She had just received the money when she was talking to this correspondent over the phone. Her voice started trembling; she appeared very ashamed.
"Please, do not reveal my identity," the retired school teacher and a mother of two high school children requested. Due to the prolonged shutdown-induced economic hardship, the woman could not but take the meagre relief from the charity Tears of Middle Class to buy her diabetes medicines. Since the shutdown was imposed, her husband could not earn a single dime from his small business.
Though the amount she received was only Tk500, it did not hurt her middle-class ego. She is among the numerous victims of economic hardship during the pandemic.
"I can borrow rice, lentil or other grocery items from the nearby shop. But I cannot buy medicine without payment. The money was a real relief," she said.
A recent public university graduate also took relief from the same charity. The youth, who lives as a subtenant in Dhaka, has been preparing for job recruitment tests while supporting himself by working as a private tutor.
But since March 26, he has been jobless. The tuition payment he received for March was spent on family expenses. He also requested this correspondent not to reveal his identity.
"Since my college life, I have never asked for financial help from anyone. But this time, I have no other option. I could not send money to my family this month," he said.
The retired school teacher and the young graduate are among hundreds of thousands of other middle-class people who feel shy to ask for money. They feel ashamed to stand in queue with poor people for government relief, and they are the ones who are struggling now to meet their basic demands because of the shutdown.
Considering this dilemma, Bangladesh Betar news presenter Tanzina Aktari Moumi recently launched a fundraising campaign on behalf of Tears of Middle Class on social media. In the beginning of April, Tanzina and her journalist husband got to know that a number of their relatives and acquaintances either had not received salary or had been furloughed.
The couple stood by them with Tk50,000 from their savings. At one point, the savings dried up.
Tanzina, who runs the campaign on her Facebook page, said, "Then we involved our solvent relatives and acquaintances in the campaign. District correspondents of news media, local physicians and teachers have provided us with the contact numbers of target groups across 20 districts."
Initially, her plan was to set a handsome amount for relief, but irregular fund collection limited it to Tk500. The money is sent to the recipients via bKash.
"The middle-class people are perhaps the worst victims of the pandemic. The government-defined vulnerable groups get food relief and support, but there is no cushion for the middle class," Tanzina told The Business Standard over phone.
In a least developed country like Bangladesh, all the needy people cannot be brought under social safety net. Moreover, there have been anomalies in relief distribution. Despite government warnings, local authorities are often caught red-handed while stealing relief meant for the vulnerable people.
Fardous Ahmed Uzzal, a social activist, and his peers launched a campaign for vulnerable groups on March 25, sensing the harsh impacts of the pandemic. Through the Facebook page "Chal-Daal-Alu, Banchar Jonno 450 Takay Ek Soptaho [Rice-lentil-potato, Tk450 to survive for a week], the volunteers asked for funds.
Following such private campaigns, the government eventually opened hotlines so that after receiving calls from people facing financial crisis, relief could be delivered to their doorstep.
"In reality, the government initiative has failed to bring the needy people under the safety net, particularly in the poor-dominated localities in Dhaka," claimed Uzzal.
The group coordinator continued, "The city corporation authorities distribute food on the basis of the voter list but many poor folks in Dhaka are not voters in the city. Hence, they are excluded from relief programmes. With donations, we are now trying to support the vulnerable people so that they will not die of starvation."
The group has made a list of 500 families comprising mostly floating sex workers, hawkers, rickshaw pullers and day labourers. They opened a bank account and a bKash account for fund collection. People interested in making donations are requested to donate at least Tk450. Till May 4, the group collected around Tk3.5 lakh.
With the money, essential items were distributed among the vulnerable groups in Mohammadpur, Adabar, Shekhertek, Mirpur and Ramna areas. Each package contained 5kg rice, 2kg potato, 500g lentil, 500ml edible oil, 1kg salt and a soap.