The hawkers’ union has demanded that the government provide each hawker with Tk10,000 in monthly financial assistance a week before Eid
For the last 15 years, Mohammad Mamun has been selling home textiles sitting on a footpath in the capital's New Market area. On average, his daily turnover reaches Tk25,000.
But before festivals, especially before the two Eids, his turnover increases at least threefold. For this reason, people like Mamun eagerly wait for Eid.
But the situation is very different this year. The government declared a countrywide shutdown from March 26 to slow down the spread of the deadly coronavirus. As a result, tens of thousands of hawkers have already lost their income source.
The government has recently decided to allow reopening of businesses, including stores and shopping malls on a limited scale ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr. However, hawkers are still uncertain whether they will be allowed to do business on footpaths at a time when the number of Covid-19 patients is increasing every day in the country.
Until Tuesday, only a handful of hawkers were visible in the New Market and Gulistan area, although law enforcers are not allowing any hawkers to operate on footpaths.
"If we are not allowed to sit on the footpath, we will die," Mamun told The Business Standard over phone. He is now living in his hometown Naria in Shariatpur, where he went after the shutdown was announced.
He said that his five-member family is now dependent on his father's income, who is a farmer.
"Believe me, this situation has totally put me to shame," said Mamun, adding he got no support from the government – be it food or money.
China Akter's story is no different from that of Mamun. She has been a hawker in Motijheel area for eight years. She sells stockings and underwear. Usually, she can sell products worth Tk5,000 every day and makes a profit of Tk1,000.
But it has been a month since she earned nothing. She lives with her husband and three children in Chittagong Road area.
"I could not pay the house rent, which is Tk7,000, from my daily earnings. I have already spent my savings to buy food and pay rent," said China.
"If the situation continues, I will have to go out on the street to beg, '' she added.
Like shop and shopping mall owners, hawker leaders have also called on the government to allow them to sit on the footpath or arrange financial assistance urgently. Otherwise, they said, hawkers would go for a movement.
Sekendar Hayat, general secretary of Bangladesh Hawkers' Union, said there are more than four lakh hawkers in Dhaka, and at least 20 lakh people are directly dependent on the city footpaths for livelihoods.
He said approximately 60 percent of the hawkers had already gone to their hometowns due to the shutdown. The rest, who are still in Dhaka, are living an inhuman life because of lack of income and food.
"We have already demanded that the government give financial assistance to those who have already lost their source of income after the shutdown," said Sekendar, who organised a demonstration on Thursday morning.
"You see, many hawkers' families are starving too," he said.
The union has demanded that the government provide each hawker with Tk10,000 in monthly financial assistance a week before Eid.
"If the government does not pay heed to our demand, we will begin a movement," warned Sekendar.
The city's police department said they are looking for ways to mitigate the plight of the hawkers. They are exploring the possibility of allowing hawkers to set up shops in open spaces by maintaining social distancing rules.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner Shafiqul Islam told The Business Standard he had already instructed the deputy commissioners of police to find such open spaces.
"We are looking for such places as under no circumstance will the hawkers be allowed to sit on the footpath, which can be risky," said Shafiqul.