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People are at the center in the pandemic now ravaging the world. It’s in terms of toll and contribution from the people. It’s in economy, and consequently, in life. Bangladesh is no exception.

The stories of suffering are broadly the same in all lands: hunger/hunger-scar, less-/least-accessible health care, death. Reports from the country considered the world’s richest, smartest, wisest, most powerful and most advanced nullify all allegations of incompetence, mishandling and mismanagement in countries considered poor, undemocratic and inefficient.

The least told part of the story is of the people. The Bangladesh people aren’t away from this saga. At the year-end, a look at this part is a requisite.

Many parts of the Bangladesh people took exemplary initiatives to face the pandemic while the rest was unorganized, and engaged with the pandemic within their environment. It’s an environment of poor habitats with unhygienic condition, uncertain income and food, inadequate health care infrastructure.

Most of the initiatives – reaching the people with the requirement (RPR) – were by the low-income stratum of the society, the stratum that lives far away from benefits dominating capital always derives. This stratum, lower and weak, has no share either in appropriation or in loot. This stratum has no mechanism in taking the share. This part of the people initiating the RPR is without any surplus resource, which it can spend for the RPR. Despite that, this part was with the RPR.

Most of these RPRs were self-initiatives, without any central directive, by students and youth mostly from the middle class. A few were by professionals with small earning. In areas, actors, artists, journalists, juvenile organization activists, small/local NGO workers, poets, singers, teachers joined. A few of the initiatives were unique. Political parties and a few resourceful NGOs took initiatives, which are not discussed in this article, as this article isn’t covering the issue, which needs deep dig.

Student, youth, juvenile and cultural organizations, and individuals including teachers and homemakers sprang into the RPRs. New organizations cropped up in areas. A few individuals initiated RPR jointly, but stayed away from forming formal organization also.

The RPRs included preparation and distribution of hand sanitizer, dissemination of information, spreading of disinfectant, organizing transportation of the infected persons, and last rites and burial of the dead, distribution of food and soap. The distributed food included rice, pulse, potato, edible oil, egg, salt, sugar, spices, fruits and tea. The distributed spices included onion, garlic, turmeric, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon, and the fruits included mango and orange. It should be mentioned that drinking tea and warm water with ginger, cardamom and cinnamon 2-4 times a day turned out as a practice among many during the pandemic.

The focus of the RPRs was the poor peasantry/persons in the so-called informal sector in urban and rural areas and the dalits, subdued of the subdued. In cases, members of the middle class with lost income were also covered, which included private tutor, photocopy shop owner, social/juvenile organizer. Persons in the informal sector included technician, transport worker, carpenter, vendor, domestic worker, microphone renting shop and decorator shop staff, old newspaper trader. At the initial days of the pandemic-related lockdown, they lost income. The dissemination of information included informing rickshaw pullers, group by group.

Cultural activists, journalists, lawyers, poets, singers and teachers collectively harvested paddy of a number of poor farmers facing difficulty to hire farmhands as movement of persons and transport faced restrictions due to lock downs. This happened in at least one area. The participants in the harvesting of paddy have decided to organize such initiative, join the poor peasantry, every year.

Students also joined in harvesting of paddy in many areas. They carried harvested crop to famers’ home/yard. Students organized low priced shop centers for the poor/less-earning families in areas. These centers operated for a few hours each day. Students roaming with bicycles distributed medicines in areas.

A few of the RPRs were for a few days while a few continued for weeks and months. A few of the RPRs were conducted once in one area while a few were carried on repeatedly.

Most of the contributions in the RPRs came from the middle class. Homemakers, physicians, salaried employees, students, teachers, traders contributed to the RPRs. Persons and students staying abroad also contributed although they were facing hardship in the countries they were staying.

The initial days of the pandemic were scary to many. Many persons had to stay within home, movement of persons was restricted, transportation was very limited, accessing proper hospital facilities was difficult, many hospitals run by private capital shuttered down. Many persons including the self-employed lost their income. Even, many in the middle class were in a difficult position, as seeking government relief was embarrassing to them. The situation required handing over of necessities to them. At least one RPR covered such a group of families.

A comparison between the RPRs’ contribution and the contribution by the super-profiteers in standing by the persons pressed by the pandemic help understand a few facts of social reality. Anyone can question: Who/which class(es) has(ve) contributed how much, how much has been pilfered-siphoned-embezzled and trafficked abroad, and how much has been produced by the part which has been suffering? Reports of the MSM and a few exposures including the Panama Papers say about these amounts. It’s billions of Taka, the Bangladesh currency. The pilfered-siphoned-embezzled-trafficked amounts are from the labor of a part of the pressed during the pandemic. The amounts are so much, the laboring part, which has been robbed, is so many, and the owners of the amount are so few! The robbed amounts indicate the huge surplus the so many produce. The robbing capital is so desperate, and the robbers are so confident about ensured supply of labor that sometimes a part of necessary labor is also snatched. The robbed amounts are only a part of the produced. The reality stands: So many have been robbed by so few, and the so few have robbed so much! The pandemic has once again exposed this stinging story. The pandemic has also shown that the commoners stand on their own initiative, and they wait for none to stand in solidarity.

Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka.


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