The Financial Express

Dream shelters materialise for thousands

Dream shelters materialise for thousands

In the context of human longings directly related to his or her existence, one of the few basic ones is the owning of a shelter. Humans have been considered civilised since the times when they felt the need of a roof overhead during the night. The crude forms of this living style in the obscure past were the caves on hill slopes. These caves were necessitated not only by the urge to have a hazard-free night's sleep, but also the need for familial privacy. In the civilised world, except the compulsive vagabonds, humans in general want to have a home of their own. They get an exclusive right from society or the state to live in these abodes. Outsiders are regarded as trespassers.

The crux of the matter is houses, private or commune-based, ensure a life shaped by the plans or dreams of individuals. Few modern states in the present times have the provision for making free dwellings for their citizens. In those states or societies, the people of 'all classes' are ensured free food, shelters, education for their children, and also medical care. Mostly the now-abolished Soviet bloc states, these countries also included some others having part-socialist systems. Such state-sponsored housing complexes have all but vanished after the fall of the Soviet socialist system. Thanks to the many poor-friendly features characterising socialism, lots of people in the modern world rue the free-housing provision --- and even the very state system.

The rich welfare states, despite their unemployment allowances, have never promoted the idea of free housing for their citizens. They might never go for it in the near future. It's because they are born a free society, promoting freedom of expression and speech. Their citizens respect pure democratic ideals. By having a state-built house, the people there do not want to have a life in fetters or under dozens of unwritten obligations. Thus free housing in an otherwise free-economy-based country sounds like a pipedream. Against this backdrop, a poorer country like Bangladesh building houses for its underprivileged may appear dichotomous. But the project might one day emerge as a blissful and celebratory gift to the people; who are landless and homeless, and, broadly speaking, deprived of secure shelters. They do not have even the faint possibility of living in their own houses belonging to them lawfully. These housing facilities called Ashrayan-1 and Ashrayan-2 are set to accommodate thousands of poverty-stricken people. The two grand projects have been built in celebration of the birth centennial of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Few events could be more befitting to this occasion, as the Father of the Nation had dreamt of a happy, exploitation-free Bangladesh. Moreover, one of the nation's four founding ideological principles was socialism. It has been later changed to 'social justice'. In effect, it was impregnated with the thoughts of building an equitable society.

The two Ashrayan projects have handed over individual housing units to people, many of whom belong to the floating segments, along with ownership documents. It means they cannot be displaced from their permanent shelters at the sweet will of an administration. Of the two massive projects, the first-phase opened in January this year. It comprises 70,000 semi-pucca dwellings with electricity and running water. As per a data of the Ashrayan project, the number of homeless and landless families (under Class-Ka) is 293,361 in the country. And just homeless families (under Class-Kha) number at 592,261. In the phase-II Ashrayan project 53,340 houses were distributed among the homeless and landless people in different parts of the country. The places include Rangpur division, Chattogram division, Dhaka division, Rajshahi division, Barishal division, Khulna division, and Mymensingh and Sylhet divisions.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina attended the inaugural of the latest Ashrayan project virtually from Gonobhaban. It's a universal truth that shelter is the most basic of the human needs after food. Humans cannot claim themselves to be complete beings without permanent places to sleep, take rest and cook. A secure shelter enables man to walk tall and find for himself or herself dignified places in a community. In the urban areas of South Asian poorer countries like Bangladesh, homelessness remains a perennial problem. With the influx of the ultra-poor people from rural outback areas, the scourge of slum dwelling continues to rise. Globally, large cities in few lower middle and middle-income countries can manage to be free of their floating populations and squatters. Against this backdrop, by setting up Ashrayan projects Bangladesh has set an example worth emulating by other developing cities. Identifying genuine homeless people and handing them over individual houses that they will own exclusively with addresses is a highly difficult task. That the government would finally be able to accomplish the task seemed incredible. Like the sprawling cities in the middle-income aspirant countries, Dhaka continues to grapple with its ever-increasing population in the slums. With the unexpected respite in the arrival of the rural destitutes from villages thanks to the outbreak of the Covid-19, clusters of people of all ages passing their days under the open sky would remain the common scenario. Until eviction drives dispersed them, these people would be found on the sides of wide pavements for days. At one stage they would end up being tenants of slum-based land lords. They are hardly aware that slums eventually suck them into its seemingly fathomless pit. Very few can manage to come free of its spell.

Most of the shanty-dwelling people remain desperate to come out of the slum confines. With all their attempts meeting failures, they are compelled to remain stuck in the web of the slum life. In Dhaka and other cities of the country, eviction drives are conducted against the unwieldy and expanding slums. Government plots are normally the easy targets of setting up of slums. After the eviction of illegal slums by the city corporation and other authorities, its inhabitants set up shanties in the other parts of a city. Another slum begins sprouting up. Many slum people get used to these uncertainties plaguing their lives. Others cannot. They have come to the city to lead a content life free of all kinds of uncertainties. They look forward to seeing their children get proper education and learn the wise teachings of life. Thus the higher government authorities with lofty dreams want to see the growth of shelters with a different character in the Ashrayan projects. The features contained in this objective transcend the basic and mundane necessities of life.

Humans cannot utilise their full potential unless they are provided a place for introspection; it's a place where the inhabitants do not have to remain occupied with searching for a life free of running frenziedly for the semblance of a shelter. The Prime Minister couldn't have sounded more relevant and optimistic as she said, "With our limited resources, we're trying to reach people at grassroots level for improving their lives and livelihoods. That's our aim." A great percentage of the people who are lucky to have a space in the two Ashrayan projects want to send their children to school. It's presumed they do not want to see their children go through the trauma and ordeals caused by their plight of being without a shelter. Their lives had arrived onto the verge of total meaninglessness until they were able to enter their homes, with heads high.

With everything going smooth, their descendents can look forward to better lives befitting the citizens of a nation that takes pride in their leaders behind its birth. In a small country inhabited by over 166 million people, free-shelter projects might go haywire for different socio-political reasons. Yet the very courage of ensuring free housing for a sizeable section of people speaks of more initiatives of the likes in the coming days. The ongoing housing projects carry just a symbolic value. The future ones could be expected to keep Bangladesh apart from the other countries belonging to the same economic group. It depends on vision and the steadfastness in remaining faithful to a great objective.

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