July 18, 2024, 1:00 pm

Abu Taher Bappa

2019-12-10 00:50:04 BdST

Land grabbers feast on Begum Rokeya’s 350-bigha ancestral land


Land grabbers have taken it all. The only things that remain are an abandoned house and the main gate.

Nearly a century has passed since the death of Begum Rokeya, a legendary Bengali writer and social reformer. In this time, influential people have illegally taken over 350 bighas of her ancestral land, including several ponds, at Pairaband village in Rangpur.

They have constructed buildings, including residential houses and schools, on the land. A case has been filed to get it back, but it has been pending at the High Court for more than seven years.

Rafiqul Islam Dulal, the general secretary of the Rokeya Memorial Centre, filed a writ petition at the High Court on February 22, 2012, to recover the land and close the training facilities of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) on the land of the Rokeya Memorial Centre.

The court ordered the authorities to shut down BKMEA's training centre to maintain the security and the dignity of the Rokeya Memorial Centre.

On May 1, 2012, the local administration evicted the BKMEA from the site. But the 350 bighas of land has not to be recovered. 

Dulal, who is also the general secretary of Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh, said powerful people of the area, including Jahangir Hossain Chowdhury, Alamgir Chowdhury, Matiar Rahman, Chengtu Sarder, Achher Ali and others, have been illegally occupying the land for a long time.

The illegal occupiers said their forefathers occupied the land, and they have been cultivating it for many years, and that there is a case pending at court on this issue.

"But the land does not belong to the government," they claim.

"We hope the court will rule in our favour because we have been cultivating the land for a long time," they said.

Rangpur Deputy Commissioner Asib Ahsan said the High Court will decide on the ownership of Begum Rokeya's ancestral land.

"We hope the verdict will go in favour of the Rokeya Memorial Centre. We will recover the land as soon as we get the court order," he said.

Meanwhile, many government projects undertaken to preserve the memory of Begum Rokeya have been confined to setting up infrastructures only on the premises of the memorial.

This great native of Rangpur fought all her life to establish women's rights in society. She transformed the lives of thousands in the region and beyond. The government observes her birth and death anniversary on December 9 to remember her immense contribution to societal reforms. 

But as soon as this particular day passes, everything is forgotten. As a result, all projects lie incomplete.

The good news is that the Bangla Academy has been running training programmes on dance and music for the last three years on the memorial's premises. Police vigilance has also been beefed up around the clock for security at the memorial.

In 2008, the centre was handed over to the women and children affairs ministry on the orders of Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, the then chief adviser of the caretaker government.

On March 17 that year, the caretaker government informally allowed the BKMEA to run its training centre on the memorial's premises. The then army chief Moyeen U Ahmed inaugurated the training centre, threatening the main goal of the project.

Begum Rokeya was born at Pairaband under Mithapukur upazila in Rangpur on December 9, 1880. She died at Sodepur in Kolkata on December 9, 1932. Today is her 139th birthday and 89th death anniversary.

Due to a long demand of the Rangpur people, the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on June 28, 1997 took up a project to set up a memorial and acquired 3.45 acres of land for it there.

The government undertook various projects for research on Begum Rokeya's life and work, translating her books, mass circulation of her publications, setting up a cultural centre and training local youths.

The projects also aimed to build a quality auditorium, a seminar room, a rest house, a library, a prayer room and staff quarters at the site. A project was also taken up for erecting an aesthetic brass statue of Begum Rokeya on the premises.

Built at a cost of about Tk4 crore, the Rokeya Memorial Centre was formally inaugurated on July 1, 2001 by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

She vowed to transform Pairaband into a cultural centre. Later, the Ministry of Cultural Affairs handed over the centre to the Bangla Academy on October 4, 2004.

From then on, the Bangla Academy has been organising various programmes, including a three-day fair, discussions and seminars, on December 9, 10 and 11 on the occasion of Rokeya's birth and death anniversary.

But the premises have neglected for the rest of the year. And even 15 years after inauguration, the memorial centre is yet to get a complete shape.

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