Of a strange eviction
The Victory Day morning of last year started like any other for the 85-year-old widow of a former Ispahani company director. She woke up, did her usual chores and had breakfast.
But soon the day turned like no other for Habiba Huq.
Around 10:00am, to her utter shock, unidentified men broke into her house in Ispahani Colony at the capital's Moghbazar.
“When I was sitting in the dining room, I saw a man trespassing and brandishing a stick. He had come through the backdoor,” said Habiba, widow of Syed Mujibul Huq, while talking to The Daily Star at her daughter's Dhaka University campus residence on December 28.
The man caught her by the hand and started dragging her and said 'I have something to discuss with you', she said.
She asked him to be gentle, who he was and why he entered the house through the backdoor? The intruder did not answer.
“Within a few minutes, four or five women entered the house the same way and they together crammed me and my personal aides into one of the four bedrooms,” said a distraught Habiba.
“I felt suffocated and thirsty and I don't know how I survived the shock.”
Meanwhile, some more men, including a bearded one, entered the house and they beat up driver Sohel and gardener Delwar, who were confined to the bedroom with her, she said.
“While still in confinement, I heard noises of demolition all around my house,” said Habiba.
After some time, the intruders took her and her aides out and shoved her into her car.
While getting out of the house, she saw a number of the men taking her almirahs and cabinets, containing family's valuables, like gold ornaments, cash and appliances, worth over Tk 1.5 crore and various original documents out of the house, she said.
“A construction equipment and over two dozen people were seen frantically demolishing the house,” said Habiba, adding, “The entire house crumbled … and it was all finished just over half an hour.”
ABC Real Estates Ltd and MM Ispahani Ltd have in partnership undertaken a property development scheme to build nine 14-storey residential towers on five acres in the colony. The construction work began mid last year barring the house (house-12), the place where two towers are to be built.
This correspondent visited the colony and talked to the family members, MM Ispahani and ABC Real Estates officials time and again to find out what actually happened.
During a visit to the colony on January 10, it was seen that the house was just rubbles with music records and a book still strewn in the debris.
Maruf Hossain Sorder, deputy commissioner of Ramna division of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, said a police team visited the site on the day of the incident.
On January 18, he said, “The investigation is still going on and we cannot say anything on the findings until the report is placed before a court.”
When pointed out that police have not yet contacted the complainants, he said, “It is up to the investigating officer, he would do it as per his convenience.”
Gardener of the family, Delwar Hossain, whom The Daily Star talked to on January 9, said it was a man with a cap and sunglasses, who oversaw the entire incident on December 16.
“An excavator and a number of labourers, both deployed at the colony's construction site, were used for demolishing the house and six pick-up trucks were used for taking the family belongings away,” said Delwar.
He said he had identified a gardener and a driver of Ispahani company taking away two TV sets, said Delwar.
Another witness, Huq family driver Sohel, was ambiguous and tight-lipped.
Habiba in a case filed with Ramna police on December 17 said the attackers forced her to sign a number of blank stamped papers at gunpoint and took away important documents.
She was allowed to go to her daughter's home on Dhaka University campus with the car but the pick-up trucks full of household goods disappeared.
The case statement mentioned that the attackers took away the goods in four to five trucks and then broke the house down and damaging goods worth around Tk 30 lakh.
Syed Mujibul Huq's family, including four daughters and a son, have lived in the house for over four decades since 1974 as he was a shareholder director of MM Ispahani Ltd.
Talking to The Daily Star, Yasmin Huq, one of Mujibul Huq's daughters, who lives in Paris and is now in Dhaka, said the Victory-Day incident occurred while an eviction case filed by Free School Properties Ltd, a sister concern of MM Ispahani Ltd, was pending with a Dhaka court since 2013.
“The way they evicted our family, threw my mother out of the house and plundered all our generations-old family belongings was barbaric.”
The house contained belongings of three generations, including 300-year-old gold and silver heirlooms, rare books, paintings, musical instruments, collection of rare music records and wedding trousseaus, she said.
“All my academic certificates, teaching materials and priceless mementos are all gone,” said another heartbroken daughter Nazmeen Huq, an associate professor of English at Dhaka University.
Nazmeen had been living with her mother in the house.
Even though the construction site is guarded by security personnel of both the companies, top officials of both the companies expressed their ignorance of the incident.
Habiba in the case accused Salman Ispahani, chairman of MM Ispahani Ltd, and two directors, Imad Ispahani and Sajid Ispahani, and unnamed chairman, managing director and a director of ABC Real Estates for the attack.
In a text conversation, Salman Ispahani, said, “All I can say is that neither we nor ABC are in the business of looting property and throwing people out using musclemen.”
Asked, whether he was aware of the incident of eviction within the residential colony of his company, he said he was only aware of an eviction case pending with a court.
“We do not know who trespassed and demolished the house, as we have no staffers at the site,” said Omar Hannan, a general manager of MM Ispahani Ltd, adding, “It is the business of ABC to look after the construction site with none from Ispahani.”
Subhash Chandra Ghosh, director of ABC Real Estates Ltd, said they have no reason to plot the eviction of the family as they would not get any benefits from it. Because they have a couple of years' time to finish constructing seven other towers.
As to how the people got access to the house through a well-manned gate, he said day labourers of three sub-contractors randomly enter and exit the premises day and night and security personnel did not suspect those who demolished the house.
When asked what the security guards did during the vandalism, looting and demolition of the house, Ghosh said, “The house was far from the gate and they could not hear anything.”
Finally, as to why they let the pick-up trucks carrying the family's belongings and a microbus leave the colony, he said, “They thought the occupants were vacating the house on their own.”
About the excavator and labourers used for the demolition, Ghosh said those belonged to the sub-contractor.
“It is undeniable that a security lapse occurred in this regard,” said Rashed Chowdhury, a director of ABC Real Estates Ltd.
The company could not provide any acceptable answer to why it has not taken actions against the security guards concerned even though a month had passed.
This correspondent visited the site around noon on December 30 as well and saw security personnel from both companies guarding the site.
An ABC security guard on duty said on the day of the incident, at least four security personnel, two each from ABC and Ispahani, were on duty at the gate of the colony, where ground excavation was going on.
Security guards Limon and Jashim of ABC were on duty at the gate during the time of the incident, he said.
Nadim Aktar, in-charge of the ABC security team at the site, said the people who demolished the house got in through the only gate near Moghbazar intersection. He said they did not know who the people were and that they tried to prevent them but failed.
Asked why they let the “trespassers” vandalise and demolish the house, leave unchallenged with vehicles loaded with the belongings, and had failed to call in the police from the police station just yards away, Nadim evaded a direct response.
Prof Ejaz Huq, son of late Mujibul Huq, who lives in Oxford, UK, said negotiations were going on with Ispahani since 2011 on an equivalent place to relocate the widow and settlement of the shares held by his father, who died in 2006.
MM Ispahani Ltd General Manager Omar Hannan said during negotiations the company agreed to provide the widow with a permanent accommodation and offered several options for relocation, including a place in Gulshan.
The family members, however, said there was only one offer in Eskaton, which they found was inadequate and in deviation of what a company high official had promised.
The negotiations stalled in November last year.
No one has the right to evict a family the way it was done with a case pending, said Ejaz, adding that settlement of what the company owed the family was altogether a different issue.