Hunger is the biggest enemy
With every passing day of the prolonged government holiday to stop the spread of coronavirus, more and more of Dhaka’s poorest are hitting the streets in search of food, aid, and financial assistance.
Hundreds of thousands of low wage earners, now unemployed due to the lockdown to fight the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, in a desperate search for food, are being forced to disobey government directives of staying home and maintaining social distancing.
The poorest of Dhaka -- day labourers, domestic help, scavengers, and rickshaw pullers among others -- are struggling to make ends meet as all their income sources are now closed.
Though some of them managed to leave the city before the holiday began for their ancestral homes, most of these people are now literally stranded in Dhaka as all modes of public transports are currently suspended.
Dhaka Tribune talked with a number of people who represent the poorest of Bangladesh’s capital, to get an inside view of their struggles and hardships, amid the Covid-19 crisis.
Hunger is the biggest enemy
Talking to the correspondent, Shikha Begum, who lives in Dhaka’s Mohammadpur area, said: “I couldn’t breastfeed my baby as I didn’t find anything to eat myself.”
To make things worse, Shikha, who is divorced, has two more children – a three-year-old and a nine-year-old – to feed and the small business she had of selling boiled eggs on a street corner is now closed due to the lockdown.
“I literally couldn’t feed my children anything today. They had some bread two days ago and had hotchpotch for once yesterday,” she added.
However, Shikha, after waiting for an hour or so for food and aid, decided to go back to her children empty-handed despite the fact that they are eagerly waiting for her with empty stomachs.
While being at Dhanmondi, one of the richest areas of the capital, on Thursday noon, this correspondent found at least 500 people of all different ages and genders sitting in groups on the streets waiting for someone or something to give them anything to eat.
“I have been searching for food and aid on all the streets of Dhanmondi for the last six days but couldn’t find any. My feet are badly hurting as I walked too much and now they are swollen,” said Sweety Begum, who, lives on the streets of Dhanmondi.
After a while, the correspondent saw some people providing food for the poor near the Dhanmondi 8 area.
People were waiting with tokens in long queues, standing very close to each other.
However, after a while, police had to baton-charge as those who did not get any tokens attacked the aid providers. Soon afterwards, the aid providers were forced to leave the place as things were getting out of control.
“After so long and so many attempts I was finally getting something to eat in the last few days. But these people [who attacked the aid providers] have ruined everything. I had a token, I was also waiting for so long but everything went in vain,” said Bobita, one of the many who were in line, while expressing anger and agony.
The need to be outside
Whereas, Shafia, who is a daily wage earner and works at Mohammadpur’s Beribadh area, said: “Where should we go [for food]? When I go somewhere for help they tell me to go elsewhere. This is how we are roaming. I could work and earn my living before but now as everything is shutdown I can do nothing.”
“Do you know what hunger feels like? I can’t even sleep properly at night as I am so worried about how I will manage the next meal for myself and my kids.”
The correspondent, at one point, saw around 14 people, all men, marching on the thoroughfares of Dhanmondi, from Jighatola to Dhanmondi 32. He observed that all of them were very disheartened and sad as they were yet to receive any help.
One of them, Sohidul Islam, 51, said: “I had stopped pulling rickshaw as police didn’t allow us to be on the road due to coronavirus.
“Now we are wandering here and there in search for some pulses and rice.”
When it came to social distancing -- a set of nonpharmaceutical infection control actions intended to stop or slow down the spread of a contagious disease – it was evident that these people know and care so little about this.
When asked, Mohammad, said: “When there is no food in the stomach, terms such as ‘social distancing’ don’t make any sense.
“My landlord on Wednesday told me to pay my rent as soon as possible or I will have to leave the house.”
The correspondent also saw some children who are scavengers, waiting eagerly for someone, or some organization to bring them some food or give them some money.
One of them was, Rakib, who said: “We are the most neglected of all. What benefit will staying at home bring if we run out of money?”
Finally when the correspondent was returning to his office from Dhanmondi, a group of people, including children and elderly individuals, started running after his rickshaw, crying for help.
“Give us food! Write down our names. Provide us with a token [for relief]. Please listen to us. Nobody gave us anything,” chanted the crowd desperately.