Bangladesh: MRG visits a Dalit Sweeper colony in Dhaka

MRG's Programme Assistant, Livia Saccardi, visited Bangladesh to attend the National Dalit Women Rights Conference on 28th July 2012 in Dhaka, organised by MRG partner Nagorik Uddyog (Citizen's Initiative).

Dalit women face multiple discriminations, from majority communities and from within their own community. They are discriminated against because of their gender and because of their caste.

Dalits are considered “untouchable” and “unclean” because of the jobs they are forced to do. They often suffer physical and sexual abuse from both “higher” caste and from the men of their own caste. In fact, poverty, low literacy and social and economic marginalisation are some of the factors that contribute to the high incidence of domestic violence within their communities.

According to the Bangladesh Dalit and Excluded Rights Movement, Bangladesh Dalit and Excluded Women Federation, Nagorik Uddyog and the International Dalit Solidarity Network, there are an estimated 5.5 million Dalits in Bangladesh.

The scale of the problems faced by Dalit women is enormous. In areas of health, education, housing, employment and wages, application of legal rights, political participation and rural development, Dalit women have been almost entirely excluded from development policies and programmes. Often they cannot access justice and support services to which they are entitled.

On 28th July around 350 Dalit women across the country attended a conference drawing attention to the issues that Dalit women face in their everyday life, and giving them a platform to exchange experiences, concerns, new ideas and good practice.

I was inspired and overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and positive energy that you could feel so strongly from the oldest women to the youngest girls, all so passionate and full of hope for a better future.

The day after the conference, thanks to Nagorik Uddyog, I was able to visit the Pongue Sweeper Colony in the centre of Dhaka to see firsthand one of the many deprived areas where Dalits are segregated.

There I met members of the Bangladesh Dalits Human Rights organisation. One of them was Ramu; he works as a cleaner in the nearest Orthopaedic Hospital. Ramu, his two daughters and wife have been living in this colony for the past 8 years. Before that he had lived in a different Dalit colony but he had been evicted.

Click on the gallery below to find out more and see photos from my trip to the colony.

Gallery

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On my way to visit this Dalit Colony in central Dhaka, I was struck by the view of mounds of rubbish along the streets. The smell was revolting. Barehanded children and men went through the trash, maybe looking for something to re-sell or exchange - or simply some food - as if it was the most normal daily activity to carry on.
 MRG-GAL-2824
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One of the main streets of the colony. Around 300 Dalits live in this maze of alleys. A family has no choice but to share the same roof with other families. They pay the government to be provided with electricity; however the electrical system is shockingly unsafe, with cables running between stagnant puddles of water.
 MRG-GAL-2825
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The contrast is astonishing between the dire conditions and the bold cheerful colours used to make these metal sheets their home. Particularly interesting is the Christian cross on the door frame, here Hindus and Christians live peacefully together sharing the same shanty houses and common spaces.
 MRG-GAL-2826
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I was speechless when I witnessed how naturally these women were sitting next to an open-air sewer. My dismay was heightened by the contrast between their spotless colourful outfits and the harshness of the drain. The Dalits’ right to adequate standard of living is far from being implemented.
 MRG-GAL-2828
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Getting ready for dinner. The only tool to cook some food is a makeshift wood stove. The ground is the only available table.
 MRG-GAL-2829
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Her dignity and kindness clash with the lifeless cold metal sheets in the background - the metal of their houses. “The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions” - Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ratified by the Government of the People.
 MRG-GAL-2830
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The stinking ditch along which the life of this Dalit community enfolds. Bold and gloomy colours highlight once again omnipresent contrasts, like the contrast between the Government of Bangladesh’s ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the tough reality with which this community has to confront itself every single day. The word 'implementation' is not in the government’s vocabulary.
 MRG-GAL-2831
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Children playing marbles on a wet ground made of waste materials. The contrast between this inadequate playground and the shining brand-new buildings in the background is appalling. This sweeper colony is right in the centre of Dhaka, between the Orthopaedic Hospital and the World Bank, only 3 km away from the National Assembly.
 MRG-GAL-2832
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Monsoon season. There were few places where we could shelter ourselves from the heavy rain. The children that accompanied us found a way to spend this time playing with drops falling down from a broken roof. “States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.” - Article 27 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child ratified by Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh in 1990.
 MRG-GAL-2833
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I am with some of the members of the Bangladesh Dalits Human Rights organisation (BDHR) who led me on this tough tour. They shared with me their worries and hopes, they showed me their world, explained the history of this place. This is a colony with a symbolic value, where the Dalits’ struggle began.
 MRG-GAL-2834
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On my way back from the colony along with David Raju (pictured), who works at Nagorik Uddyog. My mind is full of harsh images; I am touched by the people I have just met, by their stories, their dignity, and their welcoming smiles; I am so inspired by their determination to ensure a better future for their children, their community, by their determination to change the world.
 MRG-GAL-2835
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Date: 15/01/2013

Countries:

Bangladesh

Categories:

Culture and Tradition
Poverty
Women/Gender
Religion/Religious minorities

Press Contact Information

Name: Emma Eastwood

Telephone: +44 (0)207 4224205

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