Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Welcome to my community

by: Sonu Rani Das

Welcome to my community. I come from a community called Dalits (Untouchables). Dalits are not created by God, this idea is created by people and society and goes back to the creation of the caste system within Hindu religion.

My community people are all Hindu and we all follow the Hindu religion. My community people are very frank, sociable and hospitable people. My community is very poor and most of our community people live below the poverty line. Many of us work for the Pourashava (Municipality) as cleaners, where they earn very little money (2200 Taka (~28 US$) per month). This is why we can’t get the same opportunities like other people. Most of us are illiterate and don’t understand the importance of basic rights we have like education, health and sanitation, housing, good food, entertainment etc.

Illiteracy is one of the problems and another problem is discrimination. Some people understand that there are good and bad living conditions but they can’t escape their bad living conditions because they face too much discrimination. For example, if Dalit children go to school the teachers do not teach them properly and the classmates’ behavior towards them is horrible. My community children are very intelligent but sometimes they don’t get the opportunity to go to school. In the past, when they tried to go to school the school doors were closed to them. This is now better in urban areas but sometimes still the case in rural areas. Now some of them go to school, college, even university, but they don’t honestly say: "I am Dalit". They say:"We are Hindu".

Nobody in my community has their own land but we stay on somebody else’s land. As many of us work for the Pourashava the Pourashava selects one place and we stay there. If any one does not work for the Pourashava anymore they lose their house. That’s why at least one family leader or family member has to work for the Pourashava. Some people in my community are Government employees and their salary is quite good. But most of my community people work for the Pourashava and the salary is not enough. Very few people try to find more jobs so they can get additional money. But most of them earn money by selling rubbish like alcohol, ganja, heroine etc. So when it gets dark in my community a lot of unknown faces come and they buy this type of drugs. Now my community is full of noise and horrible. These people harass our girls and intimidate them. I have no words to explain how bad this situation is.

In my community all of us face problems but girls face more problems than boys. If girls are born, the family members are usually not happy. They think girls mean a burden for us. The parents give all opportunities to boys not to girls. Boys are allowed to go to school, girls not. They think a girl’s education means a waste of money. They always say you are suitable for the kitchen and household chores. Now quite a few boys are educated but only very few girls are. I think if young people get the opportunity to higher education it is possible to solve the problems of Dalits.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sonu's story

by: Juan Carvajal and Kirthi Ramesh

In the coming months we will have more contributions from communi­ty members themselves. Sonu Rani Das, a 19 year-old girl from the Sweeper Colony in Narayanganj, is the first to contri­bute to our blog. She will be sharing her stories with us from time to time, writing on pertinent issues facing her community on a daily basis. Here is her story…

Sonu (pronounced Shonu) is already awaiting us as we arrive at the Sweeper Colony, which is centrally located, surrounded by tall buildings on all sides. Without much formal introduction, the highly energetic young lady of 19 takes us by the hand and pulls us into her friend’s house where we sit down on the bed and listen to her story.

Sonu inside her house

Like most residents of the Sweeper Co­lony, Sonu’s parents are employed as cleaners by the Pourashava. Growing up she has had a hard time explaining to them that she did not want to get married early like her friends, but rat­her continue studying and eventually work with her community. This was not a simple endeavor in a society where “a girl’s education is still considered a waste of money”, she tells us. She does not blame them for thinking this, saying, “My parents are not educated”. But in the end her brother was able to go to school, so why shouldn’t she? Determined to get an education, Sonu explained that she was willing to get a job in order to finance her education.

In 2006, Sonu successfully completed 10th grade and went to college whe­re she specialized in commerce. After graduating in 2008 she was chosen to participate in a 6-month global ex­change in Caithness, Scotland. This opportunity came after she was disco­vered in her community by the chief executive of a citizen’s initiative, who sent her to an assessment for the ex­change where she was selected as one of nine Bangladeshi participants from a total of 9000 applicants worldwide. In Scotland she worked in a primary school with children and was involved in volunteer work such as tree planting and explaining her culture. As a result, she was able to improve her English. Her final project was a theater piece with the school children on the Hindu Diwali festival. From the group of Ban­gladeshi exchange volunteers, Sonu was elected by her peers to speak at the Scottish Parliament.

Sonu’s next plan is to go to university either in Dhaka or Narayanganj. She has already applied and is current­ly awaiting her results. Her greatest wish is to study sociology and acquire knowledge to understand her commu­nity better. Otherwise, she would like to build on her college background and continue studying commerce and ma­nagement.

In her free time Sonu volunteers for an NGO. She likes it because it helps her to better understand how such orga­nizations work and come to grips with community work. Apart from that she also provides after-school tutoring in English, Bangla and Math to children in her community.

Sonu tells us that today the community’s initial skepticism has given way to prai­se from many neighbours and friends. This has also led to her parent’s gro­wing recognition of her achievements.