Many hawkers start begging

Amid countrywide lockdown due to growing coronavirus outbreak, lower income group people, mostly hawkers and street vendors, started begging for alms in Dhaka to earn their livelihood. Many were seen begging on the city’s different streets and near the flyovers. If they see a vehicle coming they ran towards to intercept it in a hope of getting some foods or money so they can feed their dear ones.

Forty-five-year-old Bilkis, who was seen begging in Niketon area on Thursday, told Bangladesh Post that she used to sell cigarette and betel leaf on the city streets.

“There is no food in my house for a week. I had sold nothing after lockdown started. I was forced to beg,” she lamented. These people are desperate for foods or money and they can’t afford the luxury of using gloves, masks, sanitizers let alone to practice social distance. A street vendor, who was seen searching for food, in Rampura, said, “We are afraid but if we don’t come out, we will starve to death. We didn’t have money so we couldn’t stock foods when the lockdown began.

“I am no beggar. Situation pushed me to it,” he lamented. Mizan, a hawker who used to sell cloths in Gulistan area, said he did not go to village thinking that the situation would be normal soon. “I have spent all of my money and now I’m passing a miserable life with the family. Now, I have nothing to do but beg.”

No people from the government took our names for giving us foods since we are not from the capital, he added.Besides, Dhaka Sangbadpatra Hawkers’ Bahumukhi Samabay Samity represents around 4,500 newspaper hawkers in the capital while the number is around 15,000 across the country.

Apart from the newspaper hawkers, there are around thousands of street vendors who are mostly lived in makeshifts on the city streets. Talking to Bangladesh Post, Sangbadpatra Hawkers Samity General Secretary Abdul Mannan shared the tales of his fellow hawkers. “It is really horrible. There are around 5,000 newspaper hawkers active in the capital. Those who distributed 300 papers a day are now distributing 100 as entry is banned in many places due to holidays,” Mannan said.

He warned that hawkers are still severing but if the holidays are extended, many may quit the job. Mannan urged the government and the publishers to come forward to help the hawker community. Recently, development organisations—Power and Participation Research Centre and BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) — conducted a study stating that the fallout of coronavirus affected the income and jobs of the lower income people.

BIDG Executive Director Imran Matin said, “Social safety net programme is very fragmented in Bangladesh with no coverage for street vendors, hawkers and other urban migrants. “We should think about integrated policy to ensure sustainable livelihood for all,” he suggested.

Citing a recent study, Matin said 55 percent of skilled laborers enjoy leisure time amid the holidays. On the other, income of the poor people in the cities plunged by 82 percent while those in the villages by 79 percent. On average, the income of poor people has declined by 76 percent, according to the study.