Hafsa Begum, a housewife from Sarkar Para in Brahmanbaria, had to sell her gold ornaments after her husband's income stopped due to the Covid-19 pandemic. She had bought the gold with money saved from daily expenses, hoping it would be useful in case of any emergency.
Not only Hafsa Begum but many others are selling their accumulated gold ornaments at present. The situation is almost the same in other districts of the country as well.
According to gold traders in Brahmanbaria, the gold trade of the district has come to a standstill due to Covid-19. Compared to the time before the pandemic, the business has decreased by about 90% with financial losses being to the tune of Tk200 crore.
They said gold ornaments are sold at various religious festivals and social events, but due to the epidemic, all kinds of social events, including marriage ceremonies, have been in a state of suspension. Besides, people are not solvent enough due to stagnation in work and trade. Moreover, the increase in the price of gold from time to time has led people into selling gold.
According to the Brahmanbaria District Jewellery Owners Association, there are more than 1,000 jewellery shops in the district. Of them, more than 200 shops are in Brahmanbaria district town alone. Before the coronavirus outbreak, shops in Brahmanbaria used to sell an average of more than 1,000 gold ornaments a month and buy 100-150 bhori (11.664 grams) of gold from customers.
However, at present, an average of 100 bhori of gold ornaments are being sold every month and traders are buying an average of 300-400 gold ornaments from customers.
In the market, gold is being sold at Tk68,000-70,000 and traders are buying it at Tk60,000-62,000 per bhori.
Mamun Mia, who came to sell gold at Lakhi Bazar in the district, said he had bought chains and bangles for his wife for Tk45,000 which he has sold to run his family.
"My husband brought three bhori of gold ornaments from abroad 1.5 years ago. Now, he is getting half his regular salary and so it is difficult for him to run the family. On the other hand, as the price of gold has gone up, he is selling the ornaments at a higher price, making a profit of Tk25,000 per bhori," said Farhana Begum, who came to sell gold in the city's New Market.
Like other businesses, all the jewellery shops in the district were closed from March to May as per government directives. Although a decision was taken to reopen the shops from June, shop owners said they are facing losses against shop rents, electricity bills and other expenses, including salaries and allowances of workers.
Pintu Debnath of Mahalakshmi Jewellers on New Market Road in Brahmanbaria said, "Before Covid-19, I used to sell 15-20 bhori of gold ornaments every month but now it is difficult to sell one bhori of gold a month. There is even no sale in many shops. People don't have money, which is why everyone is coming to sell gold instead of buying it.
Hari Banik of Anand Jewellers on New Market Road said the shop had to be closed for three consecutive months due to the pandemic. Although the shops have been open since June, there is no sale. Earlier, 30-40 gold ornaments were sold every month. Now 4-5 bhori of gold is not sold. Every month, he is buying 8-10 bhori of gold from customers.
Another businessman, Saikat Roy Barman, said though people come to him for selling ornaments he cannot buy them as he is in a financial crisis due to the pandemic.
Ratan Kumar Banik, general secretary of Brahmanbaria District Jewellery Owners Association, said, "Our business runs well during social and religious events but due to Covid-19, all kinds of events are at a standstill. Now there is no business, and we have to buy more from customers than sell."
"Our business has lost about Tk200 crore so far and it is increasing gradually. We do not know how to compensate for these losses. I just hope the business will be as good as before," he added.
Gold traders in Rajshahi are also in trouble because of the pandemic. Many have even left the business and chosen other professions. This correspondent recently talked to 20 gold traders in the city and only one of them said his business is just okay.
Traders concerned said many people lost their jobs because of the pandemic while many businesses have closed down. As a result, many of them are selling gold jewellery as they do not have money to run their families.
Mohan Sarkar of Baishakhi Jewellers said business is very poor at present. Customers who used to come and have gold jewellery made are now coming to sell gold.
Saidur Rahman of Jhalak Jewellers said he has never faced such a situation in his 45 years in the gold business. "Many customers come to sell their favourite gold jewellery and start weeping, and we have to buy it," he said.
"Our situation has also become fragile due to the increase in taxes and trade license fees," he added.
N Huda of N Huda Jewellers said 60% customers come to sell gold while 40% come to buy.
However, Subrata Sarkar of Snigdha Jewellers said, "Till a few days ago, people used to come to sell gold. Orders were low then. Things are a little better now."
Aslam Uddin Sarkar, president of the Rajshahi branch of the Bangladesh Jewellers Association, said only 10 to 15 shops out of 300 in the city are selling. Everyone else's situation is very bad.
Covid-19 has also affected the gold market in Satkhira. On the one hand, there are no buyers and on the other hand, prices are high. Gold traders said everyday traders have to buy 25-30 bhori of gold from people.
Most jewellers in the district are located at Friends Dramatic Club Market in Satkhira. Rezaul Karim of Tania Jewellers in the market said, "Every day 4-5 people come to sell gold. Many of these gold ornaments were bought from my shop at one time. When I sell gold, I inform the buyer that to sell it in the future, he has to sell it at a commission of 20% of the market price. I am buying gold on this condition but there is no buyer."
Abdullah Al Masood of Al Amin Jewellers in the same market said the current state of the gold business is very bad as the number of sellers is higher than that of buyers. He has to buy at least 2-3 bhori of gold per day while he cannot sell even two bhori of gold.
He said he has lost more than Tk50 lakh since the beginning of the pandemic.
Khairul Bashar, a businessman from Munjitpur area of Satkhira, said he became indebted as business has turned precarious due to the pandemic and he has had to sell his gold jewellery.
Shahidul Islam of Al Baraka Jewellers in the city said, "In the last 6-7 months, I have bought 60-70 bhori of gold. I can't buy anymore. There is no sale. Moreover, 6-7 of the staff have to be run with a subsidy."
Gaur Dutta, president of the Satkhira District Gold Traders Association, said there are 240 licensed gold traders and 300 jewellery shops in the district. These gold traders are now in dire straits. Every day they buy 25-30 bhori of gold but sales are very little.
Although the sale and purchase of gold ornaments have declined due to the long closure of flights on international routes and the negative impact of Covid-19, the price of gold has gone up. According to those involved in the gold business, most of the gold business in remote rural areas survives by repairing ornaments.
Sumon Kumar Mohant of Swapna Jewellers, a gold trader in Bogura's Shibganj upazila, said around 1.5 bhori of gold jewellery used to be sold a month before Covid-19, which is now eight anna (1 anna= 0.72875 grams). He said the trend of gifts at weddings or other occasions is no more.
Md Sajedul Islam of Nur Mahal Jewellers of Samir Uddin Market said it has become difficult to sustain the business in the current situation as his sales have dropped to one-fourth of what it was earlier. Every day on average, four people come to sell jewellery while only one person comes for buying.
As the price of gold has increased in four phases during the Covid-19 period, more consumers in Dinajpur are selling gold to shopkeepers.
However, traders could not confirm whether it was due to the overall economic downturn caused by the pandemic or the rise in gold prices.
Shyamal Kumar Das from Birol upazila in Dinajpur, who came to sell gold, said although the price of gold was low at the beginning of the year, now the price has gone up. Moreover, because of the pandemic, he does not have much money in hand.
"I am not sure if I will be able to take the gold back after I keep it in mortgage. So, I have sold it," he said.
Yadav Chandra Pal of GS Jewellers in Dinajpur said people do not wear gold jewellery anymore.
At the beginning of the year, the price of gold was Tk56,000 (22 carats) and Tk53,000 (21 carats) per bhori. In April, the price was Tk60,000 (22 carats) and Tk58,000 (21 carats). In August, the price was Tk72,000 (22 carats) which rose to Tk74,000 (22 carats) in September. At present, gold is being sold at Tk76,000 (22 carats) and Tk73,000 (21 carats).
He said gold is being returned with the price of the remaining weight after a deduction of 20% from the weight of gold at the time of purchase and excluding wages.
Alok Das of Dinajpur Shilpi Jewellers said earlier customers used to keep gold and silver in mortgage but now they are selling gold.
A goldsmith, who did not want to be named, said both customers and shopkeepers are benefiting, though many fear that the price of gold may fall.
Our Bogura correspondent Hasibur Rahman Bilu, Rajshahi correspondent Bulbul Habib and Satkhira correspondent Akramul Islam and Dinajpur correspondent have contributed to preparing the report.