Overall development of the society is not possible if anyone is left to lag behind. It is the responsibility of the state to bring the left behind communities forward. The state is working on bringing them ahead. The other communities too must change their attitudes towards the Dalits, plain-land ethnic minorities, transgender persons, tea garden workers and others of the left behind communities in the country. And along with change attitudinal changes, the draft Anti-Discrimination Act must also be passed.
These observations were made at the roundtable on ‘Empowerment of left behind communities and participation in the development process.’ The roundtable, held on Saturday at the Prothom Alo office in Karwan Bazar of the city, was organised by Christian Aid, Nagorik Uddyog and Prothom Alo with support from the European Union.
It is the responsibility of the state to bring forward the left behind communities of the country, said head of the parliamentary standing committee for the social welfare ministry, Rashed Khan Menon. He said this is a directive of the constitution. There is nothing blocking the way for having a law for those who have fallen back. Various initiatives have been taken up for the development of the left behind communities. Some work is being done, but such work needs to be accelerated.
Convener of the parliamentary caucus for minorities and indigenous affairs Fazle Hossain Badsha said, we are living in a sort of discriminatory society, though the constitution states that such discrimination is unacceptable. If the constitution was followed, an equitable society free of discrimination would have been established in the country.
Member of the parliamentary standing committee for law, justice and parliamentary affairs Shameem Haider Patwary told the meeting that the Anti-Discrimination Act would be passed soon. He said there is need to draw up data and lists after defining those who are left behind in society and those who are ultra left-behind. There are various communities at various levels in the society who face inequity, discrimination and deprivation of facilities. There needs to be immediate intervention and initiative to address these matters. But first and foremost a change in the government’s mindset is required. The government often feels that the issues raised by the civil society are not their issues. The left behind people must be given their rights.
Manager of the Governance and Human Rights Programme of the Delegation of the European Union to Bangladesh, Laila Jesmine Banu, said there are all sorts of discrimination in society. These must be identified. Correct facts and figures concerning the left behind communities are essential so that their allocations can be increased in various development processes.
Christian Aid country director Pankaj Kumar said, when the marginalised population is not taken into account, the entire population is affected. There are hardly any discussions about this. This is an opportunity for the government, NGOs and civil society to discuss about the rights of the backward communities. More such discussions are necessary.Khaled Sarker
While we talk about social harmony, in reality we behave differently with different sections of the backward population, remarked Manusher Jonno Foundation executive director Shaheen Anam. Meanwhile, though there is a draft anti-discrimination act, it hasn’t been passed as yet. Perhaps it will be passed, but it should be ensured that it is actually implemented.
General secretary of Bangladesh Dalit and Excluded Rights Movement (BDERM) Uttam Kumar Bhakta said, the rights of the Dalits are not being established due to the lack of a specific law. The Dalits face a multitude of problems. We want a speedy passage of the law to eliminate discrimination.
Associate professor of law at Jagannath University, SM Masum Billah, said everyone shows sympathy towards the left behind people, but do not consider them as equals. Discrimination must be defined. It also must be seen how people-oriented the law will be.
Chief executive of Nagorik Uddyog, Zakir Hossain, said unless the left behind communities are recognised, they will not be empowered. Identification is first necessary for their empowerment. It is necessary to determine how many persons there are among the transgender, Dalit, tea garden worker and other communities, and what each community will be called.
Advisor to Bangladesh Legal Aid Services Trust (BLAST) Md Tajul Islam said, there are many areas of discrimination within the existing laws and policies which the state or policymakers have not identified. The discrimination towards the left behind communities in social and cultural rights exists in many areas of the existing laws.
Executive director of Bandhu Social Welfare Society, Saleh Ahmed, said the social welfare ministry has a budget for the improvement of the living standards of the Hijra community. But, sadly, the Hijra community has no say in how this budget can be used, in what sectors and how it can be implemented. Those for whom the project has been made should be involved from the very outset. It is imperative to pass the anti-discrimination act very soon.
Prothom Alo’s associate editor Anisul Hoque called for a change in attitudes towards the left behind communities. He said, they must be given equal rights. The government will need to play a good role here and have good laws. The voice of the stakeholders must be heard. There are innumerable instances of how well the left behind communities can do given the slightest chance.
The keynote at the roundtable was presented by Christian Aid’s Gender and Inclusion Programme manager Farhana Afroze. Prothom Alo associate editor Abdul Quayum presented the introductory statement. The roundtable was moderated by Prothom Alo assistant editor Firoz Choudhury.