The ongoing restrictions on public transport and reduced business hours imposed on shops and marketplaces, to contain the second wave of the pandemic, are causing severe financial hardship to Jhenidah's bamboo artisans.
In Kayargachhi Abashan Prokolpo of Jhenidah Sadar upazila, 20 families of Bed community rely on bamboo crafts for their livelihood. Around 25 more families of the community also live in Garaganj Bazar area of Shailakupa upazila and 10 families in Sadhuhati union of Sadar upazila in the district.
Members of the Bed community have been making household and agricultural accessories, tools and novelty items with bamboo for ages. The craft is passed on to the next generation, especially to the boys, when they reach around 10 or 12 years. The Beds do not usually send their children to school or take on other profession.
While visiting the Prokolpo area in Sadar upazila, many of the Beds told this correspondent that their income from the sale of bamboo items had been dwindling over the last two or three decades and the community has been struggling for survival.
But the various restrictions imposed during this year's outbreak of Covid-19 pushed them to the curb, forcing them to live from hand to mouth. Without any significant earnings, most of them have been getting deeper in debt, they also said.
Ananda Kumar, a resident of the Prokolpo, said he has expertise in making Sharpesh (food cover), Turi (a type of serving bowl) and novelty items such as flower vase, pen holder and toy winnowing fan.
The craft he inherited from his father, and his father from Ananda's grandfather, did not help his father or him maintain solvency. Despite the fact, his father never asked Ananda to go to school at young age, as value of education has no meaning to the Bed community.
His weekly earnings fell to around Tk 1,500, from around Tk 5,000 that he earned during pre-Covid restriction days. Like him, most of them now cannot afford to have even two square meals a day, Ananda added.
Projapati Rani, another member of the community, said she and her husband can make 50 to 60 pieces of basket, toy winnowing fan and Sharpesh in one week's time, at a cost of Tk 300.
During regular times, their weekly earnings from sales would be around Tk 800 to Tk 900, which is not enough to support the family. But now, they do not even have that income, as wholesalers do not come to the local market anymore.
Finding no prospect in the craft, their son has decided to become a barber, she also said.
Requesting urgent assistance from the government, the members of the community said unless they are provided financial stimulus or bank loans with low interest and relaxed repayment options, survival will be extremely difficult for them.
Contacted, Sadar Upazila Nirbahi Officer SM Shahin said currently they have been concentrating on providing assistance to transport workers who had been out of jobs due to the restrictions.
The Bed community has not been affected severely and their issues might be addressed at a later time, he also said.