Jute sacks and beds made of hays were virtually key means for them to survive harsh winters when the mercury would dip to 6-10 degrees Celsius with chilling winds often making it feel like 0-2 degrees.
Their abodes were in most cases shanties having bamboo-made walls with pours often covered by thrown away polythene and rusty tins being their rooftops in the country’s northwestern region near the foothills of the Himalayan region.
They now own semi-pucca houses, which protect them from cruel winter spells – thanks to the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Ashrayan-2 Prakalpa.
Some 90,866 poor families in the northern and western regions are now residents and owners of the comfortable houses with brick walls and tin shades under an intense government campaign for shelters for the poor.
Fifty-year-old Lokesh Mardi is one of those to own a comfortable abode on a piece of government khas land while previously his family was the resident of what locally called ‘tatari ghar’, a shanty made with bamboo and tin or thatched roof.
“We had no piece of land of our own and our ancestors used to live in ‘tatari ghars’ for generations, accepting the situation to be their fate,” said Lokesh, while talking to this BSS reporter at his new abode in Pirganj.
He said, in an emotion choked voice, as dews fell inside their house in winter nights “our parents would cover us with jute-sacks, an identical practice we followed until days ago to protect our children - two sons and a daughter”.
Lokesh, who belongs to Mahali ethnic minority group, said their hut was also not effective to prevent rain water from dropping inside while it was also not strong enough to sustain storms.
His current permanent abode on a two-decimal land is a house with two bedrooms, a kitchen, a toilet and a veranda to accommodate his five-member family.
“It is like a dream appearing true . . . (I am) grateful to Sheikh Hasina,” said Lokesh, who earns the bread for the family manufacturing bamboo-made products.
Twenty-one Mahali families now own identical houses in the neighbourhood in Pirganj.
Panchagarh district in the northwestern tip of Bangladesh usually witnesses the lowest temperature while the winter sufferings of people often grab the media headlines.
Meteorologist Dr Muhammad Abul Kalam Mallik said the average temperature in Panchagarh and Dinajpur in January is recorded at 6 to 10 degrees Celsius at night while it might feel like 2 to 4 degrees Celsius due to heavy fogs.
Sixty-year-old Dudu Miah passed almost his entire life in a makeshift “tatari ghar” on a piece of government khas land at Mahan Para area in the Sadar Upazila of Panchagarh district.
“There was no end to sufferings during the winter. Sometimes we cried, failing to manage warm clothes for our children . . . we can now sleep in peace as the Ashrayan gave us a comfortable permanent abode,” he said.
“She (Sheikh Hasina) has done a lot for us, she felt for us. We pray for her,” Dudu Miah said.
Septuagenarian Mujahar Hossain passed his 74 years in a mud-made shabby hut at Lal Kha Pukur in Godagari Upazila of Rajshahi.
“I had no piece of land of my own . . . as a day labourer with six family members, I did not have the ability to procure any land either,” said severely sick Mujahar, who was sunbathing sitting at his verandah wearing a hoodie sweater with a cap on head in the winter morning.
According to Ashrayan Prakalpa-2 officials, so far 546,681 families have been rehabilitated under the project since 1997.
Of them, 90,866 families are residents of Rangpur and Rajshahi divisions and districts of Kushtia, Jashore, Magura, Meherpur and Chuadanga.