Speakers at the triennial council of Bangladesh Harijan Oikya Parishad (BHOP) yesterday called for removal of discrimination against Harijans or low-caste Hindus.
Speaking as the chief guest, Shipping Minister Shahjahan Khan pledged to work towards ensuring their rights.
"I know, you have a lot of problems such as low and discriminatory pays, lack of facilities and job insecurity. But I tell you this government is pro-people and believes in equal rights of all as enshrined in the constitution. We shall raise your issue in the next parliament session," he said.
BHOP organised the council in association with Manusher Jonno Foundation and FAIR, a local NGO, on the Dhakeswari National Temple premises in the city.
There are around 15 lakh Harijans in Bangladesh and mostly they work as cleaners of city corporations and municipalities. But their wages are very low -- ranging from Tk 600 to Tk 1200, BHOP leaders said.
As people consider them 'untouchable', they undergo immense sufferings in public places. They live in the colonies dubbed as 'sweeper colony'. Even when someone gets highly educated and applies for jobs, they are not invited for tests because of their status, they noted.
Shahjahan Khan, also an adviser to Madaripur chapter of BHOP, said, "We all -- Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and Muslims -- fought together during the liberation war. We all are equal."
But society is cheating the Harijan community, he said, adding that the prime minister herself wants to eliminate all discrimination from society.
Addressing as special guest, Dr Mostafa Jalal Mohiuddin MP said there should not be any discrimination among people in society. This government is working to end all discrimination.
BHOP Secretary General Nirmal Chandra Das said Harijans keep the cities and towns clean, but they are forced to live in shabby and congested colonies.
"Nowadays, people from other communities are filling up the posts of sweepers in the city corporations and municipalities in exchange for bribes," Das said.
He demanded that the wages of sweepers be increased considering the market price and uniformity be maintained in all the city corporations and municipalities in this regard.
Manusher Jonno Foundation Programme Manager Rezwanul Karim said the government should frame a law to remove all discrimination against them.
Akhtaruzzaman of FAIR, Kazal Debnath of Dhaka Mahanagar Puja Udjapon Committee, and Harijan district and divisional level leaders from across the country also spoke.