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Bangladesh: Dalits demand adequate housing

Citizen’s Initiative (Nagorik Uddyog) is an non-governmenal organization based in Dhaka that works to promote the rights of marginalized Dalit communities in Bangaldesh.

‘Still now a large section of population in Bangladesh who are known as Dalits are discriminated in all spheres of social life,’ according to Md. Abdul Basar, a project coordinator at Citizen’s Initiative, ‘even though the Constitution has declared equal rights for all citizens’.

Citizen’s Initiative is pushing the government of Bangladesh to take action to protect the rights of Dalits. First, they are advocating for a national law and policy against practices of ‘untouchability’ and social exclusion based on caste. They are also pushing for a reserve quota for Dalits in academic and national institutions, as well as in the private sector.

Protecting Dalits’ right to adequate housing is another priority. Dalits are not permitted to rent or build houses outside designated localities, so many live in urban slums, excluded from wider social and economic life.

Since 2008, Citizen’s Initiative and the Bangladesh Dalit and Excluded Rights Movement (BDERM), a national network for Dalit rights, have held annual advocacy seminars to persuade the government to provide more funds to Dalits, particularly for better housing, quoting provisions of the UN Declaration on Minorities.

The government has responded to these advocacy efforts. For the last two years it has allocated significant funds in the national budget for excluded communities, including funds for building proper housing. Basar agrees that this is a huge advocacy success for the rights of Dalits in Bangladesh, but; ‘We need more national- and local-level trainings and discussion meetings on the Declaration … then it can be an effective reference for minority rights struggle.’

Untouchability: A discriminatory practice based on the belief that different caste groups have varying degrees of purity, with Dalits, or ‘outcastes’, being so impure that they can ‘pollute’ other groups. Dalit communities are marginalized, socially ostracized and often confined to menial tasks such as removing human waste and leather-working. In India, Dalits are now ‘Scheduled Castes’ and discrimination against them is illegal.