A strict lockdown has come into force since Wednesday. Government and private offices, shops, shopping malls, everything is closed. No one can leave home. If they do, they have to face questioning by the police. The police have seized rickshaws brought out during the lockdown. The poor people, petrified at such stories, stay at home. At the same time, they need to feed their families.
Last year the government, non-government organisations and individuals visited the slums with food and assistance. This time there is no such help. Ten days have passed since the government enforced the restrictions, but no aid has appeared. On the other hand, the price of rice had leapt from Tk 50 a kg to Tk 60 a kg. That is why the poor people, despite the long queues, scramble to buy rice, lentils and oil at cheaper prices from the TCB trucks.
Mohammad Sharif from Sherpur has been living at the Korail slum for 20 years now. He had two sons and two daughters. One of his sons is a bus driver’s helper and the other would work at a private firm. Since the government’s restrictions, both of them are at home. One of Mohammad Sharif’s daughters was a housemaid but is out of work now during the lockdown. So the family of six now has no income. They need about 1kg of rice a day yet on Thursday they had no food at home. On Wednesday night Sharif heard that there was an OMS truck near the slum selling rice for Tk 30 a kg, but would sell only 5 kgs per person. He stood in the line from 9:00am, but by noon he still hadn’t managed to get any rice.
At a loss, Sharif told Prothom Alo that his children had no income and now they didn’t know what to do. Last year he had borrowed money, got money from the village and managed somehow. He hadn’t managed to pay the rent. This time he had no idea what they will do.
Most of the Korail slum dwellers are day labourers, ultra poor. They are rickshaw pullers, autorickhaw drivers and in other such occupations. They live on their daily earnings. In the 10 days of the lockdown they have been struggling with no earnings. Some of them say if the lockdown continues a couple of more days, they won’t be able to survive. Their children will go hungry.
This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir