The struggle for dignified livelihood
A project titled “Empowering left behind minority communities to effectively participate in the development process of Bangladesh” is being implemented by Bandhu Social Welfare Society, BLAST, Nagorik Uddyog, and WAVE Foundation with the support of Christian Aid and European Union. It is a 42-month long project which aims to empower the local organizations working for the minorities to enable them to claim their rights; especially, to uphold the rights of the Dalit, indigenous, people with disabilities and transgender and hijras in Bangladesh.
On 22 November 2022, a policy dialogue was held as part of the project where M.A. Mannan MP, Hon’able Minister, Ministry of Planning, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh graced the event as the Chief Guest while H.E Charles Whiteley, Ambassador & Head of Delegation, Delegation of the European Union to Bangladesh, Rashed Khan Menon MP (Dhaka-8), Adiba Anjum Mita MP, Lutfun Nesa Khan MP, Md. Kamruzzaman, Director General, Bangladesh National Museum, Zakir Hossain, Chief Executive, Nagorik Uddyog, Anisul Hoque, Author & Associate Editor, Prothom Alo attended the program as special guests. Pankaj Kumar, Country Director, Christian Aid delivered welcome speech.
In addition to that, a photo exhibition on the lives and livelihoods of the minority communities is taking place at Nalinikanta Bhattasali Exhibition Gallery, Bangladesh National Museum from November 23 – 25, 2022 (except for Thursday).
A qualitative study was conducted under this project from August to September 2022 in four districts of Bangladesh — Khulna (coastal region), Rajshahi (barind region), Moulavibazar (hilly region) and Dhaka city — on the livelihood status of Dalits, plain land ethnic minorities, people with disabilities (PWD), transgender and hijra, and tea workers. The key findings of the study are presented here.
Transgender and Hijra Communities
The traditional professions of the Hijra community are Cholla tola, that refers to the collection of money as a group from markets and streets and Badhai, which means performing for families to celebrate childbirth and weddings.
They are bound to continue this profession as they are excluded from the mainstream community. Even the ones who acquire the qualifications for mainstream jobs are rarely allowed to participate in them due to social stigma.
Due to poverty, bullying and harassment in school, and lack of support from families, most transgender and Hijra community members are unable to continue their education beyond secondary school.
Therefore, they prefer self-employment (e.g., tea stall vendors, tailors, etc.) over working as employees. This presents additional risks for them as managing the financial and social capital to start a business is difficult.
“When we try to work individually…most people, including rickshaw pullers and drivers sexually harass us. Due to this fear (we) are not interested in changing our existing profession (to where we are without our group),” shared a Hijra community member.
An employer said, “Our work is (physically) laborious. We do not think Hijra people are suitable for such hard work.”
In Bangladesh, the Dalit communities are broadly divided under two categories: non-Bengali Dalits (Harijans) and Bengali Dalits. Harijans were brought to this region from Northern India during 18th century by the British government to meet the demands of cleaning a growing city and by tea garden owners for their availability to provide cheap labour. Till date, their descendants are continuing the work their forefathers did. They are continuing this work till today. Bengali Dalits are associated with multiple local professions e.g., pottery, bamboo crafting, blacksmithing, boat driving, etc. Traditionally, these jobs are held by the lowest caste of the Hindu community.
Factors of vulnerability
The mainstream Bengali people are increasingly competing in the traditional job market (e.g., cleaning, sweeping, barbering, shoe-mending etc.) of the Bengali Dalit and Harijan communities. Here, they have the added advantage of improved education/stable economic background compared to the Dalit communities.
“Muslims (mainstream Bengali people) are taking our jobs, even in forensic occupations (morgue). The Prime Minister advised that the Harijan communities should be prioritised for such jobs, but Muslims are being prioritised still,” said a Dalit respondent.
“We have quotas but there is no use of these quotas,” shared a Dalit respondent.
Plainland Ethnic Minority Communities
The plainland ethnic minority people are mostly engaged in agriculture-related labour including rice husking, tillage, and packaging of crops etc. Their primary occupation was agriculture-related, which is in jeopardy now due to the drought in northern Bangladesh.
Factors of vulnerability
The existing perception among employers is that plainland ethnic minority people are only fit for the jobs which require low-income physical labour, not the highly-paid clerical jobs.
“We have to compete with the Bengali people when we try for any permanent salaried job. The Bengali people get the job because they have the financial ability to arrange bribes and they are more educated than us,” mentioned a plainland ethnic minority respondent.
During the agriculture lean period, they engage in different jobs, including van/rickshaw pulling, masonry, carpentry, casual day labour etc.
Many plainland ethnic minority members are changing their traditional profession (agricultural jobs) because of the adverse impact of climate change on agriculture and low wages. In addition, some of them, who have been able to acquire education, are being able to secure urban jobs.
People with Disabilities (PwD) Communities
Most of the PwD in urban areas are engaged in begging. However, a small fraction of them is involved in different occupations like private/government service and entrepreneurship. In the rural areas, they are engaged in livestock rearing, tailoring, small business, begging, agriculture labour and other non-farm activities.
Factors of vulnerability
Despite a number of government initiatives, they are behind in income-generating activities due to PwD-unfriendly infrastructure in workplaces, schools, and other institutions. They mostly choose self-employment. Although there is a quota for the employment of PwD in government jobs, most of them cannot reach that level due to poverty, illiteracy, and poor system governance. Moreover, there is no PwD-appropriate skill-based training for the available jobs.
“My parents did not think I could get any jobs after studying…(so) they did not send me to school,” shared a PwD respondent.
Tea garden worker Communities
This community comprises the Dalit and plainland ethnic minority (PEM) people. The women collect tea leaves from the gardens and the men work in the factories. This leads to a systemic difference in wage and work distribution. Many of their family members are engaged in other professions (day labour, masonry, etc.) outside the gardens to generate additional income, as the tea work alone does not provide enough for the family.
Factors of vulnerability
Tea garden workers consider their existing profession as decent work as they get housing. They like having at least one family member engaged in tea garden work while the others go outside for extra income. However, working outside the gardens presents them with wage discrimination, social exclusion, and bullying.
“When working outside the tea gardens, mainstream people often feel offended when we speak among us in our own language. They think we are cursing them when we are just speaking about our own things,” shared a plainland ethnic minority (PEM) tea garden worker.
Although all members of these minority communities face hardships in terms of economic opportunities, the women suffers the most. Due to poverty, lack of awareness regarding girls’ education, and lack of social security, minority communities are less likely to educate their girls, which affects their capacity to get decent jobs. “Families are less interested in continuing girls’ education; they prefer to marry their girls off at an early age,” added a Dalit woman.
Most ethnic minority women reported that, in farm-based labour, men get paid higher than women for the same work. Additionally, employers do not assign any women in supervisory roles even if they have the experience and knowledge. The women who work outside also struggle with work-life balance. “Although we work equally in tea gardens with men, only women have to do chores at the hosuehold,” shared a female tea garden worker of Sylhet.
Courtesy : The daily star
Note: This news piece was originally published in thedailystar.net and used purely for non-profit/non-commercial purposes exclusively for Human Rights .