South Asia conference on ‘Towards a Regional Agenda on Social Inclusion and Dalit Women’s Concerns’ 2016
On 29 February and 1 March 2016, Nagarik Uddyog and Bangladesh Dalit and Excluded Rights Movement (BDERM), Christian Aid-Bangladesh, Swadhikar-National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, India and SAMATA Foundation of Nepal jointly organised the South Asia conference on ‘Towards a Regional Agenda on Social Inclusion and Dalit Women’s Concerns’ that began at CIRDAP auditorium in Dhaka.
As part of its policy advocacy, NU and BDERM organized a meeting with the parliamentarians on 12 October 2015 at the Parliament Members’ Club of the National Assembly in Bangladesh. Overall objective of the meeting was to promote national parliamentarian groups on the issue of protecting rights of Dalit and to eliminate caste based discrimination.
Bangladesh Dalit and Excluded Rights Movement (BDERM) is a national platform for Dalit and excluded community in Bangladesh. The platform has been formed in 22 April, 2008 with the objective of diminishing any forms of discrimination based on work and descent. Protecting the rights of Dalit in Bangladesh is another major objective of the platform. There are 43 district committees of BDERM across the country. Moreover it has more than 2,000 registered members. The BDERM runs by its constitution. It has a national working committee which generally takes all decisions on behalf of the platform. As decided by the constitution, BDERM organizes its national council every year and the 5th national council was organized on 26 April 2014. The event was divided into two separate sessions; inaugural session and working session.
The aim of this study was to assess the health and safety conditions of Dalits as an effect of scavenging in the open dump sites without any personal protective equipment. The study also focused to explore Dalit scavenger’s behavior, knowledge and attitude toward their traditional profession. Fifty scavengers (Traditional Sweeper) participated in this study. Data were collected from Gonoktuli Sweeper Colony at Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, using multiple techniques based on mix method research methodology. The study of Occupational Safety and Health on Dalit scavenger’s revealed that the potential health effects of waste from open dump site-related exposure might include digestive tract disorders, respiratory disorders and allergic symptoms. As they were not provided any personal protective equipment, cut in hands and legs were very common that caused them long term infection. In-depth interview suggested that to reduce health hazards of dump site scavenger should be trained by Occupational Health and Safety (OSH). Most of scavengers were suffering from various infectious diseases although there were no official statistics; proper investigation and research is therefore key demand for scavenger’s occupational health and Safety net. The study came out with observation that no treatment facilities are available for the sweepers at Dhaka city corporation hospitals.
Caste Based Discrimination (CBD): The Curse
Bangladesh is the land of cultural diversity where there are around 6.5 million Dalits live. The unequal and hierarchical caste system allowed them to treat as “lesser human beings”, “impure” and thus “untouchable” by other groups in the society. They are subjected to so-called “untouchability practices” in both public and private spheres. Caste discrimination affects the Dalit community in every sphere of life and involves massive violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. The Constitutional provisions of the country prohibit any form of discrimination but lack of implementation of legislation and caste-bias within the justice systems largely leave Dalits without protection and to suffer without remedy. Thus they face stigmatization and exclusion from surrounding society due to decent and work. The exclusion and the inherent structural inequality lead them to high levels of poverty and exclusion from, or reduced benefits from development processes, and generally preclude their involvement in decision making and meaningful participation in public and civil life.
Caste discrimination is one of the biggest human rights violations both in terms of the numbers affected and the severity of the human rights violations caused by these forms of discrimination. Nagorik Uddyog since its establishment works for the promotion and protection of Dalit human rights and the project Civil Society Joint Action Programme to Promote Dalit Human Rights in South Asia widen the scope to uphold the Dalit rights in Bangladesh.
The Battle against CBD
Lalmonirhat is a district, situated at the north side border of Bangladesh. It is a part of the Rangpur Division. As like the other districts of Bangladesh the Dalit community of the northern district faced the same fate and fallen to rage of caste discrimination. The Dalit community of the district faced the cruel and brutal effect of untouchability and CBD and they were not allowed to enter into the local restaurants and even if they were allowed they were served in separate utensils. In spite of the continues protest and movement against the inhuman act by the Dalit leaders the situation remains unchanged which left the community fall to the victim of the rights violation. There were several instances of advocacy efforts involving the local civil society members and media and also some mass awareness campaign conducted by BDERM and Nagorik Uddyog. The issue still remains as a massive form of rights violation. But, the local DHRDs and Dalit leaders were stick to the battle to put an end to this undignified behavior.
The Story of Success
The continuous advocacy on the issue then lead to a consultation meeting involving local elected representatives, member of civil society and journalist. An advocacy Meeting of CSOs with Elected Representatives was held at Lalmonirhat on 4 October, 2013. Civil Society Organization Bangladesh Dalit Human Rights (BDHR) and Nagorik Uddyog jointly organized this meeting. The Hon’ble Mayor of Lalmonirhat Municipality Md. Riazul Islam Rintu was Chief Guest in the Meeting and Aditmari Upozila Chairman Mr. Sirazul Islam as Special Guest. Local Dalit Leader Manik Chandra Robidas Chaired the meeting. Representatives of Dalit community from different colonies of Lalmonirhat attended the meeting to raise their voice on the issue. Naroik Uddyog representatives, Dalits leaders of BDERM and BDHR, DHRDs, Media personnel were also among the participants. In the meeting Dalit Leaders expressed their suffering and pledged for remedy from the elected representatives. The Mayor expressing solidarity to the rights claiming and in his speech said, “From now on, no one is allowed to resist any one, specially the people of Dalit community to enter into their restaurant. If this happens again, serious actions would be taken against the responsible person, whoever s/he is.” The other elected members of Lalmonirhat district pledged to work for the development of Dalit community at their respective areas and initiate strong administrative action on restricting movement in local restaurants. After this effective meeting and continues follow up and monitoring by DHRDs and Dalit leaders no incidents of such kind was reported. The efforts lead a successful example on eradicating one form of Caste Based Discrimination and inspiring the Dalit Leaders to repeat the example in the rest of the districts in Bangladesh.
Dalit rights issue has been discussed with huge importance in the mock UPR Bangladesh session held on 16th April in Dhaka. The mock UPR has been organized by National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Bangladesh where honorable foreign minister Dr. Dipu Moni spoke as the chief guest and Professor Dr. Mizanur Rahman, honorable chairperson of NHRC chaired the session. A good number of diplomats of different country missions, high officials of the Government of Bangladesh (GoB), Human Rights Activist, Development Professional were present along with leading media personnel.
Two day long consultation consisted of 6 (Six) thematic sessions, including the concluding session.
Overall focus of the conference were
- To explore the exclusion and right related situation in Bangladesh and to know about the situation in other South Asian countries;
- To share the experiences of Dalits and socially excluded people from different countries of South Asia;
- To share the experience of movement and collective achievement;
- To explore the commonness and difference and to assess the possibilities of regional activism for redressing the injustices and discriminations;
- To examine the constitutional and legal frameworks, identify the gaps and strengths, and find out strategies and avenues for claiming and realizing rights;
- To have fuller understanding about the gendered dimensions of exclusion and deprivation;
- To recommend ways for taking up activism in legal, political and social fronts.
Bangladesh Dalit and Excluded Rights Movement (BDERM), Bangladesh Dalit and Excluded Women's Federation (BDEWF) and Nagorik Uddyog (Citizen's Intiative) has jointly submitted a thematic report on the Human Rights Situation of Dalit in Bangladesh to the UN under UPR mechanism for the 2nd cycle review of Bangladesh in UN, session scheduled 29 April, 2013.
Joint NGO Submission related to Bangladesh for the 16th Universal Periodic Review session scheduled for 22 April – 3 May 2013.