Many people, riddled with hardship after having suffered pandemic-led job losses, are now coming to Dhaka to take to peddling rickshaws to make a living.
They are crowding different rickshaw garages to manage rickshaws rented from mahajans (rickshaw traders). But the number of rickshaws available is not enough against the demand that has gone up after virus curbs were withdrawn.
Rickshaw pullers and garage owners say there was not so much demand for renting rickshaws even in pre-pandemic times.
Hailing from a remote village in Chapainawabganj, Abidur Rahman pulls a rickshaw in the Shanir Beel area of Mirpur Beribadh. "We are 80 in numbers who pedal rickshaws rented from a garage. Of these 80, 21 from Chapainawabganj are newcomers from different other professions. They were all forced to choose this job as they had no other way to run their families," he told The Business Standard.
Rickshaw puller Solaiman Hossain, 42, worked as a salesman in a clothing shop in Narsingdi for eight years. But the pandemic took away his job, leaving him with no choice but going for a rickshaw in Dhaka after being jobless in his village for a long time.
Solaiman told TBS, "I used to pull a rickshaw 15 years ago. Unfortunately, I have now been forced to do this again to make ends meet. But I do not get a rickshaw every day as the number of rickshaw-pullers is very high in Dhaka. I have to sit idle a day or two in a week."
The pandemic has also thrown another rickshaw puller Rabiul Alam, 38, out of his job at a rice warehouse in Narayanganj.
Rabiul came to Dhaka a day before Eid-ul-Adha to scrape a living. He ended up resorting to rickshaw pulling as he could not manage any other job.
"Renting a rickshaw is nowadays difficult as the number of rickshaw pullers is high compared to the rickshaws that are available for hire.
Like Rabiul and Solainman, many have recently switched to pedalling rickshaws after losing jobs to Covid-19. With each passing day, their number in the capital is swelling, making it tough for them to manage rickshaws they can pull.
Sohail Ahmed, manager of a rickshaw garage at Bibika Intersection in Tejgaon, said, "We have 60 rickshaws in our garage. Of them, 25-30 remained locked during the pandemic. All are now running."
Manik Hossain, manager of Robel Khan Garage at Madhubagh in Moghbazar, said all of the 180 rickshaws of the garage are now on the roads. Even in pre-pandemic times, the garage could not rent out more than 120. The number of rent takers was 50-60 in the lockdowns.
Many garages in Moghbazar, Madhubagh, Kathal Bagan, Chankharpul, Kamrangirchar, Bedibadh in Mirpur, Tejgaon and Dakshinkhan are experiencing pressure from eager rickshaw rent takers.
Many rickshaw pullers, who earlier were in other professions in their home villages or operated rickshaws in other towns, have come to Dhaka for the first time, according to garage owners.
Lutfar Rahman, owner of a garage in Moghbazar's Ambagan, told TBS that 15 to 20 rickshaw pullers have been coming to rent rickshaws every day. With a fall in earnings in the villages and towns in this pandemic situation, many of them have come to Dhaka to earn more.
Moreover, at least 10 out of 100 people have taken to pulling rickshaws on finding no other way to make a living, he added.
The income of rickshaw pullers has dropped because of an increased presence of rickshaws and a lower number of passengers.
Jalal Uddin, a rickshaw puller in Mirpur, said, "Many people who have started pulling rickshaws are new to it; they have no other work in this pandemic situation. So, there are more rickshaws on the roads than before."
The number of rickshaw pullers will go down after the paddy harvesting season commences in December, he added.
Extreme poverty has jumped by 60% compared to earlier times, while 14% people do not have any food at home, according to a survey conducted by Brac on 2,075 low-income people in the country's 64 districts. The survey was conducted between 31 March and 5 April.
A research paper, titled "Organising the informal economy workers: A Study in rickshaw pullers in Dhaka city", prepared by the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies, has revealed that there are around 11 lakh rickshaw-pullers in the capital, all of whom are in dire straits as their income has gone down because of Covid-19.
Even though rickshaws were permitted to operate in the lockdown, there were not enough passengers as there had been earlier since academic institutions, offices and businesses were closed.