Coronavirus leads to livelihood changes

For the past 20 years Bazlur Rahman has been painting buildings in Narayanganj town, earning a living for himself, his wife and two sons. But things have come to a standstill with the COVID-19 outbreak and he has been forced to switch his occupation. He now sits with a bamboo basket, selling the ‘bombai murich’ variety of chillies.

Like Bazlur Rahman, many other workers have had to change their means of livelihood for the sake of survival after the coronavirus outbreak.

After going around town with the basket of chillies on his head, Bazlur Rahman was resting in the shade in Chashara on Wednesday afternoon. He said that after work had shut down on 23 March, he had been stuck at home. But his savings started to dry up and he decided to sell chillies. He spent Tk 300 on a bamboo basket, Tk 2500 on chillies, Tk 200 in a tray and Tk 30 on packets.

“No one is leaving their houses and so no one is buying masks either. My mother said there are bad days ahead.”

He said, “I would earn Tk 1000 a day on average before, now I earn between Tk 300 and 350. It is hardly enough to run a family, but it’s a matter of survival.”

He may be afraid of ‘corona’, but he is more afraid of hunger. “Our stomachs don’t understand corona,” he said, adding, “I have always worked for a living. I cannot start begging now.”

Meanwhile, 20-year-old Md Hridoy, a readymade garment industry worker whose wages depended on production, has been at home since the factory closed down on 26 March. His father is dead and he looks after his mother and younger brother. He now plies a battery-run rickshaw in Narayanganj town. He said, “I earned Tk 500 on the first day.” He will continue with the rickshaw until the factory reopens.

Many vendors are having to change their businesses too. Mustafa Miah is a 57-year-old vendor who would sell ‘jhaal moori’, the popular and spicy puffed-rice snack. With people avoiding street food due to the coronavirus scare, he now sells masks outside the Victoria General Hospital. He said initially he would earn Tk 600 to 700 a day selling masks, but now he gets around Tk 200 to 250.

Standing next to Mustafa is 12-year-old Kamrul Hasan, also selling masks. A student of grade 4, Kamrul lives with his family near the Gymkhana railway colony. His father is bed-ridden due to spinal problems. His brother works for a hosiery factory. Kamrul now sits in front of the hospital, selling masks made at the hosiery factory. He used to sell fruit in front the hospital until 25 March, but now no one was buying the fruit. He could only sell Tk 50 worth of masks in the first half of the day.

Kamrul is aware of the situation. “No one is leaving their houses and so no one is buying masks either. My mother said there are bad days ahead.”

*This report appeared in the print edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.