Dalit Community in Bangladesh : FAIR as a Catalyst for Socio-Economic Change

Dalit Community in Bangladesh : FAIR as a Catalyst for Socio-Economic Change


The deprivation of the Dalit Community in Bangladesh is deeply influenced by India’s caste system, a hierarchical social system based on a person’s occupation. Their identity is determined based on birth and heredity. Dalits, also known as “untouchables”; Are at the bottom of the caste system and are considered impure and polluted.

The discrimination and exclusion of Dalits from society is the result of centuries of social, economic, and political marginalization. Dalits have historically been deprived of education, healthcare, and employment opportunities. They are subjected to forced labor, sexual exploitation, and violence.

Despite constitutional protections and affirmative action policies to address Dalit discrimination, social ills and discrimination against them continue to be rampant. People from the Dalit community in Bangladesh often face social boycotts, violence and other forms of discrimination when they demand their rights or challenge the status quo.

Categories of Dalit Communities in Bangladesh: About 5.5 million people have been estimated to belong to Dalit communities out of 180 million people in Bangladesh. There are 94 categories of Dalit communities in Bangladesh. Among them the major communities are Bashfore, Lalbegi , Hela, Raut,Hari, Domar (people who do autopsy), Balmeki, Maghaia, Kanpuri, Telegu, Robidas, Hrishi, Sannashi, Jele  (fishermen), Behara, Bhogobene, Dai, Dhopa (laundrymen), Hazam (people who do circumcision of children), Nikari (peole who sell fish and chop them), Shikari (hunters), Paroi, Bazadar (drummist), Manta, Mohota, Rajbanshi, Roshua,  Sahaji, Patni (boatment), Kaiputra, Pundru Xatrio, Shobdokar, Teli (people in oil trade) etc.

Significant causes of deprivation of Dalit Community in Bangladesh:

The root cause of Dalit deprivation is caste-based discrimination and injustice deeply embedded in Indian society. The Dalit community in Bangladesh is subject to political, economic, cultural, and social disparities. They are deprived of many facilities by the state. Dalit community has always been excluded from development plans in the post-independent era of Bangladesh. So many causes like state and social disparity and deprivation, untouchability, hatred, social isolation, lack of dignity in the society, diversifying profession, landlessness, evacuation from their settlement, etc. contribute to the marginalization of this community. The key Causes are below:

1. Caste-Based Discrimination and Illness: The Dalit community has historically been regarded as a lower caste and has faced discrimination and ill-treatment based on social status. Due to the caste system that has been going on for thousands of years, the Dalit class has been subjected to continuous hatred and discrimination by the people of the larger society. This has accelerated the process of their exclusion from social, economic, and political opportunities and severely limited their ability to improve their living conditions.

2. Historical Oppression and Subjugation: The Dalit community has been subjected to oppression and subjugation for centuries. This oppression and subjugation have limited their access to resources and opportunities, causing them to live on the poverty line for generations.

3. Job loss and poverty: Since ancient times Dalits have not been able to break out of the poverty cycle of the man-made caste system and economic infrastructure in favor of exploiting classes. Due to the fixed occupation of the Dalit class, their income opportunities are also limited. The traditional occupations of the Dalit class are also under threat today due to the development of advanced technology. As a result, Dalits today are losing their jobs and falling into poverty. Dalits are not untouchable because they are poor, rather they are poor because they are untouchable.

4. Lack of education and employment opportunities: Dalits have traditionally been deprived of education and employment opportunities, limiting their ability to break out of the cycle of poverty and achieve economic mobility. It also perpetuated the caste-based hierarchy. This caste system hindered access to education. And this lack of education has made their employment opportunities more limited.

5. Political marginalization and lack of leadership: Dalits have historically been stigmatized by the caste system. Dalits in Bangladesh are hardly represented in political parties or institutions. And these zero representations hinder their leadership development. As a result, no strong independent organization by Dalits has developed in Bangladesh. thereby limiting their ability to advocate for rights and access to resources.

6. Limited access to healthcare and basic amenities: Dalits often have limited access to basic amenities like clean drinking water, sanitation facilities, and health services. Their low social status and the reluctance of the authorities to provide these essential services are among the reasons for their limitation.

7. Lack of ownership of land and productive resources: Dalits have historically been denied access to land and other productive resources for centuries. Most Dalits are landless, especially the Harijons who are involved in the cleaner profession in Bangladesh. They live in colonies owned by City Corporations, Municipalities, Railways, or any other institution. This landlessness and lack of ownership of productive assets have limited their ability to generate income and wealth.

8. Victims of violence and atrocities committed by the dominant caste: Dalits are often victims of violence and atrocities committed by the dominant caste, including rape, assault and murder. This violence is often used as a tool of social control and is rarely punished by the justice system.

9. Denial of basic human rights and dignity: Dalits are often denied basic human rights and dignity due to their ethnic status, including access to public spaces, freedom of movement, and the ability to marry outside their caste or caste.

10. Discrimination and exclusion based on gender and sexuality: Within the Dalit community, Dalit women and members of the LGBTQ+ community face additional discrimination based on their gender and sexuality, both from society at large and from their society.

11. Systematic Bias and Malpractice in the Judiciary: The judicial system often fails to protect Dalits from violence and discrimination, partly due to systemic bias and malpractice against the community. This has led to a culture of impunity for perpetrators of race-based violence and discrimination.

12. Moral shyness: Another big obstacle in the way of empowerment of the Dalit community is their moral shyness or inhibition which is called inhibition in English. They are hampered/suppressed by long-standing socio-economic factors. Unable or unwilling to express one’s feelings. They are shy about the work that they have a desire or passion for. Over the ages hatred and discrimination against Dalits have created their shyness. They have been lagging behind this instinct for a long time.

13. Right to Information: Dalits’ access to government services has been limited because they lack the necessary information about basic facilities such as education, health, and safety net services. As a result, lack of information is one of the reasons for the deprivation of Dalits.

Addressing this issue requires a sustained effort to end casteism and promote greater social and economic inclusion of Dalits. It also requires changes in cultural and social attitudes that challenge discrimination and segregation.

FAIR’s initiatives in the socio-economic transformation of the Dalit community in Bangladesh:

FAIR, as a non-governmental development organization started working with the Dalit community in 2001. One of the goals of Fair is “Empowering the underprivileged”. In 2001, the organization implemented the project “Development of the Intellectual Skills of Underprivileged Children through Cultural Activities” in three slums of Kushtia city. This one-year initiative is conducted with the sincere cooperation of some budding, active, responsible and cultured youth of the city. The three areas where this program is implemented are – (1) GK Harijon Colony, (2) Courtpara Railway Line Slum and (3) Char Amlapara Slum. Children of the area were taught songs, poetry recitations and plays, and regular monthly meetings were held with parents to raise awareness. Under this program, three cultural troupes were formed and trained in drama, music, dance, and poetry recitation and performed on various occasions in Kushtia city.

In doing this, Fair teaches the Dalit (Harijon) children of GK Colony to think anew. The talent shown by the Dalit children of GK Colony was reimagining the fair. However, the environment in which the children were growing up was unfavorable for their intellectual development. Fair has keenly observed that these Dalit children have considerable talent but are unable to develop it due to a lack of opportunities. The talent demonstrated by the Dalit (Harijon) children of GK Colony in a short period is surprising to all. Through this program, Fair has an opportunity to work with people from the Dalit community in Bangladesh.

Several days passed in between. We continue to communicate and interact with the people of the Dalit community. Later in 2003, a mass survey was conducted with the help of REIB to identify the problems existing in the Dalit community for thousands of years and find out the reasons behind the problems and determine the solution. Before this, a survey was also conducted by “FAIR” in Kushtia in 2001 to get a basic idea about the Harijon (cleaner) community.

Through the above research, FAIR finds and realizes that the “caste system” is at the root of the disenfranchisement of the Dalit population. One of the reasons for not being able to break this caste system and change themselves is “lack of education” and not being able to raise their voice in an organized manner due to the weakness of leadership and not having an organization for themselves. Later, FAIR adopted all its programs keeping the above three issues in mind. As a strategic partner, ‘FAIR’ continues to provide support in the reconstruction and capacity building of the community-based organization ‘Bangladesh Harijon Oikya Parishad’. This organization works intensively to increase organizational efficiency and effectiveness at the district level as well as at the central level. As a result, due to their movement across the country, the current government took several initiatives for the Dalit community.

Some of the initiatives of the FAIR:

FAIR’ initially mainly aimed at “empowering the Dalit community through mainstreaming of development” and implemented a total of 10 projects at the national and local levels (from 2001 to 2022) to achieve several specific objectives. Below are the projects presented:

FAIR surveyed in 2001 to get a basic idea about the Harijon population living in Kushtia city and the same year implemented a project on ‘Development and development of intellectual talent of underprivileged children through cultural activities’ at GK Harijon Colony. Research Initiatives, Bangladesh (RIB), conducted a one-year Participatory Action Research project in 2003-2004 on “Determination of Poverty Alleviation and Empowerment Strategies of Harijon Community” to mainstream Dalit community development and determine strategies for poverty alleviation and empowerment. Through this Participatory Action research, the history of inhumane living and deprivation of the Dalit community is found. Through this participatory action research, the means of transition are identified. Later, FAIR started presenting the results of this research to the policymakers at the national level through the publication of newsletters with the help of RIB. Apart from this, FAIR continues to highlight the changes in the living conditions of Dalits to the policy makers through various publications including seminars, meetings, and gatherings.

Later, from 2006 to 2016, FAIR, with the financial support of the Manusher Jonno Foundation, conducted a 5-point campaign with the aim of “bringing the Dalit community into the mainstream of development” by developing their organizational skills and raising their voices across the country.

‘FAIR’ has undertaken various programs in Kushtia district for various tenures to improve education and create employment opportunities for Dalit children. Also took initiatives to increase rights-based awareness at the community level with educational programs in Pabna, Ishwardi, Rajbari, Chuadanga Darshanaya, and Nator districts. From 2006 to 2012 Bangladesh NGO Foundation and from 2006 to 2019 Human Development Foundation (HDF) took education programs to prevent dropouts from education of Dalit community children and improve education. Also, from 2018-2022, AF Mojibur Rahman Foundation implemented a Vocational Education program to create employment for marginalized groups including Dalits. As a result of the successful implementation of these integrated programs, several visible positive changes in the situation of Dalits are currently being noticed.

Dalit Cleaner

Initiatives can achieve:

As a result of this continuous movement, the government has taken several initiatives for the Dalit community in Bangladesh. The initiatives taken by the Government of Bangladesh have had a positive impact on the economic, social, political, and cultural conditions of the Dalit community. These initiatives are helping to promote greater social inclusion of Dalits and improve the quality of life of Dalits in Bangladesh.

Below are mentioned the initiatives taken by various institutions of the government including the People’s Republic of Bangladesh Government:

1. In view of the memorandum containing the 5-point demands of Bangladesh Harijon Oikya Parishad, on May 29, 2012, the Hon’ble Prime Minister issued instructions to the relevant ministries for the overall development of the Dalit community.

2. Nationwide special project to improve the quality of life of the Dalit/Harijon community by the Ministry of Social Services. The scheme provides scholarships to Dalit students, skill development training to youth, and allowances to senior citizens.

3. Introduction of admission quota for Dalit/Harijon students in various universities. Some of the universities are Dhaka University, Jahangirnagar University, Kushtia Islami University, Kazi Nazrul Islam University of Science and Technology etc.

4. Inclusion of Dalits in the Special Area for Development (SAD) program. In this program, Dalit community can submit project proposals for the development of their community through the Upazila Nirbahi Officer.

5. On June 27, 2012, the Department of Relief and Rehabilitation issued a notification to ensure the inclusion of Harijon and Dalit communities in the distribution of VGF scheme assets under the Safenet program.

6. On October 10, 2012, the Ministry of Public Administration through Memorandum No. 05.00.0000. instructed all ministries/departments to appoint authorities at all levels under them to keep 80% quota for Harijons in the posts of cleaners/sweepers/sweepers. Issued circulars for payment.

7. Some City Corporations and Municipalities are taking initiatives to construct or reconstruct housing for Harijon Cleaners/Jharudars living under them.

8. In response to the demands of the Dalit community, the present government has taken initiatives to enact an anti-discrimination law, which has also been presented in draft form by the Law Minister in the National Assembly.

Positive effects on Dalit community in Bangladesh:

The steps taken by various ministries/departments, institutions, and universities including the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh have positively impacted the economic, social, political, and cultural conditions of the Dalit community in Bangladesh.

Political Impact:

Bangladesh Harijon Oikya Parishad, Bangladesh Harijon Chhatra Oikya Parishad, Bangladesh Harijon Jubo Oikya Parishad and Harijon Nari Oikya Parishad, Bangladesh Dalit Parishad, BDERM have created strong platforms for Dalits to speak at the national level or raise their concerns and garner support for their rights. These platforms are helping to empower the Dalit community in Bangladesh to politically improve their access to decision-making processes and strengthen their voice in the decision-making process.

Economic Impact:

The introduction of quotas in jobs and education for Dalits in the posts of jharudar/cleaners and sweepers has provided employment opportunities to many Dalits who were previously left out. Dalits now have increased access to public and private jobs, including university teaching, which is helping them increase their social status, improve their economic status, and reduce poverty. In addition, training programs for youth employment by the Department of Social Services are helping Dalit youth acquire skills and knowledge that are in demand in the job market. This enables them to secure better-paying jobs and become financially independent. Housing construction by City Corporations or municipalities for landless Harijons provided a temporary safe living environment for Harijon families but ownership of land and houses was not provided and access of Dalits to various SafetyNet programs of the government increased which improved their overall living conditions.

Social Impact:

The introduction of a 1% quota in education for admission of Dalit students by various university authorities has increased their interest in education including their access to higher education, improving their social status and mobility. The scheme of providing educational scholarships to Dalit students by the Department of Social Services is helping to reduce the financial burden on families and ensure access to quality education for children. Organization of sports and cultural events by the Dalit community and government awareness programs are helping to raise awareness about the rights and dignity of Dalits, which is reducing discrimination and improving social inclusion. It is contributing to reducing social inequality and promoting greater social harmony.

Cultural Impact:

Initiatives taken by the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, Bangladesh Harijon Oikya Parishad, and FAIR are helping to reduce discrimination against Dalits and raise awareness about their social status and rights. It contributes to reducing social hatred and promoting greater social harmony. Dalits have mobilized on the issue of rights, which has contributed to the reduction of inter-caste discrimination. Empowering Dalit women, improving their social status, and giving a platform called Harijon Nari Oikya Parishad to mobilize women and raise a united voice. It helps to promote gender equality and empowerment of Dalit women. Overall, these initiatives are helping to promote greater social inclusion and improve the quality of life of Dalits in Bangladesh. Positive changes are taking place among the Dalit community in the world of education, health, child marriage, austerity reforms, social panchayat system, dignity, and especially rights. This contributes to increasing the enrollment rate, reducing dropout and child marriage, and mobilizing for their rights.


Initiatives taken by the Bangladesh government for the Dalit community in Bangladesh have positively impacted the economic, social, political, and cultural status of the Dalit community. As a result, they are helping to promote greater social inclusion and improve the quality of life of Dalits in Bangladesh.

Although efforts have been made for the development of the Dalits in Bangladesh, the overall progress of Dalits has not been possible due to certain challenges and constraints. Because it is not a very easy task to overcome the existing discrimination and injustice in the society based on caste classification. Centuries of social and cultural prejudice against Dalits, bureaucratic complexity, limited access to land, housing, education, health and economic facilities, weak law enforcement and lack of accountability have hampered the development of the Dalit community.

Consequently, addressing these challenges and overcoming constraints requires a multi-pronged approach, including targeted policies, social awareness campaigns, capacity-building etc. programs, and collaborative efforts involving governments, civil individuals and organizations and the wider society.

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