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     Volume 6 Issue 25 | June 29, 2007 |

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Human Rights

Dealing in Death

Thousands of street-vendors in the country are facing a bleak future

Ahmede Hussain

Hawkers abstain from sitting in the 'holiday market' in Gulistan last Friday to protest the death of two colleagues by a pickup. Photo: Star

Life has never been smooth sailing for thousands of street-vendors in the country, who brave the sun and the rain to earn a decent living. Before the current interim government took power in January, these people, who live in the borderline of extreme poverty, had to bribe the law enforcers to sell their goods in the streets. Hawkers, and the products they offer (from safety pins to mint leaves) had been an essential part of our urban life, especially for those who belong to the middle-income group. This dependence, colleagued with the hard work and sheer entrepreneurship skill of the hawkers (whose working capital varies from Taka 500 to 2000) had made our city pavements overcrowded, chaotic and, at times, unusable.

Within month after it took power, the interim government decided to clean the streets of hawkers, and these poor people were forced to remove their goods from the streets and pavements. This move of the government faced a huge criticism from the media, in the face of which it has later decided to let the hawkers use a few roads of the city as holiday-markets, where the hawkers have been allowed to ferry goods on Fridays. But hawkers have been complaining that the spaces given to them are inadequate, as thousands of hawkers have to jostle in a narrow strip of road in Gulistan to secure a place to sell their products. Some of these poor people sleep the whole to Thursday nights on the pavements of the street. In fact two vendors Riaz and Sujan were killed last Friday by a pickup, when they were fast asleep on the road. These two hawkers, poor as they are, instead of resorting to mugging or any other unlawful means wanted to run their own little business to manage their family. They did not extort crores of Taka from businessmen; neither did they try to hide their ill-gotten wealth. The government's indifference to their plights sends all the wrong signals to those who in the most corrupt country of the world still believe in an honest way of living. After the fall of most of the evil and corrupt elements of the society, we are talking of good governance and a pro-poor economic policy while hundreds and thousands of people in the heart of our capital are facing starvation. These hawkers have to be rehabilitated, and the rehabilitation process should be started immediately.

The government can allot the vendors a safe and secure place; a good idea can be a government-owned land in the capital where the hawkers can set up shops. Here we can draw examples from Thailand's Night Bazaar, a popular destination for foreign tourists. Instead of holiday markets that operate only on weekends the government can allow the hawkers to start evening markets. But it has to make sure that the hawkers get chance to sell their goods in a secure and healthy environment. It is not understandable why only poor street-vendors have to bear the brunt of this clean-up drive while the rich and mighty are allowed to park their cars virtually anywhere on the streets. A good clean-up drive does not go for selective justice, and it is the fundamental responsibility of the state to protect those who are weak and poor.

The death of two hawkers must be enough to awaken our battered conscience. An immediate decision by the government in this regard can change the lives of thousands of poor hawkers who deserve our help and support.

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