Dalits and plain-land ethnic people

A call for ensuring rights-based dev

Ayon Debnath | Published: December 14, 2018 21:15:12


Two members from a Dalit community

In recent years Bangladesh made commendable progress in ensuring minority rights. However, the need for promotion and protection of the constitutional rights, human dignity and social inclusion of Dalits and plain-land ethnic minorities has largely been ignored. To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the inclusion of Dalits and plain-land ethnic minorities is a must. Again, there is a greater need to attach importance to climate change adaptation with a special focus on the Dalits and plain-land ethnic minorities as they are considered to be the most vulnerable to climate change.

The recently-held national convention titled "Ensuring Rights of Plain Land Adibashis and Dalit Communities in light of the Constitutional Obligation" pointed out the above-mentioned issues. Speaking at the programme, Prime Minister's International Affairs Adviser Professor Gowher Rizvi acknowledged that development of Dalits and plain-land ethnic minorities of the country had not been equal compared to other sections of society. He also urged the Dalits and plain-land ethnic minorities to come forward to be part of the mainstream development. In this regard, Professor Rizvi emphasised educating the children and stopping child marriage, which are highly prevalent among the Dalits and plain-land ethnic minorities.

UN resident coordinator and UNDP country representative for Bangladesh Mia Seppo focused on understanding of attitudes and lifestyles of the Dalits and plain-land ethnic minorities. She said that the government should take into consideration the recommendations of UPR and other international human rights reports including the Universal Declaration on Human Rights of the Indigenous people. She also agreed with the former Chairman of National Human Rights Commission Professor Dr. Mizanur Rahman that the government should enact an anti-discrimination law without any delay.

UNDP Country Director Sudipto Mukherjee said that UNDP was implementing a project named 'Influencing Policies for Climate Change Adaptive Livelihoods of Ethnic Minorities' with a view to addressing the challenges of climate change that affects the ethnic minorities the most. Moreover, UNDP was working to ensure constitutional rights of plain-land ethnic people and Dalits with a special focus on climate change, sustainable adaptation and access to finance, he added.

The UNDP Country Director emphasised the necessity of working for ensuring the adaptation to climate change for the plain-land ethnic people. In his speech, he also mentioned that the event made them think in a more rational way regarding climate change adaptation and targeting the beneficiaries. He urged that the government should come forward in this regard and the UNDP could extend their cooperation.

The convention presented two papers focused on climate change adaptation. One paper was themed on the technical aspects of climate change and the future projection. Another paper titled 'The importance of adaptive livelihoods and access to finance' was presented by Khurshid Alom, Assistant Country Director of UNDP. The discussants of the session emphasised insurance, needs for action and use of localised information for ensuring adaptation of the plain-land ethnic minorities.

Speaking at the convention, one participant from Naogaon Dalit community said that they were much more vulnerable compared to the mainstream communities. It is because there is a social stigma about them and they are not socially accepted. But now, as they are becoming involved with alternative livelihood options, they are getting more access to various activities of the society. However, she emphasised more coordinated development projects in favour of the plain-land ethnic people to combat climate change impacts.

According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) survey, Bangladesh has a Dalit population of approximately 5.5 million and 2.5 million plain-land ethnic minorities (The actual number may be much higher). Even after 47 years of independence, most of them are living in socio-economic vulnerability and chronic poverty. The struggle for their rights to land, education and unemployment seems to be a never-ending journey in the present context. And the stigma towards them is still very high. Identity crisis, lack of participation in governance processes, human rights violations, women's rights violations, denied access to economic and social rights, disproportionate participation, social stigma, the absence of social and political leadership, etc. are some of the key issues they are dealing with.

The November 01 national convention that brought together many national and international experts focused on the above-mentioned issues. The daylong convention announced the November Dhaka Declaration which incorporated a number of important issues that they demanded should be addressed by the concerned authorities. The main points of the Declaration are:

  1. Like the ministry and commission for the ethnic minorities of the Chattogram Hill Tracts region, a separate ministry and a commission should be created for the Dalits and plain-land ethnic minorities of Bangladesh;
  2. A separate land commission should be established so that the existing land-related problems can be resolved;
  3. The election manifesto of all the major political parties of the country should incorporate their commitment to ensuring the rights, dignity and equal development for the Dalits and ethnic minorities;
  4. Ensuring permanent residence under state patronisation and handing over the ownership to them;
  5. Introducing a special quota system for those (among Dalits and ethnic minorities) who are deprived of all government facilities;
  6. Ensuring a special arrangement in the social safety-net programmes and other basic services so that Dalits and ethnic minorities can enjoy rights they deserve;
  7. Undertaking special educational activities with utmost importance for them;
  8. Allocating a special amount in the budget for them and thus, ensuring effective implementation of the activities by the responsible agencies of the government;
  9. Formulating, approving and implementing the Anti-Discrimination Law at the earliest;
  10. Conducting an effective national survey to quantify the exact number of the Dalits and ethnic minority population in Bangladesh;
  11. Adopting a special development plan ensuring the access to financial services, climate change resilience opportunities and capacity development for the Dalits and ethnic minorities;
  12. A national development plan with a certain timeframe should be adopted for them; and
  13. Removing the existing misperception and stopping incorrect presentation about the Dalits and ethnic minorities, and promoting positive programmes in the media.

Email: ayonsauir@gmail.com

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