Monday, December 1, 2008

Railgate No.1

by: Franziska Landesberger and Toni Kaatz-Dubberke

(Above: entering Railgate No.1 community)

My first experience in a poor community in Narayanganj is a visit to the Railgate area in the beginning of September. I’m not sure what I expected but I am really surprised: the area is quite clean and many of the women we meet are very well dressed with colorful saris.
Four men stand around a table playing Carrom (finger-billiards), a common game on the streets of Bangladesh. One can only tell their economic background by the state of their teeth. As the name suggests, the area is located next to a railway station and the land on which the houses are built is owned by the Bangladesh Railway Company. For that historical reason houses made from solid bricks are almost exclusively occupied by railway workers, sometimes families who have been there over a number generations.
In contrast (see picture on the left), poorer people who settled in the area later use corrugated iron or straw and bamboo to build their houses. The space they live in is very small and inside these tiny huts it becomes very hot when the sun hits the tin roofs.In its function as Dhaka’s main river port Narayanganj is well connected with the capital by several railway lines. The inhabitants of Railgate No.1 use this very cheap logistical connection to trade seasonal fruits. Several narrow alleys and the surrounding buildings are piled up with thousands of bananas brought from different rural districts around Narayanganj. Compared with other poor communities, people tell me life here is relatively comfortable.
Unfortunately, more and more of the former living space in this area is getting converted by business men into storage space for their goods as a result of the advantageous location close to the station. These men are not interested in living here and the inhabitants are afraid that they could be evicted from their homes to make way for commerce. In these circumstance most people would have little chance of claiming a right to live here because only a few of them (about 20%) own their houses and nobody owns the land But for now it is only possible to touch on this subject; later stories will follow up on what is probably the most complicated and contested issue in the whole of Bangladesh: the ownership of land.

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