A group of young members of the Munda community living in Bakkhali, a remote village in Satkhira’s Tala upazila, is on a mission to change their fate and slowly but surely
The Munda community, a small ethnic group living in a remote village of Satkhira, is transforming their lives by challenging the conventional norms – especially the community's younger generation.
People of this community are often called "savage" and "ugly" because of their ethnicity and lifestyle. This small community is always frowned upon by locals for its distinct eating habits and appearance.
However, a group of young members of the Munda community living in Bakkhali, a remote village in Satkhira's Tala upazila, is on a mission to change their fate and slowly but surely, these youths are rising up to bring about an optimistic change in their lives.
Fight for proper sanitation
Recently, the owners of the brick kilns where the Mundas work from November till March have agreed to build separate toilets for male and female workers, realizing the long awaited demand and need of the district's minority group.
Sabita Munda, president of the Munda youth group named "Lalshalu," said that it was unimaginable for them to raise their voice and organize in order to establish their rights a few years back.
"We were so scared to talk to different stakeholders of the society, like union parishad chairman, members, NGO workers, and also with people outside our community,” said Sabita.
People of the local Munda community work at the local brick fields, which is very challenging for them due to long working hours and lack of hygiene. Adding to that, they face gender-based discrimination when it comes to fair wage.
Jahangir Alam, manager of Super Bricks, told Dhaka Tribune that they are aware of the demand which came through Munda youth group Lalshalu. He said the kiln owners agreed on a few of the demands made by them.
"We have decided to build separate toilets for male and female workers by this October as they wanted. There will be a total of eight toilets built for the workers," Jahangir added.
The disparities regarding the wages of male and female Munda workers in the brick kilns is another issue Lalshalu is fighting for as female workers get only Tk180 whereas male workers get Tk220, per day.
However, Jahangir thinks it would be unfair to put everyone under the same wage scale as male workers do more heavy-duty work compared to the female workers.
Lalshalu’s initiative also pushed the local brick kiln worker association to speak up and, as a result, Md Mizanur Rahman, general secretary of Satkhira Brick Kiln Workers’ Association, said that they did not know where to go to push for their demands but now they will support the Munda community to establish their rights.
The need of education for Mundas
Access to education is still not that easy for the Munda people.
Austomi Munda, a 17-year-old youth leader, said that it takes one and a half hours by foot to reach school and vice versa to get back home every day, but she is determined not to quit as they believe that education is the only way forward.
Stating that she along with her fellow Munda classmates felt like outsiders while being in school, Austomi said: "Other students did not want to sit next to us claiming that we have darker complexion, we are ugly, and we smell."
A number of elderly members of the community like Kartik Munda, 75, said they are not holding onto old traditions anymore and this is paving the way for the younger generation of the community to march forward for their rights.
Kartik's daughter-in-law, who got married to his son while studying in sixth-grade, did not confine herself within the four walls of her in-laws home as she currently works in an NGO after completing her education.
Addressing the issue, Rana Gain, executive director of Human Rights and Environmental Action Development said: "Mundas have been living here [Satkhira] for about 45 years and since then, due to the lack of formal education, they face many challenges.”
"But now Lalshalu, representing the youth community of the Mundas, sit once a month to discuss their problems and then take it to the stakeholders to find a solution."
This Munda youth group was formed with the help of local NGO, Human Rights and Environmental Action Development, in assistance with ActionAid Bangladesh.
Musfiq Tajwar, an inspirator at ActionAid Bangladesh, said his organization, through its many efforts, is trying to empower the Munda community by building leadership capacity of the young Munda women and men.
This initiative of ActionAid is aimed to ensure that the Munda community in Satkhira can claim their rights – not just as separate individuals but as a community.