Brought to knees
What is typically a bustling part of Dhaka city lay in a sorry state yesterday morning. As if an angry cyclone had hit the capital's commercial hub, leaving a mountain of collateral damage in its wake.
There was nary a roadside shop in sight in Motijheel and Paltan, a part of town which is always buzzing with makeshift stalls and hawkers.
In their place lay a mass of ashes and brickbats, accompanied by wrecked signboards, thanks to the reign of terror that Hefajat-e-Islam unleashed on Sunday night.
The cluster of corporate houses in the area was not spared, either -- the exterior of most of them were badly defaced.
A particularly unforgettable sight was that of a BRAC Bank ATM booth, which was mercilessly ravaged. Thankfully, the mob could not get access to the safe.
“Four other booths of the bank were vandalised, but not as badly as that one. They just had their exterior destroyed,” said Zeeshan Kingshuk Huq, head of communication and service quality of BRAC Bank. The bank is yet to assess the losses of this spell of hooliganism.
But Md Zakir, a snack vendor on a four-wheeler rickshaw van, has. “They [the Hefajat men] were just so cold-blooded. They burned down my van despite desperate pleas -- all my investment is gone now.”
The sole bread-earner of a family of four, he has no idea now where his next meal ticket would come from. “I don't know how I'll survive,” said a disconsolate Zakir.
Hasnat, who has a roadside tea stall, is in the same boat. “They burnt down all the makeshift shops in the area, the only source of income for poor people like us. How do they expect us to get by, now?”
Some 350 makeshift shops adjacent to the Baitul Mukarram Mosque were set on fire, said Atiur Rahman, vice-president of Baitul Mukarram Traders Group. “It was a scene straight off their worst nightmare.”
Twelve jewellery shops in the complex, too, were vandalised, said Dilip Roy, president of Bangladesh Jewellers Samity.
Altogether, Rahman estimates, the losses would be no less than Tk 15 crore.
Branches of Azad Products and Janata Bank opposite Baitul Mukarram were not left alone, either.
“They wanted to enter the shop to set it on fire. Failing to get in, they hurled bricks and torches inside,” Mostafa Kamal, assistant general manger of the Azad Products store, said. The damages stand at Tk 15 lakh, he added.
Abul Barkat, chairman of Janata Bank, said the state-owned bank registered a general diary demanding compensation worth Tk 5.4 crore.
“I will ask my board of directors to help small book shop owners at Paltan as part of our corporate social responsibility,” he added.
Many of the street vendors had already started their preparations for the upcoming Eid-ul-Fitr, said Sirajul Islam, convenor of Purana Paltan Hawkers' Association.
“I borrowed money to buy 700 pieces of childrenswear, which I expected to sell during Ramadan. Now, there is nothing left,” said Abul Kasem, a makeshift stall owner in front of the Bank Asia headquarter in Paltan. “How can I do business ahead of Eid,” he said, weeping.
Bilal Hossain, who has three shops in the area, had all of them gutted. “I have lost Tk 8 lakh. I am completely ruined.”
Around 175 makeshifts shops in this part of Paltan were destroyed, Islam said.
“There was almost no transaction in the principal branch on Sunday, as clients could not come here due to the rally,” said Md Fazlur Rahman, managing director of AB Bank.
Fearing for their lives, the throngs of office goers to Motijheel stayed holed up in their place of work -- all evening.
“A few of us stayed at a nearby residential hotel, but the rest were stranded inside the office,” said Huq of BRAC Bank.
Kazi Akram Uddin Ahmed, president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry, wondered how political gatherings were allowed at the country's business district, the heart of the economy, in the first place.
“What we have seen is anarchy in the name of peaceful political programme,” he said, while urging the government to ban such congregation in the area from now on.
Rokia Afzal Rahman, president of Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Dhaka, echoed Ahmed's views. “There are other places in the city where political programmes can be confined to.”