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OP-ED: The deaths we forget fast

  • Published at 06:16 pm November 15th, 2020
covid-19 patient
Paramedics transporting a patient REUTERS

The coronavirus has made death an inextricable reality of our lives

The universal truth is that the moment we are born, the time of life starts ticking towards the end. Despite knowing this, life goes on with its gamut of emotions, including compassion, empathy, envy, greed, and lust. 

While death has become commonplace in the time of corona, some endings are too tragic to accept. Unfortunately, these deaths are forgotten swiftly. Last week, the death of a father and son in Nayatola of the capital brought to the surface the very heartless dimension to the corona-induced economic malaise. 

Reportedly, the father, a man in his mid-50s, killed his son who needed special attention while alive and then took his own life. 

Both the bodies were found hanging from ceiling fans of two separate rooms when the police broke in after repeated knocks on the door by the mother who had gone out to buy groceries.

Woes of the middle class

After the bodies were discovered, the police talked to the neighbours/locals and all of them extolled the family for their polite behaviour, highlighting the fact that since their son needed special attention, the couple shunned social occasions. 

The police also revealed, alluding to the landlord, that the unfortunate man, a contractor by profession, had been going through a mental breakdown for six months and had not paid the rent for some time. 

This brings us another dismal picture of corona-influenced life in the city: Unpaid rent is now a common phenomenon. 

Many landlords deferred taking monthly rents, some waived rents for the lockdown periods, while others patiently waited for the arrears to be paid at a later date. 

But whatever the case, the pressure of paying the rent is always hanging over the tenant unless of course the rent has been waived completely. Even if it’s struck off, the tenants’ conscience dictates that the future monthly payments need to be paid on time.

The man in Nayatola took his life probably because when the lockdown began in March, all business came to a halt. Safe to speculate that the cash flow dried out which triggered a state of desolation. 

The police also said that the father had loans, which is very normal because most people living in the city have some form of loan, either related to property or business. Lucky are those who have close relatives or saleable assets. The father in Nayatola was possibly not among the fortunate ones. 

Sadly, there are countless people like him in this city who are educated with a social status and, therefore, cannot simply go out on the streets to beg.

Counselling and monetary help required

The first necessity is a help line, offering some verbal support to those who are in desperate conditions. However, just counselling is hardly a solution because words rarely bring home food or settle outstanding bills. In reality, when one is in anguish, words of hope only seem like salt over a wound. The help should also include monetary help to ease someone’s burden as much as possible. 

The fact that the man in Nayatola owed his landlord around Tk1.40 lakh indicates the magnanimity of the landlord. Such kindness is laudable. 

The man took the life of his specially-abled son possibly because he could not go to his death leaving the boy in a helpless condition. The more one thinks about this incident, the more the profound sadness of the situation surrounding the hopeless father becomes clear. 

Perhaps there is much more to his misfortune that we do not know.

The father did what he did because he failed to see any light of hope from any side. There are countless people like him who are struggling to find a way to survive amidst the predicament triggered by the virus. 

There is also the issue of children who need special attention. How are families with limited income coping to provide for children who are differently abled?

Pushing the demon under the carpet

To be honest, the financial and psychological meltdown of people due to corona cannot be fixed by any specific strategy simply because this is still a developing nation with resource constraints. 

However, diverting funds from large infrastructure projects for some time, asking foreign development agencies to support the middle class and the urban poor, and creating a fund by taking a specific amount from large multi-nationals and local conglomerates can deliver results. 

But then, when there have been reports of blatant stealing of coarse rice sent to be delivered free of cost, the creation of such a fund only triggers fears of large scale embezzlement.

Maybe such an effort, directed under the strict supervision of the defense forces, can bring hopeful results.  

The death of the father and son in Nayatola keeps on tormenting because on one side we have a man taking his life which could have been averted with a monetary of support of Tk10 to Tk20 lakh whereas on the other there are affluent people buying luxury SUVs, spending crores. Reportedly, the sale of high-end cars has actually seen a rise amidst the pandemic.

I am not vilifying the wealthy; they have all the right to spend their money in a manner they deem fit. However, the distance between the euphoria of an expensive toy and desperation leading to death is just a few miles. 

Regrettably, the two tragic ends will swiftly fade away from our minds. Society only makes us more selfish as we are content as long as everything is right for us.

Towheed Feroze is a journalist and teaches at the University of Dhaka.

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