In the 49 years since independence, Bangladesh has lived through and tackled many natural and man-made disasters—from famines to floods, from industrial disasters to autocratic dictatorships—but this is the first time in our history that we are facing a crisis of such disastrous proportions. The threat posed by the coronavirus is particularly acute for the poor and marginalised populations of this country, who can neither afford the luxury of "social isolation" and "self-quarantine" nor have access to healthcare facilities if and when they fall ill. As the country moves towards a lockdown, what will happen to the day labourers and workers who live from hand to mouth and who, in the absence of their daily wages, may simply starve to death? What of the factory workers who are looking at an uncertain future because some of their owners are claiming they cannot pay wages on time because of cancelled orders from foreign buyers? When even upper- and middle-income groups are struggling to access healthcare and dying from lack of treatment, what hope is there for low-income groups who are denied basic services to which they are constitutionally entitled, even under ordinary circumstances?
This Independence Day, as we pay respect to our martyrs and freedom fighters, we must also remember that this country was built on the ethos of equity and equality and that socialism was one of its foundational pillars. Today, more than ever, we must pledge to protect the weak and the vulnerable, and both the public and private sectors must come together and prioritise the health, food security and well-being of the masses. In a welcoming move, the government has announced it will roll out a massive rescue package for the low-income group, businesses and industries. However, we urge them to act urgently and ensure that the funds reach those most in need of government safety nets. We must guarantee that no citizen in Bangladesh will starve to death because of the impending lockdown on our country. We must ensure that government healthcare facilities in each upazila have designated and adequate services to treat the poor.
The impending crisis has laid bare our economic and social vulnerabilities and reminded us how far we still are from our independence leader Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's vision of a just and equal Bangladesh. We must all rise to the occasion now, as we did in 1971, in our collective fight against the pandemic.