Under the scorching heat of September sun around 30 workers were busy, knocking down a yellow-coloured building. The deserted building (named Manihar) used to house inmates of Dhaka Central Jail. The building was part of the jail premises.
"As it is an old building, it takes more time to dismantle," said Hafizur Rahman, one of the workers.
One could hear the sound of big hammers banging in the distance. Workers were busy bringing down several other buildings at the same time.
The entire (jail) premises has been left abandoned since Dhaka central Jail was shifted to Keraniganj in July 2016. The move left a 21.9 acre of area, fortified with a high wall, barren. Before that, it used to be one of the oldest prison houses on the land.
Now, the authority is turning the place into a multi-purpose complex with several museums to showcase its glorious past. The project, namely, Dhaka Central Jail history, Historical Buildings and Development of the Surroundings, began on July 2018 and is scheduled to be completed by December 2020 with an estimated cost of Tk607 crore.
The complex will include Bangabandhu Museum, Four National Leaders' Museum and many other historical buildings. Built-in the colonial past, the prison is 228 years old.
A total of 36 old buildings, out of 131, will be kept. The rest of the old buildings will be demolished, of which 80 buildings have already been knocked down.
A glorious past
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman passed one-fourth of his life in prison. During his whirlwind political career, he was arrested at least 17 times; ending in this prison-house most of the time. During those days of captivity, he used to spend his days in the Dewani Cell of the Dhaka Central Jail, which was later turned into Bangabandhu Museum. The museum is now closed for development works.
According to the project plan, Bangabandhu Museum will have a huge mural depicting the father of the nation's prison life. The area of the Bangabandhu Museum will be expanded four times as compared to its present size. The six pillars, symbolizing the historical six-point demands he put forward, erected in front of the Dewani cell will also be removed; and will be erected nearer the cell in which the goods he used during his days in jail, including a reading table and a chair, a bird case and so on is kept.
The project, namely, Dhaka Central Jail history, Historical Buildings and Development of the Surroundings, began on July 2018 and is scheduled to be completed by December 2020 with an estimated cost of Tk607 crore.
The statue of Bangabandhu will also be removed, and installed nearer to the museum. The bathroom, as well as the kitchen used by him, will also be included in the museum.
Four national leaders: Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmad, M Mansur Ali, and AHM Quamruzzaman were brutally killed inside the Dhaka's Central Jail on November 3, 1975.
The three cells they spent their days in were later turned into a museum, which will be preserved with a little change: the busts of the four leaders will be removed from their present location in front of the jail buildings, to be installed nearer the museum.
Four oldest buildings (Padma, Meghna, Jamuna, and a hospital building) will be preserved. One of these buildings will showcase the history of Dhaka. Three workshops that the inmates had to work in will be turned into galleries, where the products made by the prisoners will be on display along with the machines used in these workshops, which will include, among others, the weaving machines used by the prisoners. Foreign prisoners ward, as well as, the gallows will be preserved.
Parks and complexes
A park, Kara Uddyan, will be built covering 27,298 square metres of area, which will have a lake with walkways around the lake, cycle tracks, and a library. Two mosques will be built in the premises, and there will also be a school. Two large ponds inside the prison will be preserved.
A 'multipurpose complex' will be constructed on a 3360 square metre land inside the boundary wall; the six-story building will consist of a swimming pool, a multiplex, and a community hall. The complex will have a parking facility for 400 cars.
A market in a two-story building, namely, Chawak Complex, will be built on a 2860 square metre of land inside the jail premises, which will showcase the essence of the nearby Chawakbazar. Besides, there will be book shops and a food court in the market.
"Whenever I go to the area where Bangabandhu stayed as an inmate, I feel like I am in the Race Course Maidan, listening to his historic 7-March speech," said Brigadier General AKM Mustafa Kamal, inspector general at the Department of Prisons.
Jamilur Reza Choudhury, a renowned engineer and researcher, appreciated the Dhaka Central Jail project plan.
"There is no open space in the densely populated old Chwak Bazaar and Nazimuddin road area. Millions of people live there. So there is a crying need for recreational space. I believe this is an ideal place for landscaping," he said.
The entire environment of the old Dhaka will change with the implementation of this initiative. The government will have to keep on landscaping from Central Jail to the bank of Buriganga.
Forty-four-year-old Anis Uddin Ahmed, who have been born and raised at the vicinity of the prison-house, said that they are lucky that the government has taken the initiative.
"We have been living here for three generations. There is no open place in the area where one can breathe freely. When the place is turned into a park, we will be the happiest," said Anis Uddin Ahmed.