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Case Study

The Crying of a Dalit Son

Milon Das, Director
Tala, Satkhira

Satkhira district is situated in the Southwest part of Bangladesh. Here 33% of the remaining Hindu community is made up by Dalits. Belonging to different castes and groupings these Dalits are known as Bhuputra, Kaiputra, Kaora, Rishi, Tahsildar etc. Taken together they are variously pointed out as Antaj (i.e. the last ones) or just simply outcaste. The single factor differentiating Dalits from others is their low caste status determined by their low birth. Milon Kumar Das was born in one such low caste, the Rishi, cobblers or leather workers by tradition. This traditional occupation, already discarded by his family, was what however identified Milon and his family as untouchable. This family lives in Laksampur village in Tetulia union of Tala upazila in the district of Satkhira. Milon is the only male offspring. His family used to live at subsistence level, deprived of any social amenity and opportunity. Indeed in those days life for so called untouchable people was subhuman. Milon’s family was no exception. His father earned a living by driving a three-wheeler cycle to carry around goods here and there, the kind of three-wheelers that are still quite common on the roads of today’s Bangladesh as well. Due to both social ostracism and parents’ ignorance, dalit children did not use to go to school in those days. Somehow, Milon overcoming a series of insurmountable obstacle for a boy of 6-7 years of age, managed to get enrolled in a primary school. Milon himself and his father more than him, were convinced to go to school by an Italian Xaverian Father, Luigi Paggi. After entering school, Milon got along well with both high caste Hindu and Muslim classmates. One day, when he was reading in class 5, together with his friends, Milon went to the restaurant of a certain Babu Binoy Kumar Gosh. To his surprise he had noticed that his friends were been served food on plates while his own food was been given to him wrapped up into a piece of paper. Similarly, while his friends were given water in glasses he was denied the glass and was served water in a different container. When Milon enquired about the difference in treatment the owner, Babu Binoy, replied: “You are a son of a Muchi (i.e. a derogative word for the Rishi people) and if I gave you water in a glass nobody would ever come to this restaurant!” The 12 years old Milon was shocked and seething with rage snatched the glass from Binoy Babu’s hand and broke it into pieces by throwing it on the floor. Milon who had burst out crying was rebuked and beaten by the restaurant owner. Nobody among the present had the courage to say anything. On top of that a salish (i.e. local arbitration) was arranged in Nowapara. In that arbitration Milon was fined for the damage to the restaurant. At the same time he was also cautioned not to act like that in future. If he did, his whole family would have paid for it with social ostracism.
Although Milon was a good student he was never recognised as such in his class. Generations after generations have suffered and continue to suffer because of caste discrimination. Dalits have no legal voice and socially and economically they simply are exploited. Milon is but just one case of serious caste discrimination and human rights violation in Bangladesh. Milon Das eventually completed his primary education fighting against this sort of social barriers caused by his so called untouchability status. Though a meritorious student, he never managed to secure the 1st place in his class. He is the son of a Muchi, how could he dare?