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       Volume 11 |Issue 04| January 27, 2012 |


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Arches, Cows and Camels

Jakir Shah of Kutub Bagh Darbar Sharif talks about purifying people's souls but encroaches on busy streets with cows and camels

A M Hussain

The park in Farmgate is occupied for the ‘urs’. Photos: Amirul Rajiv

If you have been to the city's busy Farmgate intersection lately, you must have come across the giant arches, standing tall and proud, inviting its viewers to the urs or religious gathering that Jakir Shah of Kutub Bagh Darbar Sharif is holding. Made of bamboo and draped in decorative green and white cloth, these makeshift arches have just been adorned with big, bright fairy lights.

If the invitation confuses you, a cursory glance at the footpath will suffice: a part of the street leading to Manik Miah Avenue that houses the country's parliament has been made into a pen with some cows and camels clogging the busy thoroughfare. The air is thick with the smell of cow dung and camel's urine– you feel nauseous. Behind these sad cows and tired camels that are going to be slaughtered during the urs lies a story both absurd and bizarre.

Fondly called 'baba' by his disciples, Jakir Shah, the self-styled pir or spiritual guru who runs Kutub Bagh Darbar Sharif in Indira Road, has illegally erected the arches, spelling untold sufferings to the commuters. "We have never given him the permission to make arches in the middle of such a busy road," says Captain Bipin Kumar Saha, head of Dhaka City Corporation's (DCC) waste management section that gives permission to build arches in the city. He tells us that immediate action is going to be taken to dismantle them.

A policeman says that he has asked someone from the Kutub Bagh Darbar Sharif about the arches and he has been told that the Darbar has taken permission from the authority concerned. "It has not occurred to me that a pir might lie," he says.

The policeman, who wishes to remain anonymous, says that Jakir has quite a fan-following, which include politicians and other influential persons. One such 'murid' is Kabir Ahmed, an Economics graduate from Chittagong. Donning a silver-brocaded white lungi and a white shirt, Kabir tries to shoo away the curious idlers who have gathered to have a look at the camels, imported from the Indian state of Rajasthan.

"All baba needs to do is put his finger on your heart," Kabir's crooked finger points at his swollen breast pocket as he explains Jakir Shah's way of purifying a human soul.

In fact, according to the 'Attar Alo' (The Light of the Soul) magazine that Kutub Bagh Darbar sells, when he is not cleaning souls, Jakir devotes himself to curing people with deadly diseases. "You have to give baba a few hundred takas as a gift," Kabir says, "All these cows and camels are donated by baba's disciples. Baba didn't buy them."

Jakir's finger therapy defies science and Islam, and everyone is not happy with his antics. "In Islam blocking roads is considered a major sin and there is no such thing as curing people with the finger in our religion," says Mufti Kazi Ibrahim, an Islamic scholar. He says that the believers have been told many a time in the Hadith to keep the thoroughfares clean for the commuters.

"In Sahih Bukhari and Shahi Muslim it has been said that removing harmful objects from walkways is a part of one's faith," Mufti Ibrahim says, "In another Hadith we find that someone was forgiven of his sins after he removed thorns from a street that people frequented."

Anowara Park in Indira Road is used for the ‘urs’. Photo: Amirul Rajiv

He says that anyone who is taken ill should consult a doctor. "Is this person's hand a machine? How will it cure anyone? Islam has nothing to do with such mumbo-jumbo," he says.

Mufti Ibrahim thinks there is no place for such persons in Islam. "This so-called pir claims that Allah's walis are immortal, which goes against the very basic tenants of Islam. In Verse 35 of Surah Al-Ambia of the Quran, Allah says, 'Every living being must taste death…' How can this person say that some humans are immortal?"

Meanwhile, hundreds of ordinary two-footed mortals who use the road that literally connects two parts of the city are bearing the brunt that the urs has unleashed. Ibn Noor lives in Dhanmandi and uses Indira Road to get to his office. He says that a wali or friend of Allah will not waste electricity by using fairy lights while his country suffers from acute power crisis every year.

Superman or fraud, the urs that Jakir Shah is holding in Anowara Park in front of the National Parliament, the country's highest seat of power, is confrontational with the law on conservation of playgrounds, parks, open spaces and wetlands. The law prohibits rent and lease of these places for anything other than their designated use.

To make matters even more grievous, there is a nine-year-old High Court rule that tells the government to ensure proper maintenance and protection of playground and parks. However, Kabir Ahmed Bhuiyan, Chief Engineer, Public Works Department of the Public Works Ministry (PWM) says that the Ministry has allowed Kutub Bag Darbar Sharif to use the park free of cost.

When he is reminded of the High Court rule, he grimly declares, "We will not give any such permission again in the future."

Sharif Jamil, joint secretary of Poribesh Bachao Andolan, an organisation that fights for the protection of environment, says that in our country, especially in Dhaka, our breathing space is limited as it is, and because of these kind of allowances, parks and playing fields remain unusable to the city dwellers for most of the time.

"There are corrupt officials in the Ministry who give such permissions. They take bribes and tell the media that they will never do it again," Sharif says, "And within a few days they give another organisation the go ahead to use parks and fields. I have seen a month-long handloom fare take place in Anowara Park."

Advocate Manzill Murshed thinks the Ministry should be more cautious while allowing different organisations to use parks and fields. "Permission should not be indiscriminately given," he says.

Jakir Shah and his ilk, however, thrive in this deeply religious nation. The DCC's Captain Bipin Kumar Shaha and his inspectors might dismantle the illegal arches, but in a country where poverty is rampant and literacy level is low, destroying the bastion of superstitions remains a distant dream.

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