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Bangladesh 'untouchables' demand equal rights

Underprivileged communities considered by some as "untouchable" demand equal rights in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh 'untouchables' demand equal rights

By Mainul Islam Khan 

DHAKA, Bangladesh 

Some of Bangladesh's most underprivileged communities have demanded equal rights in every aspect of social life on Saturday.

To mark the "International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination" the Dalit and Harijan communities -- who some consider "untouchable" -- specifically demanded unfettered access to education and employment. 

Ashok Das, the secretary of Bangladesh Dalit Parishad, which represents Dalits in Bangladesh, said: "We are submitting a 10-point memorandum to the government which includes passing an act to eliminate racial discrimination, to have quotas for their representation in all elected bodies including the National Parliament and to have quota in the higher education institutions."

The general secretary of the community group Harijan Oikya Parishad, Nirmal Chandra Das said: "Education is the foremost necessity to ensure higher education in public universities."

He also demanded land property rights to end the housing problems the community faces, adding that previous pledges had not been kept. 

Dalit and Harijan communities tend to be concentrated in separate districts in different areas of the capital Dhaka and elsewhere in the country.

An organization in the country’s southern town Satkhira, Paritran’s director Milan Das said "there are at least 35 colonies in Dhaka but the biggest community lives in the southern part of the country."

The National Human Rights Commission’s chairman Mizanur Rahman said during a roundtable discussion in the capital on Wednesday: "We have to end their identity crisis and to ensure their comfortable movement into society."

Dalits are discriminated against by the caste system, a social structure which treats some people as "untouchable." Despite attempts to abolish the system it still persists in practice in many South Asian countries and especially in India. 

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