Temporary teachers and employees of schools under jute mills are staring at a bleak future after the government decided to shut state-owned jute mills in Khulna region.
Jute mill workers have been assured of cash and savings certificates and MPO registration of permanent teachers of the schools there has been no word on what will happen to 60 temporary teachers and 10 employees.
Sources say there are five secondary schools under Crescent, Platinum, Star, Eastern and JJI mills in Khulna region.
The salaries and activities of the teachers of these schools were given from the income of the jute mills. After their closure, there are doubts about continuing operations of the schools.
The state minister for jute has assured the MPO registration of the permanent teachers of these schools.
Teachers say there are about 60 regular teachers in the schools while 60 more teachers and 10 staff work on temporary basis. Many of them worked for 15-20 years but were not made permanent.
Raja Khan, an assistant teacher at the state-owned Star Jute Mill High School, said he has been working on temporary basis since January 25, 2012. His job is yet to be regularised.
“I don't know what our fate is as the mill is closed,” he said with frustration.
Shirina Khanam, a teacher at Platinum Jute Mill Secondary School, said she has been teaching since September 2000 but has not been made permanent. She said they hearing that they will be left out of the MPO scheme.
The teachers have requested the Prime Minister to regularise their jobs.
Abul Kalam Azad, project head of Star Jute Mill, said a list of permanent teachers has been sought from Bangladesh Jute Mill Corporation (BJMC). They also wrote about the temporary teachers.
"It's up to BJMC now," he said.
Meanwhile, a memorandum has been sent to the Prime Minister through Khulna Deputy Commissioner on July 15 demanding that the jobs of the temporary employees be regularised.
According to the memorandum, 40 temporary teachers and staff are working in the state-owned Crescent, Platinum and Star Jute Mill schools in Khulna. They have been working for 10-15 years.
They said their families would suffer much if they lose their jobs now. So, they requested the Prime Minister to include them in the MPO scheme.
The traditional Basundia jackfruit haat in Jashore from where thousands of jackfruits go to different districts every season now looks almost deserted for lack of buyers and the blame goes to Covid-19 pandemic and cyclone Amphan.
Just ahead of the jackfruit season, cyclone Amphan hit the region hard and destroyed crops and trees, including that of jackfruit, resulting in short supply of jackfruits to the haat this time, they said.
Besides, they added, fewer buyers visit the market due to transport crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, causing frustration among the jackfruit growers.
Mizanur Rahman Khan, a local businessman, said they have heard from their grandparents that this preferred market is hundreds of years old.
Traders from far from Barisal, Patuakhali, Madaripur and other places in the south used to come here to buy jackfruits and ship those in big trawlers, he said. Jackfruits used to be transported by roads to different districts, too.
Apart from Jashore, jackfruit traders from Narail, Khulna, Jhenaidah and Magura used to bring jackfruits to this market.
“Now things have changed. As the jackfruit supply has declined, the market is no longer a popular destination,” he said.
Besides, the trader alleged, many traders do not want to come to the market due to harassment by extortionists.
Kabir Khan, another businessman, said 50-80 truckloads of jackfruits used to be transported to different parts of the country from this haat every day, but this time only 8-10 trucks are carrying the delicious summer fruit.
In addition to transportation problem, there are administrative restrictions too, said local traders adding that the local administration is obstructing people from gathering at the haat as part of social distancing rules to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
In many cases, they said, law enforcers are using force to remove buyers and sellers which discourages them to visit the market.
According to the District Agriculture Office, there are jackfruit trees on about 1,000 hectares of land and there has been plentiful yields of the fruit this time in Sadar, Chougachha, Jhikargachha upazilas.
According to farmers, they are not getting the fair price this time as they are unable to go outside the district with their produce due to the coronavirus situation.
Azizur Rahman of Petvara village in Chougachha upazila said he has counted heavy losses this year due to the abnormal situation created by corona and cyclone Amphan.
Local jackfruit farmers said they suffered a double blow this time as traders neither bought jackfruits from their orchards nor the market.
Akhtaruzzaman, Deputy Director of the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), said both Amphan and Covid-19 have caused huge damages to the agricultural sector in the region and elsewhere in the country and that is why the farmers are in trouble.
A recent study revealed that about 85 percent leprosy disabled people in Bangladesh have been suffering from psychological problems besides many other disease-related complications.
The sufferings of the excluded and stigmatised community have intensified manifolds during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Most of this vulnerable community has been literally left behind from pandemic response programmes as well as deprived of proper information related to hygiene and other health issues during this crisis.
A study titled 'The Quality of Life (QOL) and Mental Health Status (MHS) of People Affected by Leprosy and People with Leprosy Disability in Bangladesh’ brought the tragic scenario to the fore.
The cross-sectional study was conducted between August 2019 and May 2020 in Dhaka, Moulvibazar, Meherpur, Kustia, Chuadanga and Thakurgaon.
The researchers reached 94 respondents, diagnosed with leprosy, 80 percent of them were without disability while 20 percent of them suffered from leprosy disability.
The research supported by The Leprosy Mission International, Bangladesh, (TLMIB) was authored by Hosne Ara Hoque of Advancing Leprosy and Disadvantaged Peoples’ Opportunities Society (ALO) while INTERACTION Chief Executive Serajud Dahar Khan played an advisory role.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), actions needed in 22 priority countries including Bangladesh as people affected by leprosy continue to suffer discrimination and lack of access to medical care.
Leprosy itself is a highly stigmatised and disgraceful term in society while disability from the disease is the other concern that victimises the patient drastically, said the study.
Study findings showed that over mental health screening, 69 percent of the people affected by leprosy go through psychological difficulties. It is observed that 85 percent of the leprosy disabled people and 65 percent of the general leprosy patients were in poor psychological condition.
Leprosy disable people lack Quality of Life
According to the study, the overall Quality of Life (QoL) of the people with leprosy disability was much worse than respondents without disability.
Altogether 40 percent of leprosy-disabled persons said they were living a poor QoL while 20 percent had very poor QoL.
However, 52 percent of leprosy-affected people without a disability were found with a marginal level of QoL.
Altogether 31 percent of the leprosy-disabled persons said they were dissatisfied with their health condition, while 10 percent said they are very dissatisfied.
However, 40 percent of leprosy-affected people without disability had marginal level satisfaction.
Leprosy disability and insomnia
The marginalised and endangered community goes through another lifelong crisis which is insomnia.
Altogether 30 percent of people with leprosy disability face more difficulty in sleeping while 20 of them were in lower cut-off levels.
However, 51 percent of the leprosy-affected people without disability had moderate level satisfaction in regard to sleep.
Negative feelings and dissatisfaction
Altogether 55 percent of people with leprosy disability said they were very dissatisfied with daily living while 44 percent without disability said they were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied.
According to the satisfaction level of enjoying life, the study revealed that both leprosy affected people with and without a disability do not enjoy life at all.
A total of 41 percent with and 45 percent without disability manifested similar experiences.
However, 16 percent of people without and 10 percent with disability expressed their satisfaction at very much level.
Almost 50 percent of the people with disabilities felt negative feelings quite often.
Perception on self-esteem, value of life
The study shows that the vulnerable community has a very negative perception on self-esteem and value of life.
The major 60 percent of people with leprosy disabilities expressed that they feel that life is totally meaningless while 44 percent without disability think that there is some hope in life.
Some 10 percent of the people with disabilities expressed that they were leading a moderately meaningful life, while 25 percent of people without a disability have the same experience.
Poor financial life
The research findings revealed that the majority of leprosy-infected with disability go through severe financial crises.
A total of 60 percent of the people with disabilities had too little money to meet their basic needs while 20 percent were found in extremely destitute situations, the study showed.
However, 24 percent of leprosy-affected people without a disability are financially in good condition to meet their basic needs.
Dissatisfaction over access to health services
The leprosy-disabled people were found dissatisfied regarding their access to health services and this has gone to a marginal level during Covid-19 pandemic.
Altogether 40 percent of the leprosy-disable persons expressed dissatisfaction while 18 percent showed extreme levels of dissatisfaction as they have little access to health services.
Meanwhile, some 14 percent of the respondents without a disability were very satisfied.
The researchers recommended some actions on emergency for the people affected by leprosy with and without a disability.
The study suggests a pragmatic intervention to be deployed to properly address the psycho-social impairment for people with leprosy-disability.
The experts also underscored the need for enhanced socio-psychosocial support for improving the quality of life for both the groups who are highly stigmatised in society and live ‘disgraceful’ life.
The study assessed that the mental health and quality of life are major concerns for the people affected with leprosy-disability.
Asked about the crisis of leprosy-affected people with and without disability, Jiptha Boiragee, program support coordinator, TLMIB, “They’re going through unspeakable adversity during this Covid-19 pandemic.”
“The sufferings of leprosy disabled persons have increased many folds and they are going through another brunt of social stigma during this pandemic,” he said.
Underscoring the response to these vulnerable groups, Boiragee said “Both of these groups deserve emergency aid on humanitarian ground and they will need special attention in the post-pandemic period.”
These people require counseling and mental assistance to overcome the disaster and at least find hope of living despite all these happenings in life, Boiragee added.
Similar study results, recommendations
Earlier in 2007, Atsuro Tsutsumi, Takashi Izutsu, Md Akramul Islam, A N Maksuda, Hiroshi Kato among other experts conducted a study titled “The quality of life, mental health, and perceived stigma of leprosy patients in Bangladesh.”
A total of 189 leprosy patients and 200 without leprosy were selected from Dhaka for the study.
According to that study, the patient group's depressive status was significantly more severe than that of the comparison group.
The authors underscored an urgent need for interventions sensitive to the effects of perceived stigma, gender, and medical conditions to improve the QOL and mental health of Bangladeshi leprosy patients.
What is leprosy?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae (a relative of TB).
This disease primarily affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, mucosal surfaces of the upper respiratory tract and the eyes. The first signs of leprosy are patches of skin that look paler than normal or sometimes nodules on the skin.
It is known to occur at all ages ranging from early infancy to very old age.
WHO as well as organizations like TLMI provide confirmation that leprosy is curable and treatment in the early stages can prevent disability.
Leprosy in Bangladesh
According to the National Leprosy Elimination Program (NLEP) yearly for 2019, altogether 2,26,711 leprosy cases were detected in Bangladesh in between 1985 and 2019 but after receiving MTD treatment 2,18,538 of them made recovery from the disease during this period.
NLEP data shows 26,479 people detected with disabilities caused by Leprosy in between 1985 and 2015 in the country.
The data also reveals that around 4,000 patients were detected per year in Bangladesh over the last few years, with this figure standing at 3,638 in 2019.
Among the newly detected cases, 252 people were found with leprosy disability in 2019, NLEP data shows.
In India, 127,334 new leprosy cases were detected from 2016 to 2017, and 4.6 percent of them had Grade 2 disability at the time of diagnosis.
The World Health Organization (WHO) shows that a total of 20,8619 new cases of leprosy were reported in 2018 from 127 countries.
According to the United Nations (UN), "The level of serious disability is alarming and completely unnecessary.”
“Too many people with leprosy remain trapped in a never-ending cycle of discrimination and disability,” it said.
Irony of ironies, Ripon Kumar Das of Faridpur, once a budding footballer who was selected to attend a special training program at no less a citadel of the sport than Manchester United Football Club (MUFC) just eight years ago, is today earning his keep as a sweeper - just not the kind granted the liberty of roaming the football pitch a la Franz Beckenbauer, but rather one of the most neglected and lowly occupations in the country.
People involved with football in his locality think that wrong decisions in terms of career choices made for him by the District Sports administration and Bangladesh Football Federation has forced this situation on him.
Ripon used to play football in the village field from his childhood and his passion for football drew many people’s attention from a young age. As years passed by, he dreamt to be a footballer.
Panta Das, mother of Ripon, said “Ripon is the eldest son of my two sons. My younger son Tapan is too young to do anything. So Ripon had to follow his father’s footsteps and become a cleaner. If not, we would have faced starvation.”
Nazmul Islam Khandaker Levy, general secretary of Faridpur District Sports Organisation, said a 12-member team of budding youngsters in their early to mid-teens, including Ripon, had been chosen from across the country to go train for 10 days at Manchester United’s famous Carrington facility in 2012. The trip was facilitated by Airtel, the mobile network that has since been merged into Robi Axiata.
During those ten days, the young boys got footballing tips from members of the MUFC playing squad, as well as coaching staff. After returning to the country, he had to return to his home district Faridpur due to lack of supervision by BFF, Ripon said.
Later, he joined as a sweeper at Faridpur Road and Highways Department for maintaining his family, he added. Even then, after finishing his routine work, he would always find his way back to his field of dreams, the local football field, where none could take the ball off his feet.
Pranab Kumar Mukharjee, coach of the District Football team, said “Ripon has a passion for football and whenever he got a chance he went to the ground for practice purpose. He still has a dream to be the best football player in the country.”
Abul Kashem Bhola, general secretary of Faridpur Football Association, said “Very few footballers as talented as Ripon are found in the country. If BFF had played its role properly (of cultivating talents), he would not have to do this job.”
Bhola still believes Ripon will get opportunities to fulfill his promise.
“I am working as a sweeper due to poverty and I do this thinking about my parents. I had a wish to be a popular football player. When in England, renowned footballers (including the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Wes Brown and others) trained us and they taught us how to play better, but on returning to the country there was no opportunity to put what we learned into practise.”
Like the true footballer he is at heart, and certainly with his feet, if not by his occupation, Ripon only wishes to use his skills on the field to bring joy to the people watching.
“If luck smiles, the government shows some initiative, then maybe I will be able to please the spectators on the field with the ball again,” he said.
For as long as almost anyone can remember, Nilkhet in the heart of the capital has been known as the hive of bookworms, where students, academics, publishers, booksellers and photocopy shops meshed together in an informal industry unto itself.
Often it has been said, that there is literally nothing, yes literally nothing you cannot find in Nilkhet. If there is, produce it - and one of the photocopiers will sort you out just fine, with an offer you cannot refuse.
Since March however, the deadly and indiscriminate strike of the COVID-19 pandemic has also served to cripple this cutthroat market-meets-noisy library, and its charming used books corner, nestled slightly apart from the main market, where you were as likely to find the complete works of Honore de Balzac as obscure histories of BAKSAL.
Thankfully however, a group of young and enterprising connoisseurs is determined to defy the curse of the virus on their reading habit, by helping some of the countless sellers who own the individual stores that make up Nilkhet get into the ever-growing online marketplace for books.
Gronthomongol, a project of the Pashe Achi Initiative (Standing With) stemmed from when co-founders Tahmid Hasan and Rafiul Chowdhury witnessed two booksellers’ futile attempts at selling books streetside in a nearly empty Nilkhet - itself a scene hard to imagine.
“Back then we just supplied essential foods to the homeless as part of our humanitarian initiative,” Tahmid, also a student at nearby Dhaka University - an extremely important factor behind the Nilkhet legend - told UNB.
“We realized that these sellers who make ends meet for a negligible profit need to be helped out too. Some of them were even forced to sell their shops after going out of business...If this continues, bookshops in the area would gradually deplete and that will be unbearable for the country's book lovers.”
Initially, PAI bought books from those two sellers in bulk and started selling those at a fixed rate of Tk 200 through Facebook. Witnessing the overwhelming response they received, they soon rolled out the Gronthomongol project, with the specific aim of helping a greater number of Nilkhet booksellers stay in business.
“Earnings from these books are also spent on humanitarian causes. Initially, a part of the proceeds were used in helping underprivileged people who got hit hardest by the pandemic. Now we are also providing aid to flood-affected communities in different parts of the country,” Tahmid disclosed.
Having started in May, the project is currently working with over 50 of the bricks-and-mortar stores in the Nilkhet area. Other than volunteers of Pashe Achi Initiative, the project now employs jobless labourers for packaging and out-of-work ridesharing for delivering books.
Initially, the project only sold new books bought in bulk but now they are also collecting secondhand and rare books from the Nilkhet sellers. Apart from them, the Gronthomongol project often receives donated books from the buyers. Through the PAI Facebook page, they sell both academic books and the more literary kind.
Tahmid considers the project necessary to sustain the incomes of low-margin enterprises who clung on to small businesses before the coronavirus pandemic hit, and then were left without any income. Anybody who has been to Nilkhet will realize that ‘social distancing’ is one concept not found in any book ever sold in the market.
“It’s a question of survival and providing them with financial aid in this crisis period is in turn helping out the nation,” he said.
He also noted that although they started the project to support book stores, the ever-growing economic crisis caused by COVID-19 is still putting many of them out of business.
Pashe Achi Initiative is at present looking to expand project Gronthomongol, alongside their other humanitarian efforts throughout the country, the founders informed UNB. Currently, they are shipping books outside Dhaka at an added delivery charge of Tk 150, while delivery inside Dhaka is free.
In true Nilkhet style, they have an offer you cannot refuse.