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A desperate journey towards a tough tomorrow!

A desperate journey towards a tough tomorrow!

It was really a great challenge for FAIR to materialize her dream, to write a new story   for one crore socially excluded, stigmatized, discriminated, untouchable and marginalized Dalit community! We had not enough experience and ability to uplift the status of these friends of FAIR, not enough skills, manpower, and even support to publicly call them Manush (Human being)! As they are only Dalit or Harijon whose only destiny is to be punished, raped, ignored, and insulted by the society, state, and religion. To brush our bathroom, latrine, public toilet, roads and highway is their only defined job, and the ultimate destination is to remain confined within a society specified pinfold. FAIR decided to challenge this fairy story from its inception in 2000 but could not get desired success until 2004. To do something against these inhumanities, to do better for human beings FAIR finally got some human beings who are extremely committed to serve MANUSH (human beings), united within a platform called MANUSHER JONNO FOUNDATION (MJF). In fact just then FAIR started its real struggle to write a dignified history for Dalit community with a total support of MJF! It’s a story of fear, to avoid fire, a tireless journey for fair and make a just society for all human beings!

Among 150 million population of Bangladesh around 10 million people belong to schedule castes. There are almost 94 Dalits (schedule castes) living across Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, the Dalits are categorized in respect of their work, religion and ethnicity such as Harijon (Methor/Sweeper, cleaner), Robidas and Rishi (cobbler), Bagdi (Hindu Fisherman), Bajander (plays traditional musical instrument), Veyara (palki carrier), Dai (traditional birth attendant), Dhopa (Dhopa), Dom and Chandal (cremator of dead bodies), Hajam (Circumciser), Jele/Nikari/Maimol (Muslim fishermen), Kapali (peasant), Kaora (pig rarer), Shikari (Hunters), Napit (barber), vogobene etc.

The Dalits in their lives are regarded to have no ‘classes’. They are the most marginalized and disadvantaged people in the society. They are usually subjected to intense socio-economic discrimination and often prevented from doing any other but the most menial jobs on hands. From the beginning until today, the Dalits are deprived of any opportunity for integration with the rest of the society and parallel prospect for educational, social and economic growth. Due to their low socio-economic status, the Dalits in Bangladesh are the victims of antagonism and public policy.

In fact the Dalits, never got attention in the past from the government, NGOs and aid agencies as a separate entity. But our constitution declared “All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law”[1]. “The state shall not discrimination against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race caste, sex or place of birth”[2]. “No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, sex or place of birth be subjected to any disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to access to any place of public entertainment, or admission to any education institution”[3]. But these communities could not being access to the facilities of these laws.

In this context in 2003 FAIR conducted a participatory research titled “Poverty Alleviation and Empowerment Strategy of the Harijon (A sub sects of Dalit) Community” in Kushtia. From its research findings FAIR found that they are completely absent from the local resource allocation & resource management and not even entitled to access Hotel or Restaurant. Harijon is one of the sub-sects of Dalits who mostly work in the municipality & city corporation and few work in GO and NGO. Though they earn through the selected job but in most of the cases it was found that their job is not permanent and even not acknowledged by the authority. The most surprising thing noticed by FAIR was that though the Harijon community is mostly hatred due to their job but the mainstream community is hijacking this dirty job their monthly income is BDT 800-2200. Though the other Dalit communities have minimum housing facilities the Harijon community has no own land and housing facilities and lives in colony made by the city corporation/Pourashava. In average 7-8 family members including parents, children, son, and daughters are live in a house of 96 sq. feet which is completely inhuman and not friendly for living. Harijon guardian was against their children’s education by saying what would happen to be a literate person? We are sweeper and will remain sweeper!”

In this context FAIR feels that there is no alternative of empowerment of this community and started to implement a project titled Empowering Harijon Community through Involving into Development Process” with financial and technical support of MJF in 2006.

To establish their rights and dignity FAIR at first to make them aware about their rights and dignity  through group formation, capacity building in claiming their rights and services from duty bearers (Government officials), on the other hand FAIR sensitized both general people and duty bearers at Kushtia with a limited scale. To focus their issue nationally FAIR conducted a number of advocacies at policy level as well as mobilized and capacitated its Community Based Organization   Bangladesh Harijon Oikko Parishad (BHOP). FAIR also linked this issue with other proactive and Community Based Organization’s campaign activities where MJF directly assist financially and technically.

Under the project 5 Advocacy groups were formed at Kushtia and Pabna to advocate duty bearers and make linkage among community people and duty bearers them in providing services to the community people as per their claim. Again, to develop leadership and organizational capacity FAIR formed 11 Colony Unnayan Committees (CUC), 02 Child Forum, 02 Harijon Sangskritik Goshti at Kushtia and Pabna implementing areas. To address and resolve community problems FAIR is working with different activities within the colonies i.e. session conduction, trainings, Group meetings, Day observation, Health session and anti drug campaign, assist in applying different services from service providers, ensure education through an exclusive financial and technical support.

On the other hand almost dead organization BHOP has been revived through a national convention at Kushtia in 2008 so that community people can make their voice at broader level under one umbrella. To do so we have reformed 49 district committees and one Central Committee who are representing 15 lac Harijon community of the country, we not only formed committees but are assisting them in every step of movement i.e. Provided training, workshop, Day observation, letter campaign, submission of memorandum, divisional and national level gathering, Seminar, Advocacy meeting with different Ministries, Parliamentary Standing Committees, Law Makers etc.

In its 12 years journey FAIR got some friends and  associates, has some success to say are : among the five points demands of the Harijon community meantime government have approved 2 points demands i.e. 80% Quota for Harijon community for the post of cleaner and logical ratio in other job and admission in educational institutions of the country. At present 366 of adult Harijon are working in government, autonomous and nongovernmental organizations. Some city corporation and Pourashova have increased salaries for Harijon people, 1704 Harijon community people covered under safety net program, access to health services have been increased up to 4561, 1609  got admitted  at different government and nongovernmental schools of the country and among them 99 students got stipend with the support of FAIR.

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[1] Article 27 of the Constitution of the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh.

[2] Article 28 (1) of the Constitution of the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh.

[3] Article 28 (3) of the Constitution of the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh.

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