The poor go home for Eid, come to the city for alms

All said and done, these poor people go home if they get a holiday for Eid. Dhaka is not their home. They are born and brought up in the villages and their parent's small homestead in the village is homeTanvir Ahammed

Dhaka city wears a vacant look every Eid.

There hasn't been any estimate as yet as to how many people will exit the city this Eid, but there are figures of last year's Eid. Former telecommunications minister Mustafa Jabbar wrote on his Facebook page, over 10 million (1 crore) SIM users had left the city then. Many people who don't use SIMs also must have left Dhaka.

Our wise ministers say that the country's economy is doing very well. People's incomes have increased and they have no problem in buying costly commodities. The former commerce minister went as far as to say that the lifestyles of 40 million (4 crore) people in Bangladesh are on par with European standards. What he did not say was how many million were living lives on par with the people of South Sudan or Somalia. There is a six-day holiday this time, with Eid and the Bengali New Year. That means there will be a higher number of people leaving Dhaka.

Traffic in Dhaka dropped from Sunday afternoon. It took 15 minutes to come to Karwan Bazar from Motijheel by bus. It would take at least an hour at other times.

Where do these burgeoning crowds of people go during Eid? What is their destination?

One category of people go abroad during Eid, they don't enjoy Eid in the country. Some of them are wealthy, some are ultra-wealthy. They don't even like local clothes. They do their Eid shopping or wedding shopping abroad. They go to Bangkok, Dubai or Singapore. Many have their second homes' abroad. Then at one point of time, their second homes become their first homes. Then they come to visit their 'native' land once a year. They express their annoyance at the condition of the terminal here or the traffic disorder. Even so, they come to the country out of love for the land.

Some of the owners shut down their factories before Eid without paying the workers their wages and bonus. The workers of these factories will not be able to celebrate Eid. They may not even be able to go home

The second category of people go on vacation within the county when they get a holiday. They holiday in Cox's Bazar, Kuakata, Bandarban, Khagachhari, Rangamati or Sylhet, the Sundarbans, Srimangal, Tanguar Haor and such places.

The third category live in the city but don't own the city. They build the buildings of this city, the roads, the metro rail, the elevated expressway, but have no right to stay in those buildings or travel that mode of transport. They come to the cities to earn a living. They get their wages at the end of the month and send it back home to their families. Even if it means they have to borrow, they buy new clothes for their spouses, children and parents.

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After the emergence of readymade garment factories, women too now come from the villages to the city and are becoming self-reliant. They too shop for their families during Eid. While Eid is an occasion of joy for many, it is also a cause of sorrow for many. Every year before Eid there are problems over the workers' wages and bonus. State minister for law Nazrul Islam Chowdhury called upon the owners of the factories to pay the workers their wages and bonus before Eid. But not all owners heeded his words.

Some of the owners shut down their factories before Eid without paying the workers their wages and bonus. The workers of these factories will not be able to celebrate Eid. They may not even be able to go home. And the predicament of the workers in the informal sector is even worse. Many companies have no salary structure. It is run entire on the whims of the owner. Many owners lay off the old workers and recruit new and apprentice workers so they can pay less wages and allowances. There are even workers who do not retain workers or drivers for a full year. Once a year is completed, they are entitled to bonus.

After 53 years of independence if people still have to beg and rely on alms and charity for survival, that is not a sign of development

Many bosses are displeased if the workers go home over the Eid holidays. Who will look after their homes if the workers go home? Who will drive the family around during Eid?

All said and done, these poor deprived people still go home if they get a holiday. They have no home in Dhaka. The little homestead of their parents in the village they were born is home. A widowed mother may be sitting there, awaiting the arrival of her children. A dear young sister looks forward to her brother bringing her new clothes for Eid. They do not understand outfits. Outfits are for the rich. All sorts of stylish outfits, new styles every Eid. They don't wear the same design as last Eid. Yet for the people who struggle and live hand to mouth, the clothes sold on the roadside are the only choice.

These people have no private cars to take them home. They cannot afford to hire a microbus either. Air-conditioned buses are out of the question. So they travel by the cheap dilapidated buses or launches. Those whose homes are in the southern region are aware that the launches have a few first class and second cabins. As for the rest of the people, they travel on the deck, managing to stretch out if they go early enough to get some space to lie down. If not, they travel the entire long distance, sitting cramped on the deck. Those travelling by train go standing if they do not manage to get a ticket. They just slip some money to the ticket checker. These checkers too don't spare the poor. But still the poor must go home to their families. They have no one in Dhaka city.

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Then there is the category of people, particularly rickshaw-pullers and CNG-drivers, who do not go home on the day of Eid. They go home the day after. They can earn a bit extra if they ply their rickshaws on Eid day in the city. Future security is more important to them than Eid celebrations.

This time, politicians debated over the increase in beggars in Dhaka city before Eid. BNP's joint secretary general Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, referring to the spiralling prices of commodities, said that the people were lamenting and bemoaning all around. Even a few years ago there were not so many beggars on the streets.

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In reply, Awami League's general secretary Obaidul Quader said that some people come to the bigger cities including Dhaka during Eid in hope of charity and alms. But there are no people lying starving to death on the roadsides.

Do the leaders have any records of how many people are surviving by begging for charity and alms? After 53 years of independence if people still have to beg and rely on alms and charity for survival, that is not a sign of development. Cannot they take the country to such a state where the ministers also won't have to make a big show of distributing iftar among the poor? Each and every citizen should be able to afford to buy their own iftar.           

* Sohrab Hassan is joint editor of Prothom Alo and a poet  

* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir

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