Change of mentality must for ending discrimination | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 01, 2015 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:36 AM, May 05, 2015

Change of mentality must for ending discrimination

Speakers tell Manusher Jonno Foundation, National Human Rights Commission consultation on law likely to be ready for enactment by December
Staff Correspondent

At the Joypurhat bar canteen, one set of table and crockery were kept separated for an advocate, not out of respect but because he belonged to the Harijan community.

At Dhaka University, Purnima Das is looked down upon by her first-year classmates in accounting and information systems because she got admitted under the Dalit quota.

Chumki Begum from Sex Worker's Network said she hid her professional identity while renting houses in Dhaka as no landlord wants sex workers as tenants.

These are snapshots from a 21st century Bangladesh with a constitution which prohibits the state from discriminating against any citizen based on religion, community, colour, gender or place of birth.

However, the aforementioned three could not ask for any redress as they were discriminated by individuals or private organisations.

To address these issues, an anti-discrimination law was drafted by Law Commission last year in association with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF), Nagorik Uddyog, Bangladesh Dalit and Excluded Rights Movement (BDERM), and Research and Development Collective (RDC), with inputs from other rights bodies.

A national consultation on the draft was held yesterday morning at Nabab Nawab Ali Chowdhury Senate Bhaban, Dhaka University (DU), organised by NHRC and MJF.

At the inaugural speech, MJF Executive Director Shaheen Anam highlighted the necessity of the law, which had come up through Prof Mesbah Kamal's study, “Situation of Dalit”, in 2008.

“The main objective of today's programme is to learn about the status of the draft law submitted to the law ministry last year,” she said.

Shaheen Anam praised the government's steps for development of the Dalit community through budgetary allocations and quotas in jobs and public universities.

Law Minister Anisul Huq as chief guest said the draft was under review to check for conflicting sections with existing laws and make adjustments.

“By the end of December, we will get this done,” he said.

“Change would not take place just by enacting law. Mentality of people also needs to change to ensure implementation of the law,” he said.

The definition of discrimination in the proposed legislation extends to discriminatory attitudes faced because of profession, tradition, heritage, ancestry, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, age, pregnancy and belief.

Discriminatory acts, instigating such behaviours and practices and forcing someone to choose certain professions have been made punishable offences. It also leaves room for compensation if the victim faces physical or financial damage.

Restricting or barring entry or presence of any person into a public place, refusing services, or refusing admission of a child to any school for not providing father's identification are also prohibited.

Barrister Sara Hossain, executive director (honorary), Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust, suggested reducing the jail terms, considering overcrowding in prisons.

Advocate Tarana Ali, MP said the law's scope should not be limited and suggested inclusion of HIV patients who often fail to receive treatment from doctors.

NHRC Chairman Prof Mizanur Rahman hoped that the law could help stop the outburst of hatred because of one's identity.

Selina Hossain, honorary member of NHRC, suggested exercising caution in use of words in the proposed law so that no community was offended.

She also sought to know about the steps taken by the DU authorities to address the mass molestation of females that took place on the DU campus on April 14. 

Prof Md Shah Alam, Law Commission member, emphasised creating awareness on the rights which would help implement the proposed law.

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