Govt must make laws to criminalise discrimination

Updated at 11:25pm on December 06, 2017

Historically untouchable communities and other socially excluded people still face discrimination in all spheres of life, from access to education to legal services. In this context, the proposed anti-discrimination law, as talked about at a national convention of the Bangladesh Dalit and Excluded Rights Movement, as New Age reported on Wednesday, should be enacted immediately. Members of the dalit community at the programme said that children of their community need to struggle for admission to educational institutions. Young graduates are denied access to employment despite having the required qualifications. The president of Dalit Women Forum said that considering their particular social vulnerabilities, sex offenders often target women and children of their community. She further said that even police officers refused to provide such victims with support. The dalit representatives at the convention pointed that the situation for them worsened as the government had revoked the distinctive budgetary allocation for the ‘excluded’ and merged the category with ‘under-privileged’ communities. A merger of the categories was ill conceived as it did not consider the existing social stigma that prevents the excluded communities from accessing social services. In what follows, the social safety net programmes of the government are far from the reach of the socially excluded dalits.
The right to equality and the principle of non-discrimination are recognised by the constitution. While Article 27 of the constitution states that the people of Bangladesh are equal in the eyes of the law, Article 28 forbids any discrimination based on race, caste, religion, sex or place of birth. Despite such constitutional obligations, social discrimination appears to be quite widespread. In 2014, the Law Commission recommended that the government should make an anti-discrimination law to address these issues efficiently and comprehensively. Many stakeholders, including the National Human Rights Commission, were invited to give their opinions on what ought to be included in the law. The drafted presented to the lawmakers deals with discrimination against any individual and community based on their religion, faith, community, race, caste, custom, culture, occupation, ethnic originality, gender, sexual orientation, and disability. The draft also included a list of discriminatory acts stating from denial of public services, obstacles to celebrations of festivals of respective communities, prohibition of any individual or community from accepting an occupation or business. However, the enactment of the law has been stalled despite the commitment from the ruling party that it would not only abolish all the discriminatory government policies but also create social and economic opportunities for the socially excluded communities.
It is quite unfortunate that successive governments have failed to ensure equality for all citizens despite constitutional obligations. In the long run, the government must ensure that the constitutional rights are afforded to all irrespective of the social status. In a more immediate context, it must enact laws and take affirmative action to ensure that these communities are not economically and socially deprived to mitigate sufferings of the dalit and other socially excluded people,