“Paradox” of Korail Slum During COVID-19: Ethnography of Governance from Below
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Overcrowding and resource constraints have made physical distancing and self-quarantining nearly impossible in the urban slums of Bangladesh during COVID-19, increasing the risk of a rapid spread of the virus. As a result, urban slums were some of the most vulnerable communities during the pandemic. However, in July 2020, the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) shared that the slums of Dhaka had little to no positive cases (Shaheen & Islam, 2020). Though the conversations in the media and among other stakeholders were focused on these risk factors as well as the economic distress of slum dwellers, the discussions were primarily from the perspective of “outsiders”, with limited understanding of what was happening in the slums. With this gap in mind, the anthropological exploration of Korail (the largest slum in Dhaka) was conducted from September to December 2020, to uncover the emic views of slum dwellers’ everyday life during the pandemic and to understand the outbreak from their perspective. The study took an ethnographic approach, employing several qualitative research methods such as in-depth interviews (IDI), key informant interviews (KII), participatory rapid appraisals, informal group discussions, and stakeholder mapping. The study revealed how slum residents themselves used their collective agency to take several robust medical and communal measures in tackling the pandemic.