They said indigenous people need extra attention from the authorities concerned in the pandemic
Speakers have said although the Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected people from marginalized backgrounds, it has brought an opportunity for all to work together and build a better future for the next generation.
They were speaking at a webinar about the impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic on the marginalized people in Bangladesh on Saturday evening.
The event was organized by SiTara's Story, a platform for raising mental health awareness of adolescents in the country.
Bina D'Costa, professor at the Department of International Relations in the Australian National University, said: "We should see this pandemic as an entry point to work together and leave behind good examples for the next generation."
The pandemic might do intergenerational harm to many marginalized people in Bangladesh and people from all sectors should work collaboratively to curb the damage, she added.
Sara Hossain, advocate at the Supreme Court of Bangladesh and honorary executive director of Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (Blast), said access to the internet has become more important than ever but people in Rohingya refugee camps are not getting it.
"About one million refugees are not getting access to the internet, therefore, they are not getting access to the services provided through the internet in this pandemic," she said.
She also pointed out that female students in remote areas in Bangladesh are not getting uninterrupted education online as they also belong to a marginalized group in many ways.
Sara said while a female student is attending a class online, she might have to go out for better internet service. "But, many female students might not be allowed outside [for the purpose] for a long period of time."
Covid-19 hits ethnic people hard
Muktasree Chakma, founder and executive director of Supporting People and Rebuilding Communities (SPaRC), shed light on how dealing with the pandemic is doubly hard for the ethnic minorities in Bangladesh.
"Their education is interrupted even though the government has initiated distance learning. Many of them do not have access to the internet, television, and smartphones in those areas."
She said the poverty rate is 60% in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) which is more than the rest of Bangladesh.
During the months-long lockdown, the people of hill tracts struggled immensely to make their ends meet, she said.
Many of them sell locally grown fruits and vegetables for their living, but due to the lockdown they could not go to the bazaar to sell the fresh produce, she said, adding that they are still facing problems.
Muktasree mentioned many indigenous people who work in the garments industry had to go back home after the factories were shut down.
"They had to face hostility within their community as well. Around 200 garment workers were denied entry to their villages in Khagrachhari because they were back from the city. It took a whole day to settle things."
Dina M Siddiqi, professor at the Faculty of Global Liberal Studies in New York University, gave a picture of how the garment workers have been deprived of their rights by the factory owners during the Covid-19 situation.
"They [garment workers] were not asking for charity, rather asking for their dues. They went back home when the factories were shut down and travelled back to the city on foot because the factories were announced to start operating again."
She said the apparel workers took all these trouble because they wanted to work and get paid.
The professor said the workers have the least power in the garment industry while the big brands enjoy the most.
"It is the responsibility of these big brands to make things right. They need to step up to make sure the garment workers get paid," she said.
While moderating the webinar, Dr Shamaruh Mirza, senior toxicologist at the Department of Health, Australia, said indigenous people need extra attention from the authorities concerned in this pandemic.