The catastrophic effect of COVID-19 has created an unprecedented challenge for all countries across the globe. It has not only created problems relating to public health but has also crippled much of the countries' economics. Therefore, the governments of different countries have been facing tremendous problem in adopting strategies to overcome the public health challenges and economic fallouts caused by this pandemic.
The prolonged economic crisis has left millions of people across the globe unemployed. Continuous lockdown and the implementation of different containment strategies adopted by the government have compelled the private sector organisations to downsize their number of employees. Even in the USA, around five crore people have lost their jobs. And those who have not lost private sector jobs have been denied numerous benefits.Like many countries around the world, many private sector employees have lost jobs in Bangladesh during this unprecedented time of the century. Garment industry, which is one of the key pillars of the economy, has decided to lay-off employees on the ground that they are losing their orders from customers, although the claim was not well received by the majority of the countrymen and experts in this field. As they have lost about 10% of their orders, 90% of their orders have remained intact. Notwithstanding this, many workers have lost their jobs in the last month. Unlike the garment industry, other private sector organisations have also laid their workers at risk of maintaining their livelihood. As compared to other parts of the country, a large number of employees based on Dhaka have lost their jobs in different private sector organisations. Joblessness has made these people vulnerable as they have difficulty staying in Dhaka where the cost of living and renting the house is very high. These people have been compelled by the new normal situation to move to their villages leaving Dhaka.
Different stories on the agonies of the middle-class and lower-middle class people who have lost their jobs because of this pandemic have been published in social, print and electronic media. While they have lived in cities for years, they have little choice but to move into their villages sacrificing their children's better education and future. I have seen many describe their miseries in front of the media by saying that they would find it difficult to adapt to the village lifestyle as they become conversant with the lifestyle of a cosmopolitan city like Dhaka. The most vulnerable group would be the children of these people who studied at various educational institutions in Dhaka. These kids would find it difficult to adapt to new schools and colleges as the quality of schools and colleges in Dhaka may be comparable to these institutions. The continuing lockdown and economic downturn have compelled these people to sustain their lives out of their savings. When they were out of pocket they were left with no choice but to move to the villages. Most notably, the high rate of house rent and expensive lifestyle in Dhaka City has become a major challenge for their survival at Dhaka city.
There have been a lot of discussions during the pandemic about the indignities of those people who maintain their livelihood from hand to mouth. But, the agonies of the middle-class and lower-middle-class people have not gained prominence at the government level. Most importantly, these people have passed through different forms of challenges during this pandemic. Like the poor people, they could neither ask for support from government nor come out on the street for relief materials. There is hardly any assistance available for this group because neither the government nor any others have come forward to support them during the pandemic when they have been struggling for their survival. On the other hand, the decision of the middle-class people to return would also put the owners of the houses at risk because their incomes from house rent would get reduced which could also affect their livelihood. Meanwhile, we have already heard from different media sources that many houses have become vacant due to the moving out of the people from city to village.
The decision of these groups of people to return to their villages can create psychological stress on adults and children as they have adjusted to Dhaka city's lifestyle. They would miss the benefits of that lifestyle once they return to villages. Most importantly, the children studying in different good schools with students from cosmopolitan culture would find it difficult to adapt to the new environment at the village schools and colleges. There is a possibility that they might be mentally sick. The COVID-19 trauma and the compulsion to stay at home as a containment strategy have already made many people psychologically sick. Hence, miseries caused by financial hardship will worsen the severity of a stressful situation.
Therefore, the government should think about identifying strategies to help the middle class and lower-middle-class people during their hardship. These groups of people have grown up in such an environment that they would not come forward to explicate their miseries and ask for support either from the government or from any other organisations. They will rather prefer sacrificing lives to extending hands before others for support. Thus, helping these people in their struggle during the COVID-19 pandemic is a social responsibility for everyone including the government. We all know that the government has been trying tirelessness to support people during this crisis. Along with the government, the owners of the public sector organisation should also come forward to help these people by keeping them in their jobs. It is true that because of the continuing stalemate situation triggered by COVID-19, the businessmen have also been struggling to make profits. Yet, laying-off workers is not a sustainable solution. Therefore, they could consider keeping these employees in jobs by reducing certain benefits. If they do this, these people would at least get some hope to sustain livelihood.
We all know that we would certainly surmount the COVID-19 situation. We would also get out of the economic downturn caused by this pandemic in due course. But, if the middle-class and lower-middle-class people suffer psychological set-back for being compelled to leave Dhaka and other cities due to financial hardship, they would find it difficult to come out from this trauma. Therefore, we all should come forward to help these groups of people during the worst time even in the century.
Pranab Kumar Panday, PhD is a Professor of Public Administration and an Additional Director of the Institutional Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC) at the University of Rajshahi.