Wednesday 29, June 2022

A new look for Shaheed Minar?

After 38 years, the Central Shaheed Minar Complex is about to be restructured: the authorities concerned have taken an initiative to reshape the historic premise located inside the Dhaka University campus.

As per the recently formulated Dhaka University Master Plan, a large open terrace will be created in front of the Shaheed Minar's main plaza, while another semi-plaza will be set up at the north-western portion of the open terrace. Meanwhile, the eastern side is set to get a new pod.

In addition, a road will be constructed at the back of the Shaheed Minar Complex.

Planners of the project hope this will lead people to organise rallies and other social programmes at the semi-plaza instead of the main plaza.

The proposed new terrace will be created by demolishing the 2.17-acre residential area for Dhaka University (DU) teachers that lies at the north of the Shaheed Minar, along with the adjacent portion of Shibbari area and the road in front of the complex.

The original Shaheed Minar was built in February 23, 1952, in a spontaneous move by students in memory of the Language Movement martyrs who sacrificed their lives two days earlier on February 21. The monument was set up where the massacre took place. But merely three days later, police demolished the structure.

Later, on February 20, 1953, students and people reconstructed the monument. But again, the police demolished it a day later.

Finally, in 1957, the government began constructing a permanent monument on the basis of the design formulated by architect Hamidur Rahman and sculptor Novera Ahmed. But after the military assumed power in 1958, the construction work had to be scrapped.

Later in 1962, the then government decided to restart the work, albeit after curtailing some major components of the main design. This version of the Minar was inaugurated in 1963, according to researchers.

But as fate would have it, it was demolished again by the Pakistani military on the night of terror, March 25, 1971.

After the liberation war, the then government formed a committee in 1972. Headed by Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury, it was tasked with reconstructing the Shaheed Minar.

The committee soon invited new designs and received 12 submissions. Of them, they ultimately accepted one by architects Hamidur Rahman and M. S. Jafar. However, the Shaheed Minar was later reconstructed in 1973 on the basis of a revision of the 1963 design. As a result, the original design of Hamidur Rahman and Novera Ahmed remained neglected, say historians and researchers.

Later in 1976, the then government took another initiative to reconstruct the Shaheed Minar. The Civil and Planning Faculty of BUET was assigned to formulate its design. 

The faculty came up with three plans. Of them, the government accepted the design formulated by architect Dr MA Muktadir. The government even allocated Tk 47.5 lakhs in this regard, but even this project remained unimplemented, according to researchers.

In 1983, the then government took steps to enlarge the Shaheed Minar complex on the basis of the main design. But the government's Public Works Department completed the project without working on its main structure. This phase of the reconstruction ended in 1984.

Currently, the complex covers around four acres of land. The minaret is located on the main plaza, covering around 1.5 acres of land.

The Shaheed Minar's foot, where people place floral tributes, is located on a 2,000 square feet area. There is a 64-feet road at the opposite side of the main plaza. Two separate 12-feet wide footpaths were constructed on both sides of the main plaza.

Contacted, DU Vice-Chancellor Professor Md Akhtaruzzaman said, "There are some specific proposals in the masterplan to reshape the complex. Our next steps on the matter will be taken as per the Prime Minister's directives."

Convener of the technical committee formed to formulate the master plan Pro-VC (Academic) Prof ASM Maksud Kamal told The Daily Star, "The central Shaheed Minar is a nationally and internationally important establishment. But the space is small, which is why we took the decision to reshape the complex."

"Throughout the year, people organise rallies and demonstrations at the Minar's main plaza, often going against the premises' spirit. This is why another semi-plaza will be constructed here to facilitate such programmes," he informed.

As per the plan, separate entrance and exit corridors will be constructed at the west-southern and east-southern part correspondingly. However, these areas are owned by Dhaka Medical College Hospital, the Pro-VC added. "We're carrying out discussions with DMCH authorities in this regard."

According to sources in DU, the university syndicate approved the masterplan (2021-2050) on September 17, 2020. Later on October 3, the university authority placed the masterplan before the Prime Minister.

After scrutinising the plan, the PM directed all concerned to take steps to implement the Shaheed Minar project through coordination and discussion between DU and the medical college authorities, said sources.

However, renowned artist Mustafa Monwar expressed his reservations about the project, saying, "People come to the Shaheed Minar from a place of sentiment. The works need to keep this in consideration. There's a noticeable tendency to build multiple buildings in government projects. If the Shaheed Minar premises feature museums and libraries, the emotions it evokes may get compromised. I think the project should be limited to building an open square at the premises."