The Pavement dwellers
Syed Ashique Mahmood :
Thirty -five percent of the urban population in Bangladesh is poor. By urban poor we usually mean the working people with a very scanty income and the slum dwellers as well. The most marginalised and ultra poor more impoverished than slum dwellers live in the Mega City of Dhaka. We feel shy of these unfortunate people when we come across them or look down upon them. At the very sight of these people our eyes get offended and we say they are the mark of ulcer on the beautiful city. The homeless urban poor have no access to shelter. Instead, they live in makeshift homes on sidewalls or pavements, underneath bridges and flyovers, along railway, lines, in or near railway stations, bus stands, river parts, open fields or grounds, stadium, park, market place, shopping malls, mazar premises under the open sky braving sun and shower, they have no roof over their head. With a few belongings in their makeshift shanties made up of trap they live a detested life. We call them pavement dwellers.
Natural calamities, man-made ecological degradation, progressive diminishing return from land, lack of expansion of the production-oriented activities and absence of decentralisation, acute unemployment, deprivation and exploitation, persecution and oppression by the tyrant influential quarters, repressive high-interest loan from the money lenders lead the destitute to migrate to cities and towns. If luck favours, some of them got shelter in the slums and the rest of the unfortunate destitute, more often than not, end up on the streets. Unemployment, loss of job and demolition of slums sometimes force them to live on the street.
The homeless people, who on entering the city are forced to live on the street in absence of any shelter, have to wage a relentless struggle for existence. They usually work as scavenging staff, building workers, garment workers, domestic maids, rickshaw, van and pushcart drivers, day labourers, workers in hotels and restaurants, hawkers, waste collectors, porters at transport centers and market place, vegetables vendors. Some of the jobless pavement dwellers finding no other alternative become sex workers and drug dealers; some become petty thieves and pilferers and apprentices or followers of some hoodlums or hooligans. Thus many of them get involved in anti-social activities like drug peddling and other crimes. In some cases they are used as instruments of destructive politics. Some of them take up begging as a profession.
We may hate or ignore the street people, but there is no denying of the fact that those people are the indispensable factor to city life. Some of us may scoff at them as a festering sore on the body of a beautiful city. But actually majority of them are involved in activities that contribute to the life of the city. Their role in the facelift of the city, in building new structures can hardly be exaggerated. The service they render to our comforts in the city life is boundless. They are involved in works like waste collection, construction, house helper, transport work and so many odd jobs to ease our city life that we cannot overlook their necessity in our day- to- day life.
The street people in all sense of the term are ultra-poor. Paucity of safe water is another hazard for them. They use public toilets in exchange of high charge. For pure drinking water and water for a bath they are dependent on others and they have to spend a lot of money for that as they live on the street, they cook their food there. But they cannot reap the benefit of their hard-earned little savings. Local hoodlums snatch and extort the money from them. Sometimes they entrust somebody with the money for safe custody but never to get back the money. They fall victim to the violence from both police and local ruffians. Sometimes they face threat of eviction even from the street and demolition of their makeshift dwellings. Due to lack of access to healthy food and pure water and sanitation services, pavement dwellers suffer from various health hazards which have a devastating impact on their family and if an adult of the family falls ill they become more pauper because he cannot earn money, are often denied access to health services as they are taken to be men of a very low status in the society. The opportunity for education of their children is a far cry.
The fundamental responsibility of the state will be the ever- increasing production capacity through a planned economic expansion and the firm growth of the material and cultural standard of the peopleâ€™s life style. This must be done to ensure fulfillment of the following objects:
(a) To ensure supply of basic necessities of life and living including food, clothing, shelter, education and proper Medicare
(b) Right to work ie to ensure right to job in exchange of reasonable and fair wages on the basis of the quality and quantity of work
(c) Right to rest, recreation and recess and
(d) Right to social security ie. Right to government support in the cases of joblessness, serious ailments, invalidity, widowhood, poverty and straitened pecuniary circumstances owing to unavoidable situations like loss of parents and old-age complications and similar other conditions.
(Article 15 of the Bangladesh Constitution)
The pavement dwellers are the class who are the most deprived of their due rights. They are included and enumerated in population census; they stand practically disenfranchised as citizens as they have no permanent address. On this ground they are not given the national identity card too. Even they fail to procure the birth registration certificates simply on this plea. Social security cover is not also applicable in their case. The slum dwellers have been highlighted in the housing policy, but the pavement dwellers have been ignored.
Initiative has been taken for the welfare of the slum dwellers under the city development plan, but nothing has been clearly stated about the pavement dwellers in the plan. They have been taken to be people without hearth and home and means of subsistence. Nothing has been said about the implementation strategy for whatever little and insignificant initiative taken for them in the city development plan. They are ignored likewise in the national education policy, health policy and other fields. Probably the authorities are not aware of the existence of the street people or they did not reckon them as citizens.
Despite the indifference and perpetual neglect meted out to the street people by the state authorities in the past three decades some laudable initiatives have been taken for the welfare and realising the rights of these haveless people at government and private level as well. The Shishu Kollayn Trust (child welfare trust) under the control of the Primary Education Department is a glaring example of such admirable steps. The Shishu Kollayn Trust oversees and conducts the education program for the deprived, working street kids through two hundred plus primary schools across the country. State is extending all-out cooperation to impart best possible education to the learning children here and side by side train them to raise their skill. The Shishu Kollayn Trust started its journey under the name of pathakali trust in 1989. Subsequently some non -government organisations are running various projects for the street child. But none of these projects have been able to attain any time-tested and sustainable result for the overall welfare of the pavement dwellers. As crisis-management organizations they have failed in sorting out crises faced by the street people as a whole. Amid this abysmal condition the Concern Worldwide came forward to show silver lining when the Pavement dwellers were thrown in deep darkness of frustration and despair. The Concern for the first time initiated a realistic and holistic program to realize the right of the Pavement dwellers.
Amrao Manush project is the initiative of the Concern Worldwide. Concern Worldwide financed Sajeda Foundation, Nari Moitry, Social and Economic Enhancement Program upgrading the living standard and realising
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