Parliamentarians expressed solidarity towards the struggle of Dalits' rights and dignity

NU and BDERM organized a meeting with the parliamentarians on 12 October 2015 at the Parliament Members’ Club of the National Assembly. Objective of the meeting was to promote national parliamentarian groups on the issue of protecting human rights of Dalit and eliminating caste based discrimination. These MPs will engage with parliamentary committees and other groups of elected representatives as and when the opportunity arises. This parliamentarians group is expected to indirectly influence all the parliamentarians through their interventions in parliament, parliamentary committees. A total of 65 participants including 10 Member of the Parliament (MPs), representatives from Civil Society Organizations, academician, Dalit community organizers, Dalit Human Rights Defenders attended the meeting. The honorable Members of the Parliament (MP) were Mr. Md. Israfil Alam MP, Ms. Nurjahan Begum MP, Ms. Kazi Rosy MP, Ms. Adv. Umme Kulsum Smrity MP, Mr. Md. Nobi Newaz MP, Mr. Md. Golam Mustafa Biswas MP, Mr. Kh. Abdul Baten MP, Mr. Manoranjan Shill Gopal MP, Mr. Shamsul Alam Dudu MP and Mr. Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury MP. Besides, leaders of BDERM, Dalit community leaders, members from civil society and INGOs attended the meeting. Mr. Israfil Alam MP, also the Co-Convener of Asian Parliamentarians Forum on Dalit Concern facilitated the meeting. The MPs expressed their solidarity towards the struggle of Dalits for their rights and dignity.
Description of the meeting
Inauguration and welcome speech: The meeting started with the welcome speech by Ms. Afsana Amin, National Coordinator. She described the objective of the meeting as well as involvement of parliamentarians of Bangladesh at country, regional and international level on Dalit concern. Mr. Zakir Hossain, Chief Executive, Nagorik Uddyog, presented the situation of Dalits which includes constitutional commitment towards Dalit, government’s various positive initiatives for the development of Dalits and possible area where MPs can contribute. He expressed gratitude to the honorable MPs for their time for Dalit rights and continuous cooperation. He also highlighted the 8 points demand to improve the situation of Dalit people.  
Dalits Rights and Sustainable Development Goal: A four member’s team of Bangladesh attended UN summit on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to raise the concern of Dalits to be included in SDG. Ms. Nurjahan Begum, MP described the role of Bangladesh representatives for advocating for rights of Dalit in the SDG. She described about contribution of Bangladesh team in different sessions ahead and on the summit. She shared that the progress of Dalits rights in Bangladesh was highly praised in the summit and international agencies and individuals expressed their solidarity and assured their cooperation in accelerating movements of Dalit rights in Bangladesh. 
Asian Parliamentarians Forum for Dalit Concern: Mr. Israfil Alam MP discussed the role of ‘Asian Parliamentarians Forum for Dalit Concern’. He mentioned that this forum is taking the issues of Dalits at regional and international level and strengthening the movement against caste based discrimination globally. He urged the MPs to attend the regional parliamentarians’ meeting to be held on 19 November 2015 and strengthen regional mechanism to cast out caste and ensure dignity and rights of Dalits in South Asian. He also thanked the fellow parliamentarians for their time and concern for Dalit issues. He said that Bangladesh government is very much concerned and positive to ensure rights of Dalits. He expressed his hope that once Bangladesh would be role model for eliminating casteism. He expressed his hope that along with MPs presented in the meeting, other MPs also would be involved in addressing the issues of Dalits. He assured to play a monitoring role in the issue of Dalit discussed in the meeting and influence the government and relevant agencies to take positive action.
Summary of discussion by the parliamentarians for promoting Dalit rights: All the PMs presented in the meeting shared that present government is very much positive for Dalits and have undertaken various programs for inclusion of Dalits. The MPs thanked Mr. Israfil Alam MP for his interest, contribution as well as organizing parliamentarians to act for the most vulnerable and socially excluded people of the society. They said that despite many limitations the present government has substantive attention for this marginalized communities and various schemes has been taken for their development. The MPs also assured that they would influence the government to take more development schemes in future. The issue based recommendation and commitment made by the parliamentarians is given below -
Eliminating Untouchability: The parliamentarians said that practice of untouchability or caste based discrimination is impediment to development of the country. They said that Dalits’ access to social and public event have much improved than the past. They shared that present government is aware of such practice and for this reason it has taken steps for abolishing untouchability through formulation of Anti-discrimination Act. They assured to consult with the relevant standing committee and ministry about progress of the Anti-Discrimination Act. Meanwhile they would ask the government department and law enforcing agencies in their constituency to address the practice of untouchability specifically if any Dalits are barred from having food any restaurants or hair dresser.
Education: The parliamentarians mentioned about the Prime Ministers’ directive for introduction of quota in educational institute. They said that though the country has significant advancement in education sector but Dalits are lag behind in education. They assured that they will ask the education ministry to take step against caste based discrimination at schools and colleges. They also gave commitment to influence the government to introduce quota in other public universities along with private universities. They also assured that none of the Dalit students would be deprived of educational stipends in their constituency.
Housing and land rights: Following the data and information in the presentation, the parliamentarians expressed their frustration on implementation status of housing construction for Dalits in Dhaka and other parts of the country. The MPs suggested Nagorik Uddyog and BDERM to share housing situation of Dalit settlements of the country so that they can take positive action to improve it. They also decided to take initiative so that Dalits would be given priority in access to khas (government owned) land.
Employment: The MPs shared that honorable Prime Minister has given directive to secure 80% quota for Dalits and Harijan in sweeping and cleaners’ job under municipalities, railway and other government and autonomous offices. They agreed that as long as Dalits are capable of entering other profession, sweeping job should be secured for them though sometimes these jobs are occupied by non-Dalits. They suggested for organize skill training for Dalits so that they could join in alternative profession. They also assured to influence the government to introduce quota in government employment for educated Dalits like quota for Adivasi people.
Social Safety net: The parliamentarians assured to increase the coverage of social safety net program as well as its proper implementation. They asked the Dalit leaders to inform them if there is any type of discrimination in access to social safety net program of the government. The participating MPs said that state’s initiative for Dalits getting visible worldwide and within 10 years Bangladesh would be role model for securing rights of Dalit. However, they asked BDERM and other Dalit organization to work for raising awareness against untouchability and work for changing the mindset of people. They suggested NU and BDERM to inform their status regularly with the MPs so that they can discuss and take initiative at policy level to protect their rights. The MPs expressed their solidarity towards the movement of Dalits and assured their all-out support when needed.  
Closing: Mr. Sunil Kumar Mridha, President, BDERM thanked all the MPs and participants for their time and expected that the solidarity of MPs in Dalits rights movement will continue in future.