Harijans asked to unite for basic rights
Speakers at a national convention yesterday urged the Harijan community to be united and raise their voice for their constitutional rights, which they are denied in the society for a long time.
They also urged the government to take steps including enactment of law so that these people from the lower caste can enjoy their rights like other people in every sphere of social life.
Friends Association for Integrated Regulation (FAIR), a local NGO working with the Harijans, and Manusher Jonno Foundation jointly organised the event at Kushtia Islamia College ground.
At least 200 leaders, heads and representatives of Harijan community from 35 districts took part in the convention. Civil society leaders, government officials, NGO activists, teachers and students, business leaders and journalists also attended the programme.
Still considered as untouchables, the Harijan people are denied some basic rights like sending their children to schools with the mainstream children and access to all places and to government and non-government jobs, the speakers told the convention.
It seems that the government has completely forgotten or ignored the rights of the outcastes. They are not being involved in the development process, they said.
Dr Rashid Askari, writer, columnist and professor of English at Islamic University, Kushtia, presented the keynote paper at the convention.
Dr Askari said that there are currently some 40 lakh Harijan people in the country. Divided into eight sections, these people are living in unhygienic environment.
These people are deprived of the safety net facilities of the government and they are even excluded from the census, he pointed out.
"Their only profession is also under threat and their heath and sanitation conditions are also very miserable," Dr Askari said adding that the Harijans are not well aware of their fundamental and constitutional rights.
The convention was addressed, among others, by Mahfuz Anam, editor of The Daily Star, advocate Salma Ali, executive director of Bangladesh National Women's Lawyers' Association, Shaheen Anam, executive director of Manusher Jonno Foundation, Dr Md Moslem Uddin, registrar of Islamic University, Abdul Kaiyum Mohammad Kibria, deputy general manager of Basic Bank Limited, Selim Toha, associate professor at the Department of Law, Islamic University, Nirmal Chandra Das, secretary general of Bangladesh Harijan Oikya Parishad (BHOP), advisers of BHOP Rajkumar Bashphore and Kailash Das Hela, and former joint-secretary general of BHOP Sajan Ram.
In his speech, Mahfuz Anam observed that the underprivileged communities in Bangladesh are not looked after by the government as is expected.
The society is organised in such a hierarchical manner that those who are on top of the society, enjoy all kinds of privileges and those who are at the bottom, suffer from every kind of abuse, he said.
The Daily Star editor urged the Harijan people not to be frustrated and be united to fight for their rights.
Shaheen Anam, executive director of Manusher Jonno Foundation, asked people from all walks of life to change their attitudes towards the Harijans.
She also urged the Harijans to send their children to school, which will help bring change in their lives.
The convention was presided over by Tofazzel Haq, chairman of FAIR and also an assistant professor at Southeast University, Dhaka, while Dewan Akhtaruzzaman, executive director of FAIR, gave the welcome address. Kushtia Deputy Commissioner Md Nurul Islam inaugurated the programme.