Over 1 lakh handloom and power loom workers, the ones that weave the famous Tangail saris, are in dire need of help after they went out of work since their factories were shuttered nearly a month ago amid the outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus.
Traders and factory owners are also counting huge losses as they invested heavily ahead of the festivities of Pahela Baishakh and the Eid-ul-Fitr -- the two occasions in a year when the markets see highest sales of Tangail saris.
With no cash flowing in, many weavers have been breaking their lifesavings, while the ones having no savings are borrowing money from local money lenders.
Yet, the affected workers and businesses did not receive any form of food or financial aid from the local administration.
According to Bangladesh Handloom Board (BHB), more than 1 lakh workers are employed in 12 upazilas of Tangail where around 20,000 handlooms and 25,000 power looms are operational at different factories.
Of the workers, 50 percent have their origins in Sirajganj, Pabna and Kurigram, while the rest are locals, BHB officials also said.
This correspondent recently visited some areas in Tangail that are usually found bustling from dusk till dawn, with movement of machinery at hundreds of weaving factories.
While visiting, there was no sign of any activity at any of the factories in Bajitpur in Sadar upazila; Pathrail, Chandi and Dhulutia in Delduar upazila; and Balla, Rampur and Chhatihati in Kalihati upazila.
Several of the workers said they used to make from Tk 300 to Tk 500 every day.
After spending so many weeks without any income, they said, many ran out of cash and had been buying daily essentials on credit from local grocery stores.
Others said many are falling victims to loan sharks and it would be extremely difficult for the poverty-stricken weavers to get out of the debt over a long period of time.
Omar Ali, a handloom worker from Singair in Balla union, said unless urgent assistance is provided, a good number of the workers will not be able to save themselves from the entrapment of the lone sharks.
The situation seems to deteriorate with the passing of each day as the poor weavers are unable to feed their families, said Mohammad Ali, another worker in the same area.
While speaking with this correspondent, Balla handloom owners' association President Mofakhkharul Islam said the situation has turned for the worse at a time when the workers would remain the busiest making orders for the Pahela Baishakh and the Eid.
The loss of sales during the time of peak demand is also causing the factory owners and traders pay a heavy price, he added.
Imranul Haque, liaison officer at BHB's Balla Basic Centre (serving Kalihati, Bhuapur, Ghatail, Gopalpur, Madhupur and Dhanbari upazilas), said a cloud of gloom hangs over both the handloom and power loom industries in the area as the factories remain closed amid the ongoing nationwide shutdown.
In order to support the industry, the BHB has suspended collection of small loan repayments from the weavers. "We are now preparing separate lists of affected workers and factory owners."
The list would be sent to the chairman of the BHB, the deputy commissioner and upazila nirbahi officers concerned," he added.