Eid festivity eludes 20 lakh poor in North
Rafiq Sarker, from Rangpur
Eid-ul-Fitr will bring no cheer to more than 20 lakh extremely poor people in the northern Rangpur, Kurigram, Nilphamari, Gaibandha and Lalmonirhat districts as monga, a near famine situation caused by joblessness, has gripped them for about one and a half months.
During the current lean season, most of the poor in the region can hardly have one meal a day, let alone hope for new clothes and yummy food to celebrate the festival.
Besides, recent flash floods have worsened the situation this year.
Food crisis during two months from mid-September to mid-November (Ashwin and Kartik in Bangla) is an every year phenomenon for the farm labourers along the Teesta, Brahmaputra and Dharla rivers in the districts but this year it became acute as the prices of all essentials including rice and vegetables went a great deal higher.
A large number of mud houses were damaged and transplanted aman rice submerged in the flood that made thousands of the farm labourers unemployed and, thus, victims of food scarcity.
"As it is the order of Allah, we have been fasting during the Ramadan and as it is our lot, we will have to do the same on the Eid day too," said Abdul Khaleque of village Ramprasad of Thethrai union in Kurigram district.
"For five years, Eid to us has been only saying prayers at the eidgah maidan on the day, nothing else," Zabber, 40, of Panjar Bhanga in Kounia upazila sighed.
"We have not had anything since Sunday night," he said on Monday noon, pointing at his children Sabuj and Sayema.
"I went to Rangpur this morning in search of work but returned a while ago not finding any. Allah knows how my family members will be fed today," he said.
Elderly Nazir Hossain of Kurshamari of Teesta union in Lalmonirhat said Eid-ul-Fitr and monga has been coinciding for five years and so, hundreds of his likes in the village remained cheerless on the Eid days and this year it would not be otherwise.
"My wife wanted a sari before the Eid but I failed to get money to buy one," said Nazir.
Most of the villagers of Moubhasa, Gajghanta, Mornea and adjoining unions over char areas along the Teesta under Gangachara upazila remain half-fed and even starved, in absence of farm work throughout the district.
"The chairman and members of our union parisad are at once deaf and blind. They can neither see our misery nor hear our appeal for food assistance," Abu Hossen of Moubhasa village said, adding, "We were in the queue from morning to midnight to collect rice at subsidised rate but the chairman did not issue a slip for me."
The district administration records show that 10 kg of rice was given twice to each of about eight lakh people of 333 unions and 12 municipalities in Lalmonirhat, Kurigram, Rangpur, Nilphamari, and Gaibandha districts during September and October under the Vulnerable Group Feeding (VGF) programme and 10 kg more awaits distribution ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr.
But many poor people in the districts alleged that they did not get any relief from the government or any other organisations.
There are also allegations of misappropriation of relief food.
"It is impossible to bring all the extreme poor under government's safety net programme. Those who were not listed for VGF assistance might allege that they did not get any assistance," Deputy Commissioner of Rangpur Nazrul Islam Khan said.
"We selected only need-based 2,200 very poor families out of 4,000 on an average in every union. Rest of the poor families are getting assistance from some other government programmes," he added.
Regarding misappropriation of relief goods, the DC said that he visited many unions in the district but nowhere except Milonpur union in Mithapukur did he find any irregularity.
"Milonpur Union Parishad Chairman Abdul Hakim is now in jail in connection with misappropriation of VGF rice," he said.