Prayers at home as they take the wheel
Abirun Nesa, 65, is caught in a dilemma.
She is the grandmother of Mohammad Rubel, 19, a human haulier driver on the Gabtoli-Lalbagh route. She cannot let her grandson drive on the streets where public vehicles have become easy targets of grisly arson. Nor can she keep him from doing so as the two depend solely on his income.
“I've raised the boy since his father died when he was two. His mother abandoned him and married another man. How can I let him go when I see so much violence each day?” said a jittery Abirun on Tuesday, who lives with her grandson at Aminbazar on the outskirts of the capital.
She did not allow him to drive at the initial stage of the blockade that has stepped into its second month today. But now she lets him do so only on Fridays and Saturdays considering his dwindling income against soaring prices of necessaries due to the blockade.
“There will be no hartal on Fridays and Saturdays. The chance of violence is slimmer on those days,” she argued.
Abirun's anxiety arises out of facts. Three of Rubel's fellow drivers suffered burns and alleged pro-blockaders also vandalised around 10 vehicles on the Gabtoli-Lalbagh route alone in last one month.
About 80 human hauliers ply the route each day but the number has dropped to 30, said Rubel whose daily income has been halved by now.
Rubel is just one among thousands in the Aminbazar area where drivers and workers of trucks, buses and human hauliers live.
The Daily Star talked to around 30 persons from Aminbazar, including wives and children of transport workers, and several other workers in the city's Tejgaon, a busy commercial area, to get a picture of their ordeals in the ongoing violence.
According to Bangladesh Sharak Paribahan Shamity, there are around 3,00,000 trucks, buses and covered vans in the country. However, no approximate number of human hauliers and CNG-run and battery-run auto-rickshaws could be collected from relevant sources.
In the last one month, over 400 vehicles were torched and 700 more vandalised, according to Sharak Paribahan Samity.
The violence has left at least 17 transport workers dead and scores injured, according to The Daily Star reports.
Family members of transport workers have said violence in the name of achieving political goal means only their harm and in no way brings any fruit to them.
When they [drivers and transport workers] are at work, their family spend anxious time back at home.
"My wife would call me seven to eight times during the time I stay at work," said Abu Bakar on Tuesday. He is a human haulier driver on the Aminbazar-Mirpur route.
Lipi Begum, Bakar's wife, however, highlighted the importance of her husband's daily income without which it would be hard for her to arrange food for the family. They have two children and one of them studies at a local school.
“How would I not let him go? What I do is keep praying for him. Whenever I see any incident of violence on television, anxiety keeps tormenting me as long as I'm not sure that he's safe,” said the housewife.
For truckers Jahangir Alam, 39, and Mohammad Sohel, 25, of Chittagong, the story of survival is different, however.
They came to the capital driving their machinery-laden trucks from the port city in the last week of January.
While talking to The Daily Star on Monday night at Tejgaon, they said they could not arrange a trip to go back to the port city and were having to spend the money they had earned from their earlier trip.
“You cannot think of so many days without a trip on the Dhaka-Chittagong highway, the busiest road of the country. I would get a trip on every other day when the situation was normal," said Jahangir, a father of two daughters and a son.
Sohel, a bachelor, said he had already taken money from his family through bKash as his saving had depleted already.