THE SITUATION OF DALITS IN BANGLADESH

Organizationally:

1) It must be said that the word ‘Dalit’ in Bangladesh is of recent adoption, and thus not yet well known. Before that, the Bengali term Antaj was used. Even that term, however, did not get widespread adoption. This points to the fact that the Dalit movement is still in its infancy in Bangladesh. As a matter of fact only two Dalit groups have gained a degree of awareness and organisation: the Muci/Rishi/Chamar and the Sweepers/Harijan. The latter name is used by the Sweepers as the proper name for their own caste. That is, the term harijan is not used in the way Gandiji used it. What is more, the infancy of the movement in Bangladesh is also determined by a general but completely wrong conviction that caste discrimination is only a problem of Hindu India, and not of Muslim Bangladesh.

2) In the last years, the Dalit question has been receiving a degree of attention by both media and civil society. This which is good news is also becoming a problem, when non-dalit organisations try to capture the dalit movement or try to become the intermediaries between dalits and international ‘donors’ organisations.

In the field:

1) Dalits face discrimination at all levels of social interaction: from hotels, to barbershops, from temples to mosques and schools. Socially their standing is negligible. They do not count, are not involved in social dynamics, are often used by influential people to pursue their unholy aims. Tolerated and patronised as long as they remain in their pre-established social roles, they are openly threatened and insulted and beaten when attempting to change their lot. Backward in outlook they are mostly illiterate falling pray to child-marriage, dowry and superstitious behaviour in general. They are usually very poor leading a hand to mouth kind of existence.

2) Dalit women partake of the fate of their male counterparts. On top of that, their situation is more tragic for the fact of being women. They are indeed outcaste among outcaste. Hierarchically they come last in the Dalit household. And their situation is well expressed in a nutshell in the following way: a Dalit woman is poor, pregnant and powerless. These three adjectives express well the deep inequality Dalit women are subjected to. This inequality is threefold: it is class based (disempowerment); it is gender based (the fact of being female); it is caste based (dalit). This triple sort of discrimination identifies dalit women as the most vulnerable section of Bangladeshi population. They are simply deprived of everything: from proper nutrition to schooling, from decision making on their own fertility to decision making on their household etc. Unemployment, wage discrimination, molestation, rape, deprivation of property, exploitation, harassments in hostels, incessant dowry demands, these are some of the problems women suffers from. Violence, particularly of a sexual nature (rape etc.), is that which is feared most by women in general. Rape is the ultimate weapon men employ to subjugate women. It is indeed difficult if not impossible to know how many cases of rape are perpetrated on women and Dalit women in particular. Because of social stigma, cases of rape are kept hidden and rarely do they surface in the news. It is however a fact that rapes committed against Dalit women are more often committed because of a certain culture of impunity. As a matter of fact to rape a Dalit woman is not the same as to rape a non-Dalit one: apparently the two facts bear different juridical weight. Dalit women are expendable. Besides, rape is used by influential people to suppress rebellion by lower groups, castes etc. Domestic violence is then another curse Dalit women have to struggle with all their life.

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