Imagine there is no coronavirus and the situation in Bangladesh is normal like it was three months ago.
Many of you may easily perceive how busy might Islampur – the country's biggest wholesale fabric market located in the old part of Dhaka – remain just one day before Ramadan.
Hundreds of wholesalers and retailers from district and upazila levels – be they from Panchgarh or Cox's Bazar – gather at a cramped place to buy fabrics that are used mostly for tailor-made new cloths as part of the Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations.
Rich people in Dhaka also make the sellers happy as they buy clothes worth crores of taka for distribution among the poor as Zakat.
However, the scenario this year is completely different for more than 6,000 wholesalers and over 50,000 employees who are now practically locked down at their homes amid a nationwide shutdown put in force since March 26 to stem Covid-19.
By the time the shutdown is relaxed on May 5, Ramadan will be halfway done and there will be no demand for fabrics at that time.
Sales in Islampur cloth market usually start 10 days ahead of Sab-e-Barat and continue until the second week of Ramadan.
Businessmen said they sold around Tk5,000 crore worth of fabrics, sarees, lungis etc last year. Unable to start sales even two weeks into the usual peak season, they are now in fear of losing the whole of the seasonal business this year.
"We are shattered," said Nesar Uddin, general secretary of Bangladesh Cloth Merchant Association.
"All through the year, we keep waiting for this season because the volume of sales during this month's time is higher than the accumulated total of that in the remaining 11 months," he told The Business Standard.
Like him, several thousand wholesalers who have invested their money could not sell anything this year. Many of them have taken out bank loans from banks to make investments.
Islampur's businessmen get their clothes produced at factories in Narayanganj and Keraniganj. Yarn producers, textile, dyeing, printing, embroidery, catalogue, and package making are involved in the process. Only cloth sale can ensure payment of all these steps. As there is no sale this year, the entire chain has an air of uncertainty about the payments.
Like every year cloth merchants have already made varieties of cloths of latest designs targeting the Eid-ul-Fitr extravaganza.
However, they are now in fear of suffering great loss as their shops are closed due to the countrywide shutdown put in force since March 26.
According to Bangladesh Cloth Merchant Association, there are more than 6,000 cloth shops in Islampur market. If we include the small roadside makeshift shops, the number will exceed 10,000.
Around 60,000-70,000 people work in these shops. Most of them have not got their salaries for March this year as there was no trade.
Akbar Bhuiyan, proprietor of Bhuiyan Traders in Islampur, said, "The dearth in sales has placed in great difficulties. We will not be able to repay loans we have taken out from banks."
Bangladesh Cloth Merchant Association President Shamsul Alam told The Business Standard, "I have 700 employees. I could not pay them their salaries for March. We have taken out loans from banks but we cannot pay them back if we cannot sell our products."
Many businessmen from district levels buy clothes from them throughout the year and pay them after the sale before Eid. This year, they will not be able to pay, he added.
"Last year, I bought clothes worth around Tk50 lakh to distribute among the poor. I do it before the start of Ramadan every year. But, I have not bought anything as yet this year," said a businessman.
Amid this situation, Islampur businessmen request the government to provide relief materials among their staff members during Ramadan.
They also request the government to give them low-cost fresh loans.