Ensure constitutional rights of Dalits, indigenous people

Integrate them into mainstream society
Dr Iftekharuzzaman
Dr Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh, speaks at a press conference yesterday, presenting their report on indigenous and Dalit communities in the country. Photo: Rashed Shumon

A recent TIB study shows that the Dalits and indigenous communities of the plain lands in Bangladesh have been facing widespread socio-economic discrimination, often being deprived of education, healthcare, even government's basic immunisation programmes, and employment as well as other basic human rights. It is shocking that the indigenous and Dalit students of the plain lands still face discrimination in getting admission to government primary schools. They are not taught in their mother tongues and are even compelled to sit for classes and tests with the students of other mainstream religions. Sometimes they have to bribe the healthcare officials to even get emergency and maternal healthcare services. In addition, these people are often evicted from their own land by local influential people.

This is in sharp contrast to our Constitution which provides for equal opportunities for all, irrespective of religion, community, ethnicity, and gender. Article 23A of the Constitution states that the State shall take steps to protect and develop the unique local culture and tradition of the tribes, minor races, ethnic sects and communities. If we are to uphold the spirit of the Constitution, we must ensure equal opportunities for Dalits and indigenous communities of the plain lands and integrate them into the mainstream society. Also, a separate land commission should be formed to ensure the land rights of these marginalised communities. Furthermore, government initiatives that have been taken for ensuring their education and social safety must be implemented at the field levels.