It was 1:30pm. Some 1,000 policemen started gathering near Karwan Bazar kitchen market in the capital yesterday. The mobilisation of so many cops drew a huge crowd, curious to know what was happening.
Some policemen told bystanders why they were there: within an hour, they would conduct an anti-narcotics raid at Karwan Bazar railway slum, just a few steps from where they took position.
Presently, they were waiting for their bosses to come and instruct them on how they should go about their job. Meantime, some policemen were gossiping, some sipping tea at nearby tea stalls and some were seen buying litchis.
Detectives, dog squads and even a water cannon were also on the scene.
“How can you conduct a drive against narcotics after such public announcement?” a constable was heard asking his colleague, mockingly.
Around 2:30pm, the additional deputy commissioner of Tejgaon division and the officers-in-charge of Tejgaon and Tejgaon Industrial police stations arrived at the scene.
About 15 minutes later, the deputy commissioner of Tejgaon division reached the spot and instructed the policemen to detain the people whom the cops would suspect as drug abusers.
This is how a “secret” anti-drug operation started at Karwan Bazar railway slum, raising questions about the objective of such drives.
The drive finally began at 3:00pm, with detectives and policemen going from hut to hut and taking away anyone they thought was a suspect.
Some were sleeping; some were sitting in front of the shanties while some were loitering on the railway track.
Most of them were day labourers (porter) and street vendors who worked all night and were sleeping at the time of the raid, slum dwellers claimed.
Some of them were small drug peddlers and drug users.
According to locals, drug trade in Karwan Bazar slum remains suspended for about six months. Only a handful of the peddlers are active now with the help of police sources.
On Saturday night, the police sources tipped those peddlers off about the raid and asked them to leave the area, a number of slum dwellers alleged.
During the raid, detectives and policemen were calling some suspects by names as if they knew each other.
Within half an hour, they picked up 47 people, including four women.
Nure Haowa, 40, was crying near a police van. She alleged three of her relatives were picked up.
Among them, Sharif and Raju are potato vendors who worked all night and were sleeping in the room when the cops came, she said.
When some policemen saw this correspondent taking photos and footage of the raid, they approached him and asked him to stop filming.
“Put the phone down, put the phone down. You cannot film the raid. You have to take permission,” said a cop named Rafique, threateningly.
Briefing reporters at the spot around 3:45pm, DB Joint Commissioner Abdul Baten claimed their “special team” was working to arrest the listed drug dealers.
“And here [drug spot] we are conducting the raid to arrest people who would be found with drugs and who are still out of the drug traders list,” he said.
Asked about the link of some cops with drug dealers, Baten said there were bad people in every profession. “We will take action if allegations are found against any policemen.”
Such preparations, announcements and arrangements before raids have raised questions of if law enforcers would really be able to catch any top drug dealers and their patrons.
One of such raids was conducted in Korail slum of Mohakhali on Saturday night. Around 1,000 policemen with a dog squad gathered on T&T ground just beside the slum around 7:30pm. They set up a tent, four bright lights, and two horn speakers which they used to warn slum dwellers that they would be conducting a raid there.
Meanwhile, in another drive at Ganaktuli area of Hazaribagh yesterday, over 100 people, including five women, were detained on suspicion of drug abuse.
After interrogation, 50 people were arrested in different cases, said Masudur Rahman, deputy commissioner (media) of DMP.
The drive at Sweeper Colony started at 11:00am and continued for three hours, Abdullahil Kafi, additional deputy commissioner (Ramna Division) of DMP said, adding that around 700 policemen took part in the drive.
Around 1,500 litres of locally made alcohol, 300 pieces of yaba, some cannabis and phensedyl were seized from the area, the police official said.
A factory that made local alcohol was also sealed off.
Several people there said many of the detainees were innocent school and college students.
Kabir Hossain, 26, was picked up from his room while he was taking rest. Kabir is a labourer who works in Malaysia and came home on vacation for Eid.
Like him, tenth grader Jewel Das, 17, was picked up from his house.
“I requested the policemen not to take him away. My son is neither a drug abuser nor a peddler. I told them [police] you didn't get anything. Why are you taking him? They whisked him away forcefully,” Jewel's mother Chaina Rani told The Daily Star.
Several hundred family members of the detainees gathered in front of the Institute of Leather Engineering and Technology and criticised the mass detention without verification.
The nationwide anti-drug drive was launched by Rab on May 4 on the prime minister's instructions. Police have been carrying out their own drive since May 18.
At least five raids were conducted in major drug spots in the capital and over 300 people were arrested in the last two days. They produced similar results -- big-time dealers escaping arrest and a handful of low profile dealers being detained.
Till Saturday, more than 7,000 alleged drug traders have been held and sued in around 5,500 cases across the country. Another 3,100 people were sentenced to various jail terms by mobile courts, according to police and Rab data.