A local Swechchashebak League leader has allegedly captured a heritage building in Shankhari Bazar in Old Dhaka, which also houses a temple.
Locals say Debashish Biswas, the president of Dhaka Metropolitan Swechchashebak League (South), threatened the residents out of the building and took possession illegally.
The second floor of the building houses a temple to the Hindu god Kala Chand Deb. In other parts at least 10 families were living before the forced eviction, among them the temple’s priest Bijay Bhattacharya.
Shankhari Bazar has 142 heritage buildings protected by a 2009 law. This building, number 14, is one of them.
Bijay Bhattacharya said the temple was an endowed property. “We have served this temple for generations. My father was a priest here, and then my elder brother.”
“Debashish has been looking for me for several days. Last Monday he got hold of my brother and issued threats and gave him some money and told him we would have to leave the building,” he said.
“He is an influential man. We can’t go against him and stay here,” Bhattacharya said.
The government undertook a Tk 200 million project to renovate Shankhari Bazar into an archaeological site in 2009, including renovation of risky buildings and modern sewerage system, but no such developments are visible.
Locals of Shankhari Bazar had much to say about the exploits of Debashish Biswas but no-one was willing to publish their names, fearing retribution.
An elderly local man said, “As far as I know, the building is a heritage. Five years ago they started to demolish some parts, but then the government declared the whole area a heritage site and they stopped.”
“Recently a ruling party man has been cconspiring to demolish it. The building’s residents have been scared into leaving,” he said.
The man said one Janaki Devi, who was the owner of the building, gave it to the temple in the early 1930s. “During partition in 1947, she and her whole family left for India,” he said.
Shankhari Bazar Panchayet Committee President Ajay Kumar Nandi said, “As far as I know, the developers want to build a multi-storey building there with the permission of RAJUK.”
An official of RAJUK, the city development authority, said no such permission had been issued.
“RAJUK has not issued any permission of the sort. The whole area is a heritage site. Under the law no building can be demolished in Shankhari Bazar. But they’re allowed to repair the buildings with our permission,” RAJUK official Shafiul Hannan said.
Demolishing a building was punishable under the law, he said.
“We heard that someone was trying to tear down the building. We sent a team, but they didn’t find anything. We’re trying our best to prevent any damage to the buildings,” he added.
Debashish Biswas denied all allegations.
“It’s not an endowed property. It belongs to Biswajit Dutta Bhulu, who I heard is giving it to a developer,” he said.
“The allegations against me are false. Why would I do something like that?” he said.
He expressed frustration over the government’s decision to declare Shankhari Bazar as a heritage site.
“We live in extreme poverty in this area. Our local MP has promised to speak to the culture minister about this,” Debashish said.
A private organisation called the Urban Study Group (USG) has sent a legal notice to RAJUK, archaeology department, cultural affairs ministry, Dhaka district administration and the police to protect the building.
USG chief Taimur Ahmed said his organisation had been asking the government to preserve the area.
“We told the government that the area should be renovated maintaining people’s livelihoods there at the same time. But bureaucratic tangle has created a lot of complications,” he said.
The 400-year-old locality of Shankhari Bazar gets its names from the Shankharis, a hereditary profession of crafting Shaka, the traditional bangles won by Hindu women after marriage.
Locals of the area have specialised in making ritual items for Hindus. Around 20,000 Hindus live in the area now.
Source: Bd news24