A role model citizen

Ahmed Deepto tells the tale of Syed Saiful Alam Shovan, an extraordinary youth who is relentless at writing letters to different authorities whenever he observes any irregularity or misdeed that harms public interest

SONY RAMANY

SONY RAMANY

When was the last time you wrote a letter? If your answer is ‘not recently or never’ then you are not alone. Millions of Bangladeshi people don’t write letters anymore in the age of cell phones, emails and text messages.
Writing letters can seem hopelessly outdated to many these days. In the same way, caring for something that does not affect you directly might seem like a backdated social trait as well, especially as we live in a time where everyone seems to be engaged in a race to get ahead in the race of life. Therefore, Syed Saiful Alam Shovan may come across as a person from a different era, a time of rectitude, if that at all existed.
In 2000, a ninth grader Shovan went to see his grandfather by train in Brahmanbaria. The little boy was puzzled when the local station charged five takas while the ticket said the fare was three takas.
‘I asked the station master why they were charging extra. He informed me that the charge was increased earlier but new tickets had yet not arrived at the station. When I asked them to post the new fares on the station wall they suggested that I should write a formal complaint. I wrote a letter to the Railway authority. And since then, I write letters,’ says Shovan to New Age Youth.
Since the ninth grade, Shovan has written over 4,000 letters to government offices, banks, city corporations, police stations, medical colleges, NGO’s and numerous public, private, non-government authorities whenever he observed any kind of unlawful activities, misappropriation and irregularity that harms public interest.
After he learned how to use a computer, he emailed and faxed thousands of letters to several authorities at home and abroad including several ministries and directors of government, embassies and so on.
‘In 2005, I came to Dhaka. By that time around 400 of my letters were published on different national dailies and most of them were related to public issues like parking, traffic, waste management etc. I write letters to bring attention to necessary things that are being ignored,’ he adds.
‘Whenever I see any misdeed around me, I write a letter to the related authority. Not only that, I also follow up on each issue that I wrote a letter about on a regular basis. I keep writing letters till the authorities take the necessary steps,’ he adds.
Many people give Shovan inspiration to write more and more letters. He often receives complimentary letters from several authorities. ‘Government offices usually don’t reply, although I had received replies from Bangladesh Bank, National Consumer Rights Protection Directorate (NCRPD) and World Bank.’
In 2010, Shovan found that his cell phone operator had stopped the missed call alert service on his phone though the company was charging the monthly fee for that service. He informed the customer care spending 100 takas by calling them but the company didn’t make any alteration. Later, he wrote a letter asking them to refund the money the operator was charging for the alert service. After six months, the phone company was defeated at a public hearing and gave him 290 takas worth of talk-time.
‘The phone company officials felt irritated by me but I was adamant to have the wrong righted. I had to spend way more money to get that 290 takas refunded, but it made them stop charging people unlawfully. Cell phone users were being disturbed by unwanted texts that tell you to download songs, wallpapers etc. I lodged a complaint to Bangladesh Telecommunication Regularity Commission (BTRC) saying that these spam messages kill our time because we have to take a look at them. After my complaint, the authority announced an ordinance to the phone companies that instructed them to stop pushing spam messages,’ Shovan says.
Shovan has fallen back in his studies. Currently, the 34-year-old is in the ninth semester of Department of Sociology of Peoples University and also works as a Media Advocacy Officer for Work for a Better Bangladesh Trust. He is actively engaged in numerous social welfare projects for several nongovernment organisations.
‘Couple of months ago, I went to a food chain restaurant at Dhanmondi that charges 25 takas for a bottle of water whereas the market price is 15 takas. I asked them why they overcharged, and they said those are the rules. I took the money receipt and lodged a complaint to NCRPD and they penalized them. Now that restaurant charges 15 takas per bottle,’ Shovan adds.
‘World Bank started a plan constructing some foot-over bridges in Dhaka under Clean Air and Sustainable Environment Project. They have been saying that this project would make Dhaka clean. But I had many questions about the project. How would disabled people use these foot-over bridges? And how does a foot-over bridge Dhaka any cleaner? Later, I wrote to World Bank and they sent a team over, currently we are holding discussions about these anomalies.’
Shovan also uses social media to publish his letters and write-ups to make people aware about their rights. He also blogs regularly with the same purpose. Shovan also writes in order to help people who need medical support and cannot pay for it.
In 2009, Akter, a twelve year-old boy who worked at a tea stall was shot in the Pilkhana tragedy. He needed 100,000 takas for the treatment of his fractured hand. Besides taking the boy to the doctor Shovan also started writing on social media to raise money for him. People started donating five to 20 takas and finally he collected 80,000 takas for that boy.
Later, he wrote a letter to the Prime Minister’s office. The Prime Minister donated one lakh takas for Akter. Atom Khan, an Australian doctor also stood beside Akter, who is now cured. Shovan and his friends later on built a home for Akter and his family in Barisal.
Shovan also saved Aduri, an 11-year-old girl by writing a letter and circulating her photo on social media. Aduri was a domestic worker who had been tortured and injured by the house-owner and abandoned in a dustbin.
On November 22, 2014 Guinness World Records declared that Dhaka had the most number of rickshaws in one city. But no one really knows how many letters Shovan wrote to make this happen.
Shovan has written many articles about rickshaws because they are eco-friendly. He emailed over a thousand times to Guinness authority and to many other people to establish that there are around 500,000 rickshaws in Dhaka.

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