This leadership summit is a pioneering initiative of council of minorities
Md. Ali Imran
Data Entry Officer
The Council of Minorities is a human rights organization that works for establishing the rights of different minority communities in Bangladesh. Since 2013, the organization has been working for promoting the rights of the Urdu-Speaking people living in various camps spread around the districts of Bangladesh. For establishing legal rights, it has been working for creating awareness among the camp dwellers regarding their birth certificates, death certificates, passports, trade licences, national identity cards, commissioner certificates, bank accounts, general diaries in Thana etc. as well as helping them for obtaining these services. In addition, it has been distributing winter warmers and educational materials every year among minority students. In order to connect the minority youth with mainstream society, the Council of Minorities organizes a youth summit every year.
Human rights of minority communities of Bangladesh, their cultural heritage and language preservation for their economic development, Strengthening education and skill development and launching human rights for promoting women and legal employment.
A peaceful, poverty and violence-free world especially where minority, powerless and marginal, having the same opportunity to live with dignity and hope.
Approximately four hundred thousand camp based Bihari Urdu Speaking Bangladeshis are living in 116 Camps in Bangladesh. They are Bangladeshi citizens according to 2003 and 2008 high court judgments. Currently they are passing their life in daily struggle because they are mostly engage in informal sector like barber, butcher, rikshapuller and handicraft worker. After the Covid19 effect and lockdown in the country camp dwellers are unable to go out for work and maintain their 3 times meals for their families. Day by day camp dwellers situation is going to worst and they are passing their life without 3 times meal. Even most of camp dwellers are living under poverty line and having 3 to 4 kids in a family. Now they need food support to survive in this crisis situation.
Approximately four hundred thousand camp based Bihari Urdu Speaking Bangladeshis are living in 116 Camps in Bangladesh. They are Bangladeshi citizens according to 2003 and 2008 high court judgments. Currently they are passing their life in daily struggle because they are mostly engage in informal sector like barber, butcher, rikshapuller and handicraft worker. After the high court judgments there are no any significant changes in their life. They are citizens and voter without any benefits. Considering the deprivation and sufferings of the Biharis caused by lack of full access to citizenship rights, CoM has been running since June 2013 a paralegal project entitled “Empowering Linguistic Minority to Realize Citizenship Rights in Bangladesh” in partnership with Nagorik Uddyog supported by Namati Inc. USA.
Paralegals do every day door-to-door visit and organize community group meeting and community forum. At paralegal centers, paralegals provide information about the law, prepare application documents in the paralegal center, and accompany the clients to the government office to apply and follow up on delays in processing, or denials, of the application. Every day, paralegals are doing outreach activities inside the Camp. During the outreach activities, they disseminate the message of the 2008 High Court of Bangladesh judgment, and the importance and uses of the civil documentation like birth certificate, national identity card, passport, trade license and other services. Every day, the paralegals visit at least five houses in their rotational weekly plan. The paralegals interacted so far with 8,620 Camp dwellers through their daily outreach activities. CoM has been providing paralegal support through six community- based paralegal centers in Dhaka (Mirpur and Mohammadpur), Mymensingh, Khulna, Chittagong and Syedpur. Camp dwellers and others who have questions on or need for legal support come to the paralegal centers. Fifteen youth are assigned as community-based paralegals to provide knowledge on law and government information to the community people and give skills training on negotiation, community education, organizing and advocacy to enable them to seek concrete solutions to instances of injustice. In addition, serving as dynamic “frontline” of justice service providers, paralegals focus on empowerment. They are not only working to resolve legal issues but also to build the people’s capacity to deal with problems related with access to justice in the future.
Paralegals organize community group meetings and community legal forums every month. They invite ten to fifteen women, men, boys and girls to attend the community group meeting where they learn about the 2008 High Court judgment and how it ended the statelessness of the Biharis. They discuss also the importance and uses of the civil documentations in their daily life.
The CoM established a pro bono legal empowerment women’s group in 2014 in the six centers. Forty women attend a monthly session to enhance their legal knowledge that they disseminate to their neighbors. They also help the paralegals do outreach work, organizing community group meeting and community legal forum. In the same way, CoM has pro bono youth group in the six centers. They are helping the paralegals organize meeting and forum and also assisting the camp dwellers to obtain civil documentations like the paid paralegals. The establishment of these two pro bono groups is one way of making the paralegal project sustainable. When support from donors of the paralegal project ends, these pro bono women and youth will help the camp dwellers in the documentation needs.
CoM has a live radio show on social awareness and civil documentation issue. The CoM radio show called Shomprity is aired on Ekattor 98.4 FM every first and third Sundays of the month. In every episode, CoM invites renowned speakers to talk about issues and their solutions. Broadcast media is a very strong instrument in promoting mass awareness on social issues and civil documentations.
This project is being hosted by Council of Minorities (COM), a human rights NGO in Bangladesh focus on the rights and development of ethnic, linguistic, religious and other minority communities across the country. This project seeks to catalyze the community into action so that they can not only have a say over their future but indeed actively shape it. Phase I, which has already completed, is discussed in this report. The other phase are previewed further in the 'Next Steps; section. The two camps that were chosen out of the 116 to be the pilots for this project, namely Geneva Camp and Adamjee Camp, were selected given their political centrality and amenable land rights situation respectively.
In Bangladesh approximately 300,000 members of the Urdu-speaking linguistic minorities have been living in 116 internal displacement camps (called Bihari Camps) since 1971. In 2008, the long-standing question of the camp-dwelling Urdu-speaking community's national identity status was resolved, when the Dhaka High Court reinstated their Bangladeshi citizenship. Now that they no longer considered 'internally displaced' their rights to stay on the camps lands is in question. For example, in Mirpur there are active evictions given the value of the camp lands and numerous proposals have been made by the government to redevelop Geneva Camp's land (the largest and most politically central camp).
Since 2011, CoM has been organizing the National Urdu-speaking Youth Leadership Summit by inviting sixty Urdu-speaking youth from all the camps in Bangladesh. They attend three days of residential training on minority rights, leadership, community activism, personal skill development, and rights to housing, health and education. In March 2016, CoM hosted for the first time the three-day National Minority Youth Leadership Summit with the participation of seventy youth from different minority and indigenous groups of Bangladesh. Every year this summit gather a group of youth from different minority and indigenous group and build their capacity to realize the community activism and encourage to become a community leader and resolve the existing community problem.
Education is basic and fundamental human rights that everyone must claim. We know that education is indispensable to the achievement of all the sustainable development goals and is at the heart of the sustainable development agenda. The Global Campaign for Education believes that education is the most sustainable long-term driver of social, economic and environmental justice; and that education is key to foster sustainable, gender-equal, peaceful, democratic and resilient societies. We also believe only education is the way to come out the Bihari Community from the dark future. So that today we are investing on the education for the camp kids.
Every baby begins to learn language sounds before they're even born. The camp kids start speaking with Urdu language so that they have to face problem in the Bengali medium primary school with the Bengali language. Council of Minorities has started a preschool in MCC Bihari Camp in Mirpur section – 11 in 2018 supported by Rotary Club Baridhara. Our preschool invite 3 to 4 years old kids to learn Bangla language and practicing the schooling behavior. After the one year of pre schooling they able to attend the Bangla medium school.
CoM has an advocacy unit focusing on the different issues related to access to justice, citizenship and civil documentation. CoM has organized different strategic advocacy activities on the draft Bangladesh Citizenship Bill currently being considered at the Bangladesh Parliament. If passed by the Parliament, the Bangladesh Citizenship Bill will replace the 1951 Citizenship Act. The provisions in the Bill will create new situations of statelessness and perpetuate statelessness for some populations. CoM has organized a workshop, a roundtable, a press conference and a live radio show as advocacy strategies on the draft citizenship bill.
CoM is currently implementing a research project on minority profile mapping in twenty districts within the five divisions in Bangladesh. This project is supported by the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee- BRAC, Human Rights and Legal Aid Services (BRAC-HRLS) department. Through this research project, CoM maps the different types of minorities in the twenty districts and the issues related to access to justice.
Data Entry Officer