Discrimination against char dwellers
That pervasive discrimination — social, political, economic and cultural — is the order of the day in Bangladesh which becomes evident everywhere and in every sector of the social, political, economic and cultural lives of the citizens. The constitution of the republic, the republic that emerged through blood and fire, promised democratic equality of citizens, equal treatment of all the citizens by the state. But more than four decades after the independence, inequalities of the poor and the rich, men and women, the Muslims and the non-Muslims, the Bengalis and the non-Bengalis, urban and rural, et cetera, not only continue to exist but also are on a steady rise in some cases — the conditions of some six million people living in chars, landmasses emerged from riverbeds in other words, being a burning example.
A New Age report, based on a ‘baseline survey’ conducted by the Concern Worldwide Bangladesh and Unnayan Shamannay in 73 chars, as well as field-level investigations by the daily, published on Wednesday, shows that some half a million people living in the chars have long been deprived of certain fundamental constitutional rights of the citizens, such as education and healthcare. The report points out that the char children in question do not have any scope to pursue their education beyond the primary level, simply because they cannot go to high schools located in distant places due to ‘risky and troublesome communication.’ It is, therefore, not surprising that 66 per cent of the people of survey area — 73 chars of 24 unions in 10 upazilas of Rajshahi, Chapainawabganj, Lalmonirhat and Pabna — remains illiterate. The discrimination becomes evident when compared with the average national rate of illiteracy, which is 40 per cent.
Besides, health services remain elusive for inhabitants of the remote chars. Deprived of immunisation and family planning programmes, maternal health services and sanitation facilities of the state, most of these people are bound to rely on village quacks for ‘medical’ treatment. Some 70 per cent of char women are deprived of maternity health services.
The result of the lack of education and healthcare, coupled with extreme poverty, is obvious in the lives of char people: the young boys are forced to work such as as grazing cattle, pulling vans and working in tea stalls; and the girls become victims of child marriage. The indifference of successive governments towards the plight of the poor in general and the remote char people in particular is primarily responsible for the inhuman conditions of these citizens, who are constitutionally entitled to equal political and economic treatment of the state.
Under the circumstances, we demand that the government should immediately change its discriminatory policies against the poor citizens and urge the politically conscious democratically-oriented sections of society to raise their collective voice for the welfare of the hapless citizens living in places far from the capital city.
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