Sufferings of Urdu-speaking community must end

Published: 00:00, Oct 07,2019


THE crisis of Urdu-speaking community in Bangladesh has not been resolved for decades. An estimated 300,000 Urdu-speaking people live in a camp-like situation across Bangladesh without basic rights. A large majority of them live in the Geneva Camp at Mohammadpur in Dhaka. Their socio-economic sufferings are widely documented and reported. For the community in the Dhaka camp, a steady supply of water and electricity has been a persistent issue. They have recently experienced outages for a half of the day on an average that has greatly strained their life. They took up the issue with the councillor concerned but no steps were taken. People from the community on Saturday, therefore, blocked a road at Mohammadpur to push for free and uninterrupted access to power and a waiver of their bills of Tk 31 crore in arrears. The police fired rubber bullets and tear-gas shells to disperse them. More than 50 of the protesters were injured. One having been wounded in the eye is being cared for in the National Institute of Ophthalmology. Authorities may consider their demand for wavier of the bill ‘unjust’, but the heavy-handed approach is no way acceptable as it will aggravate an already complex social situation.

Since Bangladesh’s independence, the Urdu-speaking community have lived largely without basic rights. They had barely any access to education or health care, but some camps, including the Geneva camp, had free electric supply. In 2008–9, the government granted some 40,000 members of the community citizenship. With the citizenship, their access to free electricity was withdrawn. Rights activists considered the granting of citizenship status to a faction of the community as a positive step but also suggested that without a socio-economic rehabilitation programme, the status alone will not end their ordeal. The recent clash with police proves this point. Reports have it how the community are discriminated against in every stage of their lives and that they barely make their ends meet. Reports reveal the worrying health and education status in the camp. In this situation, it is not surprising that the community owed the Dhaka Power Distribution Company a large amount of money. The authorities need to sit with the community, assess their economic situation and make a plan to collect the bill without restricting their access to power as interrupted power supply would only further worsen their economic situation.

While a faction of the Urdu-speaking community was granted citizenship, others remain stateless, without access to basic education and health care. The government must, therefore, talk to the community and involve other government and non-governmental stakeholders to draw up a sustainable solution to the crisis. In doing so, the authorities must realise that granting citizenship without socio-economic rehabilitation will leave grounds for repeated occurrence of situation as it happened in the case at hand.

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