Four to five policemen stationed outside. Barbed wire fences. No unauthorised personnel allowed to enter.
One could be forgiven for thinking they had trespassed into a high-security area of utmost national importance. But this pretender to Area 51 – one of the most highly-protected and secret facilities in the world – had only a few months ago been a makeshift playground, the Tentultola playground, in Kalabagan.
This playground is also the scene of two instances of what rights activists have termed heinous violations by law enforcers.
The security in place has been to keep away what appears to be the number one enemy for the moment: children who love playing in the park.
There are, however, no markers to prove this was once a playing field: no swings, no slides, not even a makeshift pitch. A lone, conscientiously cutout photo of the mayor on a boundary wall is actually the carefully left remains of a larger banner announcing a football tournament held in the field recently.
After the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) earmarked the location to build a new police station, locals protested the decision vehemently.
On Sunday, one of the coordinators of the protests and a member of the Bangladesh Udichi Shilpi Goshthi, Syeda Ratna, and her 17-year-old son Isha Abdullah, were then detained, illegally according experts. Her around 13-hour detention sparked outrage across social media.
She was picked up by law enforcers while attending a protest against building the police station.
According to police, no case was filed against her and she was released around midnight after signing a bond to not "obstruct government works".
Speaking to The Business Standard on Monday, Ratna, defiant as ever, said, "All the locals, including me, have been asking for the playing field for a long time. The home minister spoke on the issue today. He told police to look for alternatives. I see this as a success of our movement.
"Yesterday, I was detained along with my son. But I don't want to complain about it. I will forget everything as soon as I get the field."
She said she was not threatened to withdraw and nor would she stop over a bond. "I was very involved in the movement. Now, more people have joined. They will march forward and I will stay beside them," she said.
Only the hint of a promise
Amid a barrage of questions, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said the government will discuss whether to turn the open space at Kalabagan Tentultola into a police station or leave it as a playground.
He suggested that another place be chosen instead of the Tentultola playground, adding, the final decision would be made after discussion with the authorities concerned.
"We feel sorry for our next generation. The main reason for this is our rapid urbanisation. We have less space. When it comes to Kalabagan, whatever we say, law enforcement has a big responsibility. If we fail to maintain law and order, everything will fall apart," he said.
He added that the Kalabagan Police Station was housed in a rented place.
"The mayor asked us to shift the establishment to another place. It is normal that children would play at a playground. We understand the importance of playgrounds," he said.
The home minister also said the deputy commissioner had identified the place as khas land and allotted it to the police station.
Asked about the detention of mother and son, the minister said, "Many people called me in the evening. As far as I know, they were coming on live video. When the law enforcement agencies could not stop them after repeated requests, they were taken to the police station, where they were interrogated and released."
On Sunday, Ratna had taken to Facebook to livestream her protest when police began to construct the demarcating wall. Ratna and her son were then detained and taken to the police station.
Meanwhile, despite the home minister's statement, construction work has been going on at the field.
New Market Zone Assistant Commissioner of Police (AC) Sharif Mohammad Farooquzzaman told TBS that the construction work was ongoing under the direction of the DMP commissioner as no instructions were given to suspend the construction work.
Asked if the police were thinking of any other place, the DMP official said, "It is not our job."
Law enforcers breaking the law?
There is no chance of making someone sign a bond over obstruction of government work as if such an obstruction is done, then the complainant has to specify who did what and how, Ishrat Hasan, an advocate of the Supreme Court, told TBS.
He also mentioned that the detention brought up the issue of whether an FIR was filed or not, adding no one can be detained without a court order.
"Without a court order or a specific complaint, no one can be detained for even a minute. We are citizens of the country and we have all kinds of constitutional rights. If someone is guilty, they must be produced before a judge within 24 hours. Here, the detention was without charge. This is a crime under the penal code," he said.
Sections 1860 and 340 of the Penal Code state that no one can be detained illegally. If this is violated, the perpetrator can be imprisoned for one-year under section 342, he added.
If a victim wants, they can file a criminal case with the police officers.
Ishrat also said that detaining children from a playground was a gross violation of human rights, adding that no one shall be subjected to torture, cruel, inhuman degrading treatment or punishment, all of which were extreme violation of fundamental rights.
He also highlighted section 33, which asks to safeguard against any kind of arrest or detention without a valid reason.
In this case, Ishrat said the police could not detain anyone for obstructing government work as the law enforcers did not file a case or cite specific reasons.
On the issue of bonds, the advocate said the police cannot ask anyone to sign whatever they write and the bond itself was illegal.
"The bond proves that there was physical or mental abuse. This bond was forced on the victim. This is a bigger crime. Ratna was mentally tortured and if so, it falls under the Torture Act-2013," he said.
A brief history of harassment
"I come here every day to play, but the police won't let me come anymore. The police threatened me. I now play on the roof of my house. Or I play mobile games," said Tanvir, a fourth-grade student.
"The police scare me," he said.
Tanvir remains a victim of the ongoing dispute between the locals and DMP over the playing field.
Although there is a playground and children's park near Dhanmondi Lake near Kalabagan, a densely populated area, it is also not open for everyone.
The children in the area had thus been using the 20 kathas of land under Ward-16 of the Dhaka South City Corporation as a field.
The field also serves as the Eidgah, for various social and cultural festivals and as a space to conduct funeral activities.
The police put up a signboard announcing their station in 2020. On January 31 this year, they surrounded the field with barbed wires. Then policemen were stationed to guard the place.
In the first week of February, after around two years being cooped up in their homes due to the pandemic, some local children returned to their playground. The policemen on duty then punished the children, making the children hold their ears and do sit-ups.
Video of the incident went viral and four policemen were withdrawn.
The punishment also sparked the "Tentultola field is our lifeline" movement, which has now captured the nation by storm.
A DMP source told TBS that they had bought the land for Tk28 crore and there was no chance of returning it.
Locals, however, have pointed out that the price per katha in the area is around Tk5cr, so the whole field should cost around Tk100cr. Furthermore, locals said there had been three earlier attempts by individuals to take ownership of the land but the community uproar had driven them away.
A fire sparked
After Ratna and her son's arrests, different cultural and rights activists protested outside the police station all day.
Environmental groups, meanwhile, questioned the legitimacy of detaining Syeda Ratma and her son for 13 hours at a press conference at Dhaka Reporters' Unity's Sagar-Runi auditorium on Monday.
Twelve organisations, including Nari Paksha, Bangladesh Udichi Shilpa Gosthi, Human Rights Support Society and TIB, organised the conference.
Speaking at the conference, Architect Iqbal Habib, a city planner, presented a written statement saying that the detention without any legal complaint was a heinous violation of the constitution.
He also demanded a clear and acceptable explanation as to why the officer-in-charge of Kalabagan Police Station could not be contacted despite repeated attempts soon after the detentions.
Furthermore, the police personnel present at the police station and on the field could not give any satisfactory answer regarding the detention of Syeda Ratna and her minor son, or the legal validity of the construction of a police station in the field.
He said this was a reflection of the Kalabagan police's policy, adding the bond the detainees were made to sign was illegal.
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, said, "Those who want to speak out against injustice, want to speak out against the law. They are being harassed by the police in various ways."
Saying picking people up without following due legal process was wrong, she demanded an impartial investigation into yesterday's incident.
Meanwhile, a citizens' rally was held at Kalabagan on Monday afternoon demanding protection of the Tentultola ground. Children and teenagers, as well as human rights activists of various organisations, were present.