The poor and backward mass that have showed no regard for the government Covid-19 instructions are the ones who are neglected by the state over the years to such an extent that in them a sense of duty to society and the state has not developed in the first place
That most people in Bangladesh take the state that governs them as a remote entity has become more evident in this time of Covid-19 crisis. They just ignored to follow the government's Covid-19 instructions. Those holding higher positions complained in frustration that if people did not obey government directions such as staying at home or maintaining social distancing, what more they could have done.
A section of people in Bangladesh also show their disdainful disapproval for these people. But their quiet indifference to the state instructions appears as a natural consequence once you take into account what little stake the state has left for them.
Though late, the government indeed took several steps for stemming the virus outbreak. First, educational institutions were closed followed by a declaration of general holidays and closure of all mass transports. Large gatherings, including prayers in mosques, were prohibited.
A countrywide lockdown was not declared, but from the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina it was directed that wherever a coronavirus patient would be detected, that place would be kept in a strict lockdown, meaning that no one would be able to come out or go inside the place in this time. Excepting the state order on educational institutions, the ground reality is people have hardly followed these orders.
Take the case of Narayanganj for example. Dhaka is a huge crowded metropolis. In comparison Narayanganj is far smaller in size but is a crowded place like Dhaka. From the very start, the concentration of coronavirus cases was greater here and Bangladesh recorded its first Covid-19 death in this place. Reasonably, IEDCR declared the place an epicenter of coronavirus in Bangladesh and it was brought under lockdown.
But the people living there did not go by the order and keep themselves indoors. Instead internal migrant workers fled Narayanganj at the dark of night and took with them the virus where there was no case of Covid-19 before. They were like those foreign returnees who fled China, Italy and other western countries and brought first the new disease to Bangladesh in absence of a strict institutional quarantine regime. The administration also failed to stop these internal workers and the lockdown attempt of Narayanganj practically went in vain with Covid-19 patients now being detected everywhere. Practically, Bangladesh has now entered the fourth stage of community transmission.
Administration urged people to stay at home except for emergency needs from the mid March. This instruction was meant for all the people. As mass transports were not available, the main thoroughfares of cities and towns were deserted, but in local marketplaces and neighborhoods, the scenario was business as usual. People were seen cheek by jowl with each other while shopping, and sneezed or coughed without maintaining the Covid-19 health protocol.
They do not follow the social or physical distancing norm even when they are bombarded as they make calls through their mobile handset—which is now owned by most in Bangladesh—about the importance of keeping indoors and maintaining social distancing. These efforts seem to have little or no impact on them.
Certainly, most people in Bangladesh have hardly any health awareness. There are people who even doubt whether the virus exists at all. But more importantly there is the instinct for survival; people have to come out to earn a living, with nothing or little left in their home. But lack of awareness or livelihood necessity is perhaps not the all of the explanation about their present behavior.
Truly speaking, the poor and backward mass that have showed no regard for the government Covid-19 instructions are the ones who are neglected by the state over the years to such an extent that in them a sense of duty to society and the state has not developed in the first place. They practically do not own the state as their own. For them, the government is a remote thing run by the other, not them.
At the present moment, they do not have their elected representatives in the parliament in the true sense. What their local government representatives have done with the distribution of relief materials is now known to all. People could not believe that seize of stolen relief materials would be so ubiquitous across the country.
The state treats the general people as nonentities without having basic rights and there is practically none to speak for them in the proper forums. The state has become so uncaring about materializing their rights and fulfilling needs, in them has grown this dead indifference for the state.
Citizens are not treated here as equals. The authorities have decided that if on-duty public officials or employees such as doctors, nurses, health workers, or the ones belonging to police and local administrations are just infected with the coronavirus, they will be given taka five to ten lakh each depending on their grade. For what reason, no one knows. If such a person dies, he will be given taka twenty-five to fifty lakh. The government has already sanctioned Tk1360 crore for this purpose.
Earlier, the health ministry was all set to establish a dedicated hospital for the so-called VIPs, reminding people the days of the British colonial period. The decision elicited stormy criticism in the social media and the ministry backtracked. But an alternative to this has been made by allowing three costliest private hospitals in Dhaka city—Evercare, Square and United—to conduct a coronavirus test at Tk3500 with prior admission to these hospitals.
In Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Tk72,750 crore economic stimulus package, there was no cash allocation for people who earn daily livelihood by pulling a rickshaw or a van or doing similar grueling labor that also has been stopped now. After taking a long time, the government finally decided to provide cash assistance to 50 lakh poor families with each to get Tk2500. The government has allocated Tk1,250 crore for this initiative. It is better late than never.
But the incentive package for the public servants who receive regular handsome salaries and the meager allocation for 50 lakh poor families for their subsistence show the inherent inequality of Bangladesh society.
If these neglected people do not act upon Covid-19 instructions or any similar instructions from the state for that matter, you cannot laugh at or denounce them. Unless their rights are restored and they feel that the state is their own, they will not obey any directives even when they are meant for their good.
Kazi Mostaque Ahmed is a journalist and a columnist and a former teacher of English at Bangladesh University and Darul Ihsan University (now not in operation). He can be contacted at: [email protected].