Sweepers’ plight a shame for the elite
DURING a visit to the sweepers’ colonies at Ganaktuli and Mironullah in the capital Dhaka on January 29, the chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission felt guilty on ‘behalf of the people living in luxurious apartments’ because the people who keep the city clean are forced to live in such a ‘stinky and putrid’ environment. He also promised then that he would ‘personally send recommendations to the prime minister’ so that the authorities concerned take immediate steps to improve the living conditions in the colonies at Ganaktuli and Mironullah, home to some 8,000 people belonging to the Harijan community. It is not known whether he has actually followed up on his promise; however, as may be concluded from a report published in New Age on Saturday, there has thus far not been any qualitative improvement in the condition that these people live in. According to the report, people living in the six four-storey buildings in the sweepers’ colony at Ganaktuli, run by the Dhaka South City Corporation, have no legal access to piped water supplied by the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority and buy water from a nearby pump house through an illegal outlet in exchange for a monthly payment of Tk 300 to the linesmen concerned. The DSCC chief engineer was quoted in the report as saying that the city corporation had asked the water supply authorities for water supply to the colony on several occasions but the latter had not heeded the requests yet. The city corporation official seems to have construed the WASA attitude right when he said ‘perhaps, they think why these people should get water supply.’
As we have argued in these columns time and again, the ruling elites have often displayed sheer indifference to the marginalised sections of society. Over the years, as the disparity in society has widened, thanks to essentially pro-rich policies pursued by the successive governments, Harijans, Dalits and other marginalised sections of society seem to have been forgotten by the ruling elite. Opportunities to even lead a modest life have become remote realities for them. The sweepers, who work day in and day out to keep the city streets and alleys of the capital city clean, have had to live not only within crumbling walls and in ‘stinky and putrid’ environment but, as the New Age report mentions, also without access to safe drinking water, which, needless to say, expose them, and especially their children, to many waterborne diseases, e.g. diarrhoea and pneumonia.
To iterate the NHRC chair’s words, ‘people living in luxurious apartments’, especially those in the government, have reasons to feel guilty and ashamed. Hence, while the authorities concerned need to redress the misery of the sweeper colony residents at hand as soon as possible, the ethical section of society needs to hammer on the issue so that it gets swept under the rug.
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