The closing of marketplaces and various businesses for containing the spread of coronavirus pandemic has adverse effect on daily wage earners as well as artisans across the country.
Sheetalpaati artisans of Tongibari upazila in Munshiganj are also facing financial hardship amid the ongoing restrictions on movement and operations of shops and marketplaces while the second wave of the pandemic is sweeping the country.
About 80 Hindu families in Paikpara village of the upazila have been weaving Sheetalpaati and various other types of mats, locally known as Paati, for generations.
An artisan who weaves a Paati is popularly known as Paatikar and the area where the Paatikar families live in the village is known as ‘Paatikarpara’.
The mat weavers said the pandemic has put a dent in their ancestral trade as their earnings have been dipping sharply without being able to procure raw materials and sell their goods.
As such, many of them urged the government to provide financial stimulus for them so they can recover from the crisis.
Widow Kalpana Rani Dey, 70, from the Paatikarpara, said she had been weaving mats for 50 years and everyone in her family depends on her income.
Many of the weaver families are now facing starvation, as they cannot sell their goods at markets, which are closed, or by going from door to door due to health concerns, she also said.
Gopal Chandra Dey, another mat weaver, said around 15 to 20 Paatikar families are hired every year by Sheetalpaati sellers in different parts of Sylhet, especially in Gowainghat area, to weave Sheetalpaati for them.
Each family usually comes home with at least Tk 50,000 in cash, on which they live through the rest of the year and invest part of it on making mats for selling locally.
April is a high time for selling mats, but they cannot even meet local demands now, he added.
Mat weaver Jhunu Rani Dey said each bundle of Murta — a type of reed that is the primary raw material for making Sheetalpaati, and has to be procured from Sylhet only — used to be available at less than Tk 50 before the restrictions, but now the price for each has shot up to Tk 100.
She said a few of them are still making the mats for selling those when the restrictions will be lifted.
Shanto Dey, a mat seller, said, “I go out in the morning with five mats every day amid the lockdown. Only one or two mats can be sold every other day now. Before, 15 to 20 mats could be sold each day, for a price range of Tk 500 to 2,000 — depending on their size.”
Door to door sale is a laborious work, he said, adding that despite high demands for the mats in other districts — including Narsinghdi, Narayanganj, Cumilla, Chandpur and Brahmanbaria — he is unable to sell the goods there due to the ongoing movement restrictions.
Contacted, Munshiganj Deputy Commissioner Moniruzzaman Talukder said they were preparing a list to assist those who have been affected by the restrictive measures of the government.