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Tale of a poor female rickshaw puller

Published : 30 Mar 2020 09:11 PM | Updated : 07 Sep 2020 07:18 AM

Usually the poor who depend on for daily wages for living are most vulnerable when the trends in the economic growth go negative and that too in a small city like Rajshahi where economic activities are generally far less distinct. At a time like this when the entire world is literally fighting a war against the coronavirus infection, poor people are the hardest hit and worst affected. It is no surprise for a rickshaw puller like Shumi, mother of two sons, not to find any work these days.

“I have been pulling rickshaw for almost six months now to earn my living,” said Shumi in her late forties, who lives in a shanti in the suburbs of the city in north-western Bangladesh. Shumi, widowed long ago, narrated how she has been passing recent days without any food as she is unable to get customers. “The roads are empty. It seems everyone in this city has left and I am the only person left behind. In such a forbidding situation I have not been able to earn a single penny. I am surviving on littered food being picked up near city garbage points.”

A weeping Shumi described the worse to come in her life. “If I don’t earn, I don’t eat. I am starving and I don’t even have the strength anymore to pull rickshaw in this heated weather,” she said, adding, “On top of this grave situation Allah has cursed us with the virus. It is the poor who would die first – not from the infection but probably from starving.”

Shumi has to pay Tk 200 as daily rent for hiring the rickshaw from the owner known as mahajon. “Today I so far earned Tk 80 which is not good enough. Any amount after Tk 200 is mine but that seems to be quite impossible,” said Shumi who also shows respect to the government’s instruction to follow personal hygiene by putting on a mask.

Earlier Shumi had a steady earning working as a domestic aid at a resident in the city centre but as she fell sick, she had to quit and stay at home. “I am still sick but what can I do,” asked a distress face of Shumi who continues to struggle to survive. She says, “Life is tough and it gets tougher when you have no one to help you.”

Shumi came to Rajshahi from Boraigram of neighbouring Natore district for a better life when her husband had died 15 years ago with two minor sons. As a migrant she gets no food relief as a poor. In fact, she is not also entitled to get a ‘widow card’ from the municipality as she is not a permanent resident of the city.

The cruelty of not getting helping hand from the state was evident when the municipal authority refused to provide her with relief materials during the recent cold weather as she had not been registered as a ‘resident’ of Rajshahi city. As a result, she had to survive in extreme cold covering herself with whatever she could fetch around her to comfort her in her tiny shanti house.

On her own, Shumi now vows to make living on her own and fight on despite the crushing economic situation worldwide impact of which is also on this small divisional headquarters in Rajshahi. “I will survive with the blessings of Allah,” said a mourning voice. The story of Shumi’s hardship reached Hasan Mahmud, Information Minister who earlier instructed the general secretary of ruling Awami League, Doublew Sarker to buy and donate a rickshaw for her. 

Shumi was handed over the rickshaw on Monday afternoon and Sarker also assured Shumi of providing all costs of her living for the next one month as she would not find passengers. Meanwhile, the deputy commissioner of Rajshahi, also helped Shumi with Taka 5000 in cash to help her buy food that she needs.