by Nazrul Islam in Dhaka;-
Poor Farid Uddin had suffered a brain stroke a few years ago. But his ailment at his late 60s did not spare him from maintaining family of four, including a mentally retarded 17 year-old son. The entire family depends upon his lump-sum amount of irregular monthly income he draws from a small hosiery factory he works for near his home in the central Bangladeshi district of Narayanganj.
Novel coronavirus pandemic has pushed him to the wall because of income loss with the factory failing to pay his wages on regular basis. His level of poverty has come down to a level that he could not manage his family’s daily provisions. He tried much to cope with the situation by having almost a single meal a day for a few months.
Uddin could manage fair or foul with the wage when he used to draw it regularly since he did not need to pay the house rent as he was living on his share of two tiny tin-roofed rooms built on three-storey building his father had left for six more siblings. One of his eyes was completely damaged after he got an operation, compelling him to accept lower wage to receive at the factory.
And, the Covid-19 scenario has made is situation more difficult like that of millions other in Bangladesh.
Having no other means for sustenance at this moment, Uddin, exasperated by the pandemic-triggered poverty, decided to seek food aid from the government.
And, accordingly, he made a phone call to the government helpline number, 333, on Tuesday. The initial response from the local administration was cordial. Packets containing basic food-stuffs from the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund were brought to his locality, ushering a hope for his survival.
But the things went otherwise. Tragic!
Uddin was soon called in by local word councilor Ayub Ali of Kashipur Union, an elected representative of local government tire. The representative declared that Ahmed was not eligible for the food package because of his “economic affluence”.
Ali affronted and asked Ahmed repeatedly to explain why a ‘rich man’ like him was eligible for the government’s food aid. “You are self-reliant, own a four-storey building; how come you seek the food aid, shameless!” the representative was quoted as saying by Uddin.
The rebuffing in the public caused Uddin, no less than a plebeian, to feel deeply insulted. “If you think I was ineligible, then it was my mistake to seek the government aid, but I’m in dire need of food,” the poor fellow told Ali in a tone of apology.
He was not pardoned, and punished instead!
To the sequence of events, the chief administrator of Narayanganj Sadar Upazila, Arifa Johura, came in the scene soon afterwards. She asked Ahmed a number of questions against his appeal for food, and eventually punished the hapless man instead of assisting with much needed food for his family.
Johura instantly ordered him either to distribute 100 food packets, each containing five kgs of rice, one kg of salt, potato, onion and edible oil, among the destitute or face a mobile court verdict that may go up to three months in jail.
The UNO, who took her assignment in Narayanganj only last month, cited the man “disturbed the government officials by making false claim for food aid.”
Dumfounded, poor Uddin had to borrow a sum of money from his neighbours and sell out his wife’s ornaments to make a fund available to carry out the order, apparently to avoid a jail term. He then bought the food stuff, packed and handed them to the UNO on Saturday in front of his home at Deobhogh neighbourhood. The UNO then distributed the packets among people who queued there.
Does anyone deserve such sarcasm in the name of justice in the time of pandemic? “Was it my offence that I called the helpline number to seek food?” regretted Farid Uddin. He said the Upazila administration did not revise its decision, but a local philanthropist, shocked by the events, donated 60,000 taka to pay off the money he had borrowed to comply the judgment. He is still in the need of food supply.