Over the last two days, many men and women were seen waiting for relief on the sidewalks near grocery stores or supershops whenever they could escape the eyes of law enforcers. They looked hungry and gestured for help to passersby
In the semi-dark alley of Dhanmondi's Nazrul Institute, about a dozen women and a few men sit aimlessly. A beggar on crutches silently looks up at the swanky high-rise apartments.
A rickshaw wallah suddenly appears with a large white sack full of something.
"They are giving food from a truck," he said excitedly. "Rush, or everything will be finished."
The women and men sprint towards Road 28. One of them slips and falls. Others don't bother to lift her. They rush on.
Yes, there is a truck moving slowly. Two Prado SUVs follow it. The people inside look rich and powerful. This kind of people carry themselves differently--- they are usually obese in the middle, their faces puffier than the guys on the streets, their skins smooth and they have an aura of a certain kind of arrogance.
"Khabar den. Khabar. Amra na khaya asi (Give us food, we are hungry)," the women scream and run after the truck.
The men on top of the truck throw down two white sacks, and then they are gone.
This was last night at Dhanmondi.
Out of work, out of food
Fishmonger Fazlu Mia is worried over how long his family of three will survive on borrowed money. The 60-year-old is out of work for over two weeks now since the shutting down of transports and offices across the country.
A small trader, he sold fish from door to door. But the sudden restriction on movement for coronavirus and the strict measure of the police to keep people off the streets make him scared.
"It seems there is danger outside," he said over the phone. Moreover, the demand for his fish is low now as hundreds of thousands of people left the city.
Fazlu lives with his wife and a grandchild in a tin-shed room at Nandi Para in the capital's Khilgaon. His landlord will come next week to collect rent. Stressed out, he yesterday called a university professor, who is from his home district Narsingdi, for support in kind.
"I have no savings. I am the only one who works," said Fazlu.
Until yesterday, he did not get any relief and then felt forced to make calls to find out how he could get some.
Fazlu is not alone. He is one of the more than 6 percent of the urban population of the country or 22.3 lakh people who live in slums, according to the latest census of slum and floating population.
Of them, more than 6.5 lakh people live in slums in Dhaka alone.
There are another larger group of people like factory workers, auto-rickshaw drivers and people who run small shops. They may not live in slums but still depend on daily work.
According to the World Bank, 87 percent employment is in the informal sector and about 10 million people live in Dhaka who live on their daily wages or very limited income. They do not have any savings or resources stowed away for the future.
Officially, 20.5 percent of the country's population, or roughly 34 million people live below poverty line. They are the worst victims of the shutdown.
Like Fazlu, Jesmin, 35, also did not get any relief until yesterday. Her family of five now solely depend on her income as a cleaner in an apartment block in Bhasantek. Her husband, a construction worker, has had no work since almost all activities ground to a halt to enforce social distancing.
Among their three children, only one works at a local shop that is now closed. Some individuals distributed rice, dal and potatoes among the poor in the locality but there was not enough for all.
"Whenever a car pulls over by the road, people crowd around it. If they come with a hundred relief packages, at least 500 people compete to get one. Most of the time there are tussles," Jesmin said.
After failing a few times to get anything from these distributions, her children refused to try anymore.
"We are completely helpless," she said but was grateful to a woman in one of the flats she works in for cooking rice and dal yesterday morning for seven cleaners including herself.
Shawkat Ali, a landlord of five buildings in one of the clusters of poor households in Meradia, said he had 155 tenants in his buildings. The tenants worked as auto-rickshaw drivers, rickshaw or van pullers and housemaids.
"I am helpless too. I depend on the rents and have a huge loan to pay back," he said.
Each family on an average with 5-6 persons live in a room in the four-storey buildings. They are all suddenly without any jobs.
"We are all in the same difficult mess with no money," Shawkat said.
Hard-pressed, Ismail, 24, still pulls a rickshaw in the Mirpur area. But he said his income has halved because there are very few people on the streets. Police are also aggressive against them in the current shutdown.
"A number of times, they let out the air from my rickshaw wheels. But I cannot stay home because I need the money," Ismail said.
Against this backdrop, poor, jobless people walk around the streets in the hope of getting relief, and police often drive them indoors.
However, unofficial efforts to help these daily wage earners are sprouting across the city. Many volunteer groups and non-government organisations are coming forward with support.
Lots of hands, few packets
People from a slum at Peyarabag of Moghbazar, where 16 families live, said they had received relief food items only once two weeks ago from police since the lockdown.
It was a packet of 4 Kg rice, one kg pulse, 2 kg potato, a packet of soybean oil and a soap. "It lasted for two days," said 45-year-old Bakuli Begum who has a five-member family.
They are all day labourers. They neither can go out for work, nor do they get relief from the government or any private organisations or individuals.
Over the last two days, many men and women were seen waiting for relief on the sidewalks near grocery stores or supershops whenever they could escape the eyes of law enforcers. They looked hungry and gestured for help to passersby.
The Shutdown has made it difficult for them with no income and no food. The virus infection is not their concern now; they blame it for their misery.
These people were seen knocking on car windows, shop doors, and the entrances of homes for food.
Talking to The Business Standard Sunday evening at Moghbazar, 38-year-old Rasheda said she failed to get any food packet every time somebody gave any away. She could not stand the pushing and shoving matches during food distribution.
Meanwhile, officials from the police and the administrations are posting their numbers on social media so anybody can call them if they need any food.
The Dhaka North City Corporation came up with about 29 thousand relief packets at the end of March.
Ward councillors handed out 500 packets each that they had received from the Corporation in their areas.
Female ward councillors also got 100 relief packets for distribution.
Apart from that, they are arranging food with help from wealthy people in the communities, said ASM Mamun, the spokesperson of DNCC.
Shafiullah, the councillor of ward no 24 (Tejgaon area), said he got relief for 500 families but his team arranged an additional 2,000 packets on their own.
The number of people in need is way higher, he said, which was why the rich and different government agencies have to come forward to see that no one starves.
Volunteers step in
The NGOs and voluntary organisations have stepped in to fill the demand for more relief. Yet, that is not enough as they are realising that the needs of the poor are greater than they alone could fill in during lockdown time.
Brac began to distribute food and cash to the poor living in 12 city corporations, including Dhaka, some municipalities and haor areas on Thursday.
Asif Saleh, executive director of Brac, told The Business Standard that they have submitted a list of one lakh people to deputy commissioners (DC) of target areas.
"We have already assisted 53,000 families. At first, we distributed 8,500 food boxes of seven items. But now we are providing Tk 1,500 cash to each family over two weeks" he said.
"We have submitted the list to the DCs to avoid the repetition of relief distribution", he added.
Bidyanondo, a voluntary organisation, has been distributing relief and meals among the hungry people.
Salman Khan, manager of Bidyando Dhaka branch, told The Business Standard that they are working with the help of local social organisations in areas outside Dhaka.
But in Dhaka, they provide cooked food with the help of police.
"We are providing 5,000 lunch packets per day to poor people in Dhaka."
Barrister Shihab Uddin Khan, the convener of another voluntary organisation named Nabik, said, "We are making our own list of needy people. Then we are providing rice, potato, onion, oil, soap, etc. to them."