Some 53,340 houses will be handed over to homeless and landless families across Bangladesh as part of the second phase of Ashrayan project on Sunday
Shila Das, a soft-spoken 55-year-old woman, has been living at her own house at Kathaltola under Domuriya Upazila in Khulna since January after having been homeless since the emergence of Bangladesh in 1971.
Like Shila, 69,904 families received houses as part of a government project initiated by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. On January 23, the first phase of the distribution got underway. It is the largest shelter distribution event in the world so far.
“Once I got the key to the house I was really surprised; it is the biggest gift in my life,” said Shila Das.
“We had some land which was sold to move to India but we didn’t leave as my father died when I was only a 10-year-old. So, I have been staying at other people’s places since my childhood. When my only daughter was five years old, my husband left Bangladesh for India and never contacted us. My daughter, Lata, is now 27 years old. Her husband is a van-puller and they have a son and a daughter. All five of us are now living here,” said Shila Das.
Her daughter Lata Das said: “Since my childhood I have seen my mother work at the house next door. They gave us food but no more than twice a day as they too were not financially stable.”
“I dropped out of school when I was in class 3. I had to work at home and in the fields. I was sexually harassed, physically tortured many times even while working in the field. I also had to endure natural disasters,” she said.
“During Sidr – an extremely severe cyclonic storm which hit the coastal districts, including Khulna in 2007 – I was 13 years old and had to stay at a neighbour’s house and was sexually harassed,” she added.
“With my son and daughter now growing up, we are very much happy as a home like this can ensure our safety and remove fears of sexual harassment,” she added.
Interestingly, there has been no recent study on homeless people and their sexual vulnerability in Bangladesh.
Khushi Kabir, a prominent human rights activist, said: “Homelessness is an enormous social problem not only in Bangladesh but across the world. Homeless women, adolescents and children are particularly vulnerable to multiple forms of victimization, including forced, coerced, or manipulated sexual activity.”
She said in Bangladesh there was a social bonding that might assist in overcoming such challenges, but the rate of victimization was still high.
“Homeless people are abused more than others as they are not empowered,” she added.
“The Ashrayan project is one of the good initiatives taken by the government. If it is possible to implement it successfully, a social change will be visible soon,” she added.
As part of the house and rehabilitation program on the occasion of Mujib Year, being observed to celebrate the birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the government plans to provide houses to as many as 900,000 homeless people all over Bangladesh.
“The government has distributed 65 houses free of cost to landless people in Kathaltola village,” said Abdul Wadud, UNO, of Dumuria Upazila.
Second phase of Ashrayan
Some 53,340 houses will be handed over to homeless and landless families around Bangladesh as part of the second phase of the Ashrayan project on Sunday.
Dumuria UNO Wadud said: “Forty people will get houses in the second phase of the project in Dumuria.”
Gita Das, another beneficiary of the Ashrayan project, said there were six people in her family. “We got a pucca house — this is surprising for us. We never thought of getting such a sweet home.”
“Natural disasters like cyclones have always hampered our life. We had a bamboo-made house at Baradiya village, but cyclones and floods swallowed everything,” she added.
Her son Khokon, a student of class five, said: “We have an address now with a holding number.”
Gita Das said: “Khokon will now continue his studies, although we earlier had a plan to send him to work.”
“January 23 was a wonderful day in our life as we got the land document and key to my house on that day. We want to thank Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her initiative, for without her initiative we would never have owned a house,” said Alim Ali, another beneficiary.
“I earned Tk5,000 to Tk6,000 a month working as a day labourer and had to spend Tk1,500 as house rent. We can now save the money as we have got a house,” he said.
“I want to run a tea stall in the local market once I manage to save around Tk20,000, which may be possible in a year if no new disaster hinders our life,” he added.
Some of the families who have been given houses have already started gardening and nurturing ducks and chickens in front of the houses. Many people are making fishing nets or fences for crop fields.
“The Ashrayan Project will continue until there are no homeless people as per plan of the government,” said Md Mahbub Hossain, project director of Ashrayan Project-2.
“Once people get shelter they can easily improve their livelihoods. So, the initiative will tally with dozens of our SGD goals,” he added.