At least eight million people belonging to different ethnic and occupational groups in Bangladesh are still trapped in poverty, a workshop was told on Monday.
“Many of these people are scared of eviction from homes and also statistically invisible. Despite the progress Bangladesh made, these excluded and marginalised sections of people are entrapped in poverty within the system,” observed economist Hossain Zillur Rahman.
Admitting that the country’s laws often discriminated these people, Gowher Rizvi, the prime minister’s foreign affairs adviser, invited recommendations from the stakeholders so that remedial measures could be taken.
The workshop titled 'Leaving no one behind: Exclusion and Marginalisation Challenges in Bangladesh' was organised at LGRD auditorium to highlight the importance of mapping various groups of marginalised people who are yet to be brought under the mainstream development.
Four organisations - Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD), Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC), Christian Commission for Development in Bangladesh and Gram Biksah Kendra - organised the workshop as part of a three-and-a-half-year project in line with the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs). Representatives of various groups from the grassroots also spoke.
Hossain Zillur Rahman, executive chairman of PPRC, pointed out that the development discussion on smaller ethnic groups was mainly focussed on the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) but there are quite a number of groups living in the plain land who are not in a position to benefit from the ongoing development process.
“There is discrimination based on casts and creed and there are others who are now lagging behind because of their traditional lifestyle earlier,” he added.
Apart from more than two dozen ethnic groups as recognised by the government so far, development activists, under the project, identified 37 groups, said Philip Gain of SEHD.
Former caretaker government adviser professor Wahiduddin Mahmud regretted that the people are living in a state of deprivation due to colour, and ethnic and occupational backgrounds.
He mentioned that a key reason for Bangladesh’s massive poverty reduction is that even the poor believe “poverty is not a destiny”.
“It is possible to statistically hide the people who are close to 10 million in number while highlighting Bangladesh’s progress in poverty reduction. But that would not be any human development,” the economist said.
“If we want to present us as a model for development, we must bring these people into the mainstream development activities in the most humanitarian manner. That would be a civilised approach to development upholding human rights,” added Wahiduddin Mahmud.
He also emphasised the need for solving the unique problems of each community and ethnic group through separate arrangements and in view of their perspectives, without mixing them up.
Rambhajob Koiree, general secretary of Bangladesh Tea Workers Union, informed the workshop that their wage is too low to run a family and that they have to embrace poor life in tea sector for generations due to fear of losing home after retirement.
Gowher Rizvi said Bangladesh has attained significant progress in a various areas and the government would address other issues one after another.
He also asked the organisers to create a permanent platform for those who are yet to be heard. “We’ve to listen to what these people want to say and what kind of help they need,” the foreign affairs adviser said.
Dwelling on helplessness of the tea garden workers about their land rights, the adviser maintained that a simple amendment to the law could solve this problem.
Harishanker Jaladas, a writer and researcher who worked extensively on marginalised communities, said the privileged people of the society were responsible for the plight of the exclusion of these people.
He said the people whose ancestral occupation was fishing were marginalised by the so-called fishermen who have money and backing from powerful quarters.