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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.