Although the country's constitution promises equal rights for all citizens, thousands of people of the Dalit community are treated as "untouchables" and are ostracised by the society, said Dalits at a rally yesterday.
As the non-discriminatory values of the constitution are not enough to ensure rights of the Dalits, a law that makes discrimination a criminal offence needs to be enacted soon, they added.
Bangladesh Dalit Parishad in association with Paritran, a Dalit rights organisation, held the programme in BMA auditorium in the capital.
They also urged the government to enact the proposed Antidiscrimination Act soon.
In June, the Law Commission recommended formulating a law to prevent discrimination against Dalits, adivasis, hermaphrodites (hijras) and sex workers.
According to the recommendation, the law would include provisions giving a fine of up to Tk 10 lakh or 10 years' imprisonment to anyone displaying an act of discrimination.
Mizanur Rahman, chairman of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), said no act of discrimination would go unpunished when the law is enacted.
Narrating the plight of Dalits, Nirmal Chandra Das, a Dalit leader, said, “Teachers in schools do not teach our children, restaurants do not serve us food, and people even avoid our shadows just because we were born in the 'lower caste'.”
Presiding over the programme, Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Haque said, “Letting acts of discrimination go unpunished diminishes the very spirit of the Liberation War.”
Earlier, Dalit rights activists formed a human chain in front of Jatiya Press Club pressing home a 10-point demand including reserved seats for Dalits in the parliament and local government offices for Dalit leaders.