When traders at the Fish and Animal Market in Katabon spotted a police van near the Kataban mosque around 2 pm on Thursday, they rushed to close the shutters of their stores. All the half-opened shops were closed in a trice.
Every trader's eyes were glued to the movement of the van and it was only after the van left that everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
Due to the ongoing nationwide lockdown, Kataban's Fish and Animal Market is closed and exotic animals in the market are spending their days without sufficient daylight and air circulation. So, even though the traders do not have permission to open the shops, they feel bound to do so to keep the animals alive.
Jubayer Mahmud at Red Sea Enterprise said, "We have live animals and birds in our shops and they require a certain amount of light, air and food every day. So we have to open the shops for a certain time of the day."
But Mahmud claims that opening the shops requires courage. As he put it, "We are genuinely afraid of the police. I kept the shutters of the shop open in the morning after feeding the animals but I am not sure if I will be able to open the shutters today again."
More than 50 shops in the market were seen closed during a visit to the area. As there is no official statement from the government regarding how the live animal shops should be during the lockdown, traders are worried about the future.
One of the shops in the market, S N Pet Shop, had its shutters closed. However, two exhaust fans were kept running for ventilation. Nayan, a salesperson at the shop, said that the exhaust fans had been installed considering the warm weather. But he is still worried about the life of the animals in the shop.
Another shop, Bird Zoo, has about 200 pairs of birds. The salesperson at the shop, Pabitra Ranjan, said, "The birds need food and water along with air and light every day. We have a pair of macaws worth more than Tk5 lakh. If the birds die, our shipment will be gone. So, even with the risks involved, we have to open the shop for a certain period every day."
Last year during the lockdown, Fisheries and Livestock Minister S M Rezaul Karim issued verbal instructions to the traders of the Kataban Animal Market to keep their stores open for two hours daily in order to properly feed the animals.
This time, it is a different scene. If the traders open the shop even only to feed the animals, they face interrogation by law enforcement officials.
But the business holders at the market said that it is vital to keep the stores open even for a little while daily to keep the animals alive.
We have informed the Shahbagh police station as we have not yet received any specific instructions from the administration. We have also sent a letter to the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock regarding the matter
Speaking about the issue, Atikur Rahman Ripon, president of the Dhaka University Market Aqua and Pet Association, said, "We have informed the Shahbagh police station as we have not yet received any specific instructions from the administration. We have also sent a letter to the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock regarding the matter."
Ripon said that due to the hot weather, the animals need more care and they also need enough light and air. He called on the government to allow the business holders in the market to open their shops for a limited time daily so that the animals can receive proper care and food.
Hasib Rahman, who had come to Kataban from the capital's Paltan area to buy fish food for his home aquarium, said that he had to wait for a while before he could make the purchase.
"They (the shopkeepers) are afraid to sell food due to the fear of being caught by the administration. But animals need food, so their lifesaving essential items should be exempted from the restrictions of the lockdown," Rahman added.
Bhumi Shontan Bangladesh is an animal rights organisation in Bangladesh. Talking to The Business Standard, the organisation's President Ashraful Kabir urged that even if the traders are not allowed to conduct regular business, they at least need to be allowed to take care of the animals so that the animals do not starve or suffer.