Socio economic Conditions of Dalit Communities in South-west Bangladesh with the focus in India

Dr Shankar Chatterjee[1]  &  S K Mashudur Rahman[2]
Socio economic Conditions of Dalit Communities in South-west Bangladesh with the focus in India


    Dalit in Bangladesh is a recent adoption, and thus not yet well known. Before that, the term indigenous or antaz were used but in recent times, Dalit communities   are used in Bangladesh and nearly 30 Dalit communities live in the South-west part of Bangladesh. Socio-economically these communities are backward/poor and vulnerable. Their social status or position are not highlighted to the main stream communities or upper caste Hindu or Muslim communities.  Still now their traditional occupations are the chief sources of their livelihood. To get an idea about their socio-economic condition a study was carried out in south-west Bangladesh which is presented here with focusing on Indian Dalit.   The common similarity of Dalit in India and Bangladesh is many households are living in abysmal poverty.

Key Words: Extreme poverty, Dalit, socio-economic condition, livelihoods,


      From the geographical point of view, Bangladesh is as placed in a unique position of the world atlas, in the same way the territory of Bangladesh is in unique for diverse human settlements. Adapting various ecological or geographical settings, many Dalit communities come here to dwell in their residence from the very beginning and contain their own cultural heritages. These Dalit communities are sometime identified by the mainstream people as tribal, ex-tribal, ethnic, untouchable, schedule caste people. In the southwest part of Bangladesh these types of people are known as untouchable. “The term untouchable refers….to those castes at the bottom of the caste hierarchy whom the other castes historically regarded as irredeemably polluted,” (Sharma: 2002:47).  To get an idea about their socio-economic condition a study was carried out in south-west Bangladesh which is presented here with focusing on Indian Dalit.   The common similarity of Dalit in India and Bangladesh is many households are living in abysmal poverty.


The study was conducted by adopting interview method for which a schedule was prepared. The relevant data were collected from the sample of 215 households of nine Dalit communities of South-west Bangladesh. Two-stage sampling selection procedures were used in this survey. In the first stage, the study selected randomly 22 villages of 15 Unions. In the second stage, a total of 215 households covering 1074 persons were selected randomly among the selected villages under three Thanas (Police Station) in Satkhira (Tala and Debhata) and one in Khulna district (Dumuria) in 2014. The number of sample households in each selected village depends on the population of these Dalit communities.

Findings of the Study

   The Dalit communities in Bangladesh live in close proximity with nature and they have a lot of inherited knowledge. It is pertinent to mention that Bhumija Foundation has identified such nine Dalit communities in the Southwestern region of Bangladesh based on their occupation and distinct culture. The identified nine Dalit communities are Rishi, Nanoshudra, Jele, Paundra-kashtria, Kaiputra, Behara, Bajandar, Nikari and Hazam. Broadly speaking these communities can be categorized into two viz., Hindu and Muslim Dalit communities. The first five or Hindu Dalit communities are identified as the lower caste based on Hindu caste system. On the other hand, the rest communities or Muslim Dalits belong to the lower portion of the Muslim society. Though their position is not determined by birth, their social position or status is rarely recognized by the larger Muslim society.

Socio-economic Condition of Dalits:

Looking at the grand total data, out of 1074 people surveyed from both Muslim and Hindu communities, it is observed that, 8.29 percent was in the age of between 0 and 4, which almost stands same for both Muslims and Hindus.  The dependent population based on age of 0 to 14 and 60 years and above is high nearing to 40 percent.


   Education is sine qua non for development of human beings irrespective of caste, creed and religion. In this regard Dr. B. R. Ambedkar may be quoted, “The backward classes have come to realize that after all education is the greatest material benefit for which they can fight. We may forego material benefits, we may forego material benefits of civilization, but we cannot forego our right and opportunities to reap the benefit of the highest education to the fullest extent. That the importance of this question from the point of view of the backward classes who have just realized that without education their existence is not safe.”
   To get an idea about Dalit in India, a published report under the title of “Strategies Towards Combating Dalit Marginalisation”    published by the National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj (NIRD&PR), Hyderabad (2014) may be quoted. This published report is the proceedings of a National Symposium held in 11-12 July 2014.
“The word "Dalit" is used to identify roughly about 250 million people in India who are found at the bottom of the social structure called the "Caste System", under which they were treated as "untouchables". The word "Dalit" is a recent coinage and came into existence from 1970s onwards when the "Dalit Panthers", a revolutionary group invented this world to identify themselves with dignity as opposed to derogative word which were traditionally used to identify them such as untouchables, outcastes, un-approachable and unseeables, etc.” It is pertinent to mention that albeit Dalit is now –a-days used in India but as per record of Government of India Scheduled Caste (SC) is used.
   With respect to education, data reveal that the educational progress of scheduled caste
is quite remarkable during past decades. The total literacy rate for scheduled caste
at all India was 54.7 percent in 2001 which  increased to 66.1 percent in 2011 (Table -7) indicating SCs have been progressing and situation is far better in India than Bangladesh.
   It is pertinent to mention that the working definition of literacy in the Indian census since 1991 is the total percentage of the population of an area at a particular time aged seven years or above who can read and write with understanding. Here the denominator is the population aged seven years or more.
    To promote qualitative education amongst SC students, by providing full financial support after 12th class, leading institutions include all IIMs, IITs, NITs, Commercial Pilot License training institutes and reputed Medical/Law and other institutes of excellence have been identified SC students whose total family income is up to Rs. 4.50 lakh per year are eligible for scholarship from the academic year 2012-13 (Annual report 15-16).

  Other Issues pertaining to Dalit in India:

While question of toilet arises which is sine qua non for health and hygiene, census data reveal that while a little more than half of all Indian households did not have a toilet at home, for Dalit households it was two-thirds.  Of the total 168 million rural households, 67.3 percent persons go out of doors. On the other hand, the data for Dalit rural households, (about 33 million), was 75 percent. In urban areas, 12.6 percent of households depend on the outdoors whereas for Dalit urban households the figure was 24 percent.  Regarding dwelling house, about 37 percent of households across India live in just one room, that figure was nearly 47 percent for Dalits. In case of cellphones while 47.9 percent of rural households rely on cellphones, the percentage for Dalit households was 42.8 which in urban areas was 61 percent for Dalit and almost was same percent for all communities i.e. at 64   percent.


 The problems of the Dalit communities living in the region vary from the mainstream Hind and Muslim communities. They have some distinct identities. Culturally and politically they are backward form the mainstream population. Larger society considers them as the lowers segment population and their complete citizenship status is violated through diverse social practices. The Dalits of India is little better as educationally they are advance than the Dalits of South-west of Bangladesh.  Lastly, the data with regard to India evince the gap between Dalit households and the Indian average may have narrowed over the last decade, but still they are lagging in many respects.
  1., 12/10/16).

  1. Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Department of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India “Annual report 15-126” .

  1. Sharma, Ursula (2002), Caste, Viva Books Private Limited, New Delhi, p-47
[1] Professor & Head (CPME), NIRD&PR, Hyderabad, India email: <>
[2] Joint Director, Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development (BARD), Comilla, Bangladesh. . Email <>