An open letter to Mayor Annis on clearing footpaths

Afsan Chowdhury
Published : 24 Jan 2016, 12:41 PM
Updated : 24 Jan 2016, 12:41 PM

Dear Mayor Annis,

You are a well known man and also a powerful political and administrative person. In a meeting with Editors, you have promised to clean up the footpaths by which you mean you won't let hawkers and other members of the informal and poor class use it for several purposes including to make a living.

It offends you and other well off people like you when you see them clogging the pathway as you pass by in your fancy cars. That's fine because it's your car and maybe your dream but I wonder where you and other powerful people get such ideas that affect the poor so badly.

This is particularly so when you have done nothing to help the poor to find a space to sit and sell their wares to survive. In the end, you are sounding like a rich man offended by the filthy poor who dirty the environment. By the way, when did you last walk on a footpath?  Do you know what their state is?  Why does the ruling class always get bouts of eviction mania as soon as they come to power but never take care of it?

So who uses the footpaths and why?

As always three four groups use it. The poor and the very poor use it to make a living and it's as simple as that. They set up vending stalls which serve the poor and middle income consumers and not the fancy ones who trawl Gulshan and Banani shops, or even better shops by those from abroad.

Some poor beg on the streets and a few roam there to pick pockets. They are almost all also poor and they are clogging the footpaths which you rich people never even use. It really hurts you all that the poor can try to make a living in a society about which you have no idea and never interact with, but maybe it hurts your view. How do you see all this through the tinted glass windows of your cars? (Of which tinted glass windows are by the way not legal).

What does the middle class do?

They use the footpaths when not using a bus and also take advantage of the cheap products sold on the pavement. They don't make a living but they are users. These footpaths are very convenient for them but of course they get jostled, often stumble, are occasionally harassed, but most don't mind because they understand the value of livelihood and accept that the poor have to survive just as they do with difficulty.

They don't like the overflowing pavement but they are not in favour of eviction. They know they are closer to the poor than they are to the rich. They are not in solidarity with the poor but they sympathise and understand and accept.

But your solidarity is with your own class only, the rich "evict them now" community. Didn't someone in the meeting with media say, "Evict them, again and again?"

Good show, well said.

But does the government use it?

You will be shocked to hear that they do, and for using it as storage space for construction materials. Since like you, the government is powerful, they block the entire footpath and keep sand and cement grinders and so on for weeks and months.

How can they build new parts of buildings if they don't have places to put the materials? So are you going to bully the government too? Do tell us how?

I use the footpath everyday to walk to my University to teach students. I also carry out research on a variety of issues including "social inclusion and exclusion". One of the topics we have worked on is the life and living on the footpaths. So we know a bit about them.

We also know about the Dhaka poor and that a sixth of Dhaka sleeps on pavements. There are many who have been born, grown up, married, and give birth to on the very footpath you are trying to clean up.

Do you think they have the right to ask for a place to sleep at night or you think you are rich and powerful so you will simply kick them away? These are poor and powerless people so if you decide, you may well be able to do that.

So by cleaning up the footpaths, what you mean is that while you are unable to give them shelter which by the way is their right, you are quite happy to kick them away from their 'homes' just because it doesn't look nice.

So is that an official policy, this anti-poor position?

But are they footpaths anymore?

Most cars use footpaths as parking places, the real big fancy one-block pavements, and nobody can dare do or say anything. Why don't you do a test? Ask your drivers, how many of them have parked cars on the footpaths? But of course, you never noticed, because you are never there when it happens.

And did you know what motorbikes do? They use footpaths as driveways and they see that as a right and they are even abusive with pedestrians for not getting out of their way. Many including myself have been hit several times.

But you never think of them as illegal footpath users, do you? How will you stop them? Its' very easy to kick out the poor, the peddlers, and those who make it home at night, but the bikers and the cars and the government contractors are of course none of your concern, are they?

You have inherited the policy of the 1/11 government, the Moeen-Fakhru combo, as they too did the clean up drives. It suits a military mind to think so as they live in orderly cantonments, and though your residences are in Gulshan and Banani, ask your housemaids about life of the poor in Dhaka. Better still, go around at night and see how the poor live. Best would be to call urbanologists and ask if this clean up is anything other than decorative.

Do you have an urban poverty eradication programme that will solve the problem instead of pushing the poor elsewhere?

But of course you can kick them out and you will do so too. You have the power. It's the least you can do.

After all, they voted you into it.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher