Leaders of Dalit communities yesterday demanded that the draft elimination of discrimination act-2015 be immediately passed in parliament to protect the rights of scheduled castes, ethnic minorities, the physically challenged and transgender people.
“If I am born as a human being, then why am I treated as untouchable!” said Bangladesh Harijan Oikya Parishad Secretary General Nirmal Chandra Das at a national dialogue, organised to observe the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
The oikya parishad and Bangladesh Dalit Parishad jointly organised the dialogue in association with Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF), Paritran, Bhumij Foundation, Social Association for Development of Bangladesh, and UK aid in the capital's Cirdap auditorium.
Six lawmakers at the dialogue promised to do all that was necessary to pass the act, which makes discriminating against persons a criminal offence, punishable with a maximum 10 years' imprisonment or Tk 10 lakh fine or both.
Nirmal stated of a 10-point demand including introducing quotas for Harijans and Dalits in government service recruitment and at all educational institutions, including them in development activities, ensuring their representation in local governments and parliament and implementing the Awami League's election manifesto.
The leaders also demanded six months' maternal leave, increasing wages and salaries at municipalities and sufficient residential facilities.
“We had made the same pleas last year on the same day in presence of the honourable Speaker but those are yet to be implemented,” said the oikya parishad president, Krishna Lal Das.
Krishna also urged forming at least a parliamentary caucus so that their demands could easily reach the government.
Lawmaker Shagufta Yeasmin said it would take time to solve all their problems.
“It is not only your war. People around the world are fighting against discrimination,” she said, suggesting that Dalits and Harijans refrain from cooperating with lawmakers who discriminate against them.
“Being a lawmaker we can not avert our responsibilities,” said lawmaker Amatul Kibria Keya Chowdhury.
MJF Executive Director Shaheen Anam said the act has been enacted at many parts of the world and helped to reduce discrimination. “We believe we too can do it,” she said.
She also suggested building up a social movement to change the mentality of people in a bid to eliminate discrimination from society.
Jatiya Sangsad Whip Md Shahabuddin said discrimination has been reduced in the last 10 years. “I hope the rest of the problems will be solved,” he said, opining that humanity would grow more among people through education and economic development.
Lawmakers Hosne Ara Lutfa Dalia, Kazi Rozi and Yasin Ali also spoke.