well …

The construction of the boundary wall for the construction of the building began in the beginning of this month. Piling works also has started. After this, all the women of the locality joined the movement in unison to protect the ground where their children play. We protested by filling up the holes for the pilings. Still when police began the construction work forcefully, I appeared on social media live to register the protest. Being an insignificant person, I had no other alternative.

As a last resort I appealed to the people to protect the ground. Immediately after that police picked me up from my home at around 9:30am. They kept me in a lock-up first. I was a bit tense as my son was alone at home. I was walking to and fro inside the lock-up. I requested a constable to switch on the fan in the lock-up. They then took me to a room and said, “There is a fan here. You sit here.”

Just a few minutes after I saw police detained my young son. They did not give us any chance to speak. They kept my son in lock-up and me in a different room. I was tense for my son the most. I also thought, can’t I protect the ground?

Q :

Have you given up the hope of protecting the ground?

Hopes have arisen when after getting release from the police station I came to know that hundreds of thousands of people have extended their support to the movement, media, civil society, environmental organisations and noted persons extended their support to the movement to protect the ground. The home minister also has talked about finding an alternative place. A police station can be set up by constructing a building anywhere.

Q :

What did the police say while releasing you?

As far I can recall, they wrote on a paper, “I will no longer publicise videos on construction of the police station building using social media and hinder government works.” I got release by signing that.

Q :

What would you do now? What do you want?

The movement I have been waging for the last two years cannot be a failure. I think the government would budge from its decision and leave the playground for the local people. I will forget everything if the ground is saved.

* The interview, originally in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten into English by Shameem Reza