For a popular movement against caste discrimination

Milon Das

We live in one of the poorest countries of the world. From a geographical perspective, Bangladesh is located within the Indian sub-continent. And here, since a very long time, the caste system has engulfed all venues of life. Many think that Bangladesh being predominantly a Muslim country caste discrimination does not apply to it. This thought however is highly mistaken. Even in a Muslim country like Bangladesh caste discrimination is pervasive, having infiltrated the texture of culture and thus having become common practice in every religious community, Christians included. Because of caste discrimination, in the sub-continent, so called outcaste people are deprived of their human dignity and rights. Even at present hundreds of millions of people are considered lesser human beings simply because of their work and low birth status.

Unlike high caste people, outcastes are excluded from basic amenities such as education, medical treatment, social and political rights etc. To come out of this situation several efforts have been and are being carried out. Nevertheless, we still do not see the end of our work. The solution of the problem remains as far away as ever. We have been interrogating ourselves about the reasons for our efforts' failures. We believe that unless and until we become able to pinpoint these reasons, whatever our effort it will be doomed to failure. Among the reasons for this failure we have been able to pinpoint the following:

  1. Those who are struggling against the caste system, are privileging the financial side of the struggle. Their intervention is centred on poverty and poverty alleviation so that whatever they do is done in view of lessening the grip of poverty. They think that by addressing and resolving the financial question, all other problems will find a solution by themselves. Unfortunately, this is not so.
  2. Those who work to improve the fate of the outcaste do not believe that the main actor and agent of change in this respect is and must be the outcaste himself.
  3. Up till now, whatever development intervention undertaken has not relied on the experience and wisdom of those for whom the intervention is meant, the latter being considered only a minor actor.
  4. In short the resources, human and otherwise, of the people for whom development activities are meant are not yet tapped.
  5. In any development work the principal place is occupied by external people on whom the outcaste depends paternalistically for the solution of any of his problems. In the end the outcaste changes only patron, remaining once again deprived of his freedom and eventually, increasing his dependency. From a wicked patron the new patron establishes himself as a good one. The fact is that no patron at all is needed.

Despite being crippled by caste discrimination, history bears witness to the fact that outcaste people have indeed made a big contribution in all aspects of the life of the sub-continent. Yet, we the outcaste are entangled in a sort of labyrinth like situation in search for a way out. A way out which can be discovered only if we change our mind and approach to our problems. We believe that outcaste people who have been struggling hard for centuries and eventually managed to survive have huge resources in terms of wisdom, experience, courage and immeasurable potential. Outcaste people today are nodding in slumber profoundly needing a wake up call. If awakened they will be able to open all doors by themselves. We need to believe that these same oppressed and marginalised people can indeed sort out their problems and stand proud of themselves. Indeed we need to believe that outcaste people need neither a bad master nor a good one. The outcaste must think of himself as "man" and start working from what he has and what he experiences.

Milon Das is a Bangladeshi Dalit rights activist. Read more about the history of Dalit-Parittran and its activities

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