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24 September, 2016 00:00 00 AM
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Urban poverty: Light on the poorest of the poor

The scavenger, shoe-maker, cobbler and sweeper are the most oppressed human beings and South Asia is the ­home of these socially, religiously and economically degraded people
K M Nurul Huda
Urban poverty: Light on the poorest of the poor

The poorest of the poor people have been cornered in the urban locations since long. They belong mostly to sweeper colony, brothels and slums. The sweeper or scavenger is as old as a particular city is. The brothel came along the elite class: the kings, zamidars and rich people in the cities under the guise of harem (house of women or extra-wives for the emperor, kings and rich men) baijee (dancing women for entertainment of princes, rich people, etc.). The slum is the latest development with the trend of urbanization. This article, however, focuses on the state of poverty of the scavengers.
The scavenger, shoe-maker, cobbler and sweeper are untouchable human beings in the South Asian countries. India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan are the homes of these socially, religiously and economically degraded people.  Hindu society is structured by five main groups of people; the last one is Dalits. They are treated impure. They drink from separate wells. They use different entry ways to come and go from the buildings served. They were plunged into the trap of poverty and deprivation not by choice but by an accident about 3500 years ago. The theory of the Aryan invasion accounts that India was invaded and conquered by nomadic light-skinned Indo-European tribes from Central Asia around 1500-1000 BC. They overthrew an earlier and more advanced dark-skinned Dravidian civilization. The Aryans found indigenous people working on agriculture: very simple, harmless and armless. The invaders treated them inferior in look, colour, race and economy. They systematically subjugated the natives into slaves. The Aryans forced them work in all odd most menial jobs with neglect to their dignity and human values. Since then they were kept deprived of all civic facilities from generations to generations. The amount of deprivation, isolation and discrimination mounted along the years; never lessened.     
Jyotiba Phule, the founder of the Satya Shodak Samaj has coined the term Dalit meaning split, broken, burst, etc.  Among the Dalit, the scavengers are engaged in polluting occupation: disposing dead bodies, clearing rotten substances, collecting human body waste, cleaning toilet, sewage, etc. Their dignity is neglected and basic human right is denied. They suffer from 140 types of discriminations: religion, colour, caste, work, marriage, bathing, eating, drinking, etc. Cleaning the city the scavengers enter home only to see an obnoxious living environment: filthy floor, shattered roof, inadequate toilet, insufficient water, poor light. The rain comes on them by rolling water through dilapidated roof, the winter night with passing coldest air through broken fence, the summer noon with hottest wave inside a suffocating small house. This state of livelihood led them being ever poor for thousands of years.
People’s mindset of the present time, however, is seen changed. Governments and social groups in different times tried to improve the degrading conditions of the Dalit. The colonial British government defined them as Scheduled Caste in 1935.
The Gandhiji called them Harijans (People of God) and advocated for bringing them a life as good as others.  The Constitutions of the countries, where the Dalits live in, set equal right for all citizens. Article 28(1) of the Constitution of Bangladesh states: ‘The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only on religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.’ A number of NGOs are working for the wellbeing of scavengers.
The Practical Action, Bangladesh is making their voice heard by the policy makers. The Human Right Commission is vocal for establishing equal right of the Horijons. The government offers special facilities on employment, education, social security, etc. for the Horijons. The Executive Council of National Economic Commission has approved Taka 1.9 billion for construction of 13 ten-storied residential quarters for the low income people; five for the Horijons.  Many municipalities have improved their houses and set up schools. The Islamic Development Bank, under a project ‘Sustainable Housing for Low Income Urban Community’ would provide financial and technical support to Mymensingh and Faridpur municipalities for multi-stored residents with modern facilities for the scavengers. The scavengers have formed committees to speak of their problems. They meet the authority, sit with them, take tea on the table, share problems and extend mutual cooperation. Their children are getting better education. Some of them have attained the highest degree from the Universities. Despite being a member of "untouchable" Dalit class, Ms Meira Kumar was elected Speaker of the Parliament of India. These developments show a thin ray of light on upgrading the Dalit from a status of degradation. Still many are left fighting extreme poverty.     
The government along with other organizations concerned for eradication of urban poverty are playing role for improving the social and economic life of urban poor. Power and Participation Research Center carries in depth study to find way forward for meeting the obligation of Sustainable Development Goals.  Dushtha Shasthya Kendra, an NGO, conducted a 7 years long study from 2009 to 2016. The concluding workshop of the project claims that urban extreme poverty would come down to 4.98 per cent in 2016 from 7.7 per cent in 2010.
Bangladesh has reached the threshold of achieving SDG target of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030. The final success accentuates combined efforts of all stakeholders, putting the mayors on the steer.

The writer is a former Secretary to Bangladesh government,
E-Mail: kmnhuda@yahoo.com

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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