Project: LIFE IN A TIME OF FOOD VOLATILITY
Subject: Workshop on exchange of outcomes of the study
Place: Community Resource Centre
Starting Time: 10:00 AM (Morning)
Date: 9th March, 2016, Wednesday
Organized By: Development research Initiative (dRi)& Institute of development Studies (IDS)
At the starting of the workshop, executive director of Development Research Initiative (dRi) said, ‘we repeatedly disturb you. Though we cannot take initiative directly regarding your information but indirectly the information helps you in the long run. For instance, we send out this information to different offices of government or donors so that they take necessary initiatives. We apologise to you repeatedly because we cannot do anything for you directly. Every time we try to make you understand that though you have provided us with information that do not directly give you monetary benefit but it gives many other benefits. For instance, now you know that eviction of two slums were in the plans of the authority i.e. Sattola, and Korail at Mohakhali. But, you must have also known that Barrister Sara Hossain, daughter of Barrister Kamal Hossain, has appealed to the court not to evict those slums. You must be aware of court litigation about not to evict those slums. . When there is any litigation regarding slums in court, they want to know about the cause of evicting the slum and what type of problems likeky to be created if the slum is evicted. The legal procedures are handily known by Sara Hossain or Kamal Hossain but the information regarding the number of evicted people, who would fall into worst condition, whose education would be ruined etc. are difficult for them to know. We do these works. There was a hearing on Korail and Sattola slums on 7th of this month. On 5th of this month, we made a report on these two slums and submitted to BLAST. These submitted documents were presented at court by BLAST. We projected that eviction of the slums might render thousands of people homeless. We also provided them information regarding the occupation status and the consequences of the occupation after the eviction do take place; the information of the school going children and the probable drop out from school is also included in our report. Besides this, the present study intends to unearth the problems faced by low income people during the fluctuation or the increase of food price in the market. We make efforts to convince the concerned food-policy officials of Bangladesh or the foreign organizations who assist government regarding food policy that when price of rice increases the garment workers or low income people get agitated and demonstrate or strike. A person from your locality once said that when price of any commodity increases, he cannot control himself, so he buys pant which can be worn by both younger and elder brother of his family. First, we need food for survival. We try present these things to them who take initiative centering on the information we provide and it is not like that they only take initiative for one particular area, say, Kalyanpur. For instance, when the most suitable time for providing rice by government and what is should be the duration of allowance, are outlined by these research. We have worked at three places from 2012 to 2014 and now, through this workshop, we will present the outcomes of the study.
Among the participants, Sirajul Islam said, you are researching at Kalyanpur Notunbazar Porabosti through collecting and understanding information since long. In Bangladesh urban research are going on and you have said that you are engaged with both national and international level researches though your organization. You know that most of the people living in Kalyanpur slum are disaster (Aila, Sidr, river erosion etc) affected people and they take refuge to various places like Kalyanpur in Dhaka. These people take rent of tin-shed houses in various parts of Dahaka city. About 90 percent people in the slums of Dhaka city some how affected at their village or area. After the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the former Prime Minister of Bangladesh Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared, ‘no one in this country would be in poverty, hunger-stricken or homeless.’ As you are working both at national and international level, would it be possible for you to arrange a meeting with the Prime Minister? Our Prime Minister at various meetings and seminars told that no one in the country will be homeless. But, what have you researched about the homeless people who live near roads and highways? Is there any allowance or opportunities from government or international organizations for these homeless people? Have you researched about the possibility of rehabilitation, in reality, of the people and its expected time-frame about the incentives?
A January last, many parts of our slum was destroyed. During that time we went through miserable condition as we had no chimney or other materials for cooking. Many people arranged food from their relatives or from someone who had the facilities to cook and some ate one meal a day or ate only bread. Many have no money at their hand and cannot buy foods from market. In an overall assessmentl, we spent such life though the condition is relatively good now since last two months. In initial period, we led such time that we could not manage one meal in a day and survived with bread or a cup of tea or with a porata begged from restaurant. Moreover, worst of all ll, we live with fear of eviction. We are under trial and the verdict remains unchanged now. Many of us still, live under the open sky and many live at lair in miserable condition with serious uncertainty and anxiety about their future. There are 30/40 SSC examinees in this slum who faced extreme difficulty due the threat of eviction and no electricity is available here. It is very difficult to live at summer without fan and you also now understand the difficulties of not having electricity. The miserable condition of this area is not a story but real.
An activist from participant NGO forum Md. Rafiqul Islam said, I’m thanking Development Research Initiative (dRi) for organizing such a workshop titling ‘Food Price Fluctuation: Living with Crisis’. I believe we are living in this crisis and all of us are eager to eradicate this crisis. The profiteering by intermediaries, the sudden increase in food price and agricultural raw materials are directly linked with the food price fluctuation. For example, as my second occupation is related to agriculture, on January 2016 at Madhupur of Tangail the price of f nazirshail rice was 16.25 taka per kg which at the same time at Nawabpur in Dhaka was 55 taka. The main reason for such difference in price is the existence of intermediaries and dishonest businessmen. After hasking, about 70% to 80% of paddy is received as rice which dictates that price of one kg rice in Dhaka should not in any case, be more than 25 taka including transportation and husking cost. He gave us an example of 2009 in that the price of Brinjal (eggplant) at Madhupur was 2 taka per kg but it was 20 taka at Azimpur market of Dhaka.” I didn’t buy Brinjal from there because they didn’t give me less than 20 taka per kg”, he added. The volatility of market could be controlled if the intermediaries were controlled and the market price surveyed regularly by concerned authority of the government. It is necessary to discussall these matters with the government and recommend fast trial and punishment of dishonest businessmen. .
Abdul Mannan, a slum dweller who participated at the workshop said, “I thank you (dRi) because you indeed realize the actual sufferings of the slum-dwellers due to food price hike. At present there are about 4 million slum-dwellers in Dhaka city. Most of them come from various districts affected by river bank erosion or other natural calamities to Dhaka in search of shelter, work and other conveniences of life. These slum-dwellers do not receive any government aid or assistance while they are in crisis. You mentioned about the OMS rice or other assistance that can solve the crisis, but in reality it did not. There is no government assistance in any slum of Bangladesh. But we are grateful to various NGOs and donor agencies because we are surviving just with their help. Without their help life would be miserable here in the slum. Earlier, a brother said about price difference of Brinjal in the village and Dhaka. .What is the reason behind this? I think the main reason in lack of government co-ordination. Either it is government office or the syndicate that is responsible for this. If some government officials didn’t take bribe (500/1000 taka then the price would be lower. What can we do about this and do you suggest anything to them? We again thank all of you for studying our problems and through this; we hope you do something for the poor and landless people like us.
Abdul Aziz, another participant at the workshop, said, I thank you on behalf of landless, disaster affected slum dwellers of Kalyanpur slum for researching on us since last three years. Some matters must be discussed at the higher level, for instance, the quality of the OMS rice is very low which is not suitable for consumption. Not only rice, also other vegetables, fish etc. that we eat are of low quality, because we cannot afford to buy higher quality commodities. By consuming these low quality foods, the slum people are suffering from different kinds of diseases. These diseases affect us severely as we cannot afford proper medical services. Slum-dwellers have to eat rotten eggs, fish, tomato as well as formalin-mixed low quality fruits which spread various diseases among the low-earning slum-dwellers. Some dishonest businessmen stock food items to make extra profit which caused increase of commodity price. For example, the price of salt soared as high as 15 taka per kg which came down to taka 10 when the caretaker government backed by Army authority took charge. . The poor people become bewildered by the ill motive and tricks of the hoarders because the low-earning people do not understand its effects in the market price. Sometimes mobile court fines some restaurants or groceries which lead the grocers or restaurant owners to increase price of food items to compensate for the loss. The mobile court, without creating positive impact, is thus responsible for price hike in the market. If attempts are made to solve these problems, the low-earning people like us can lead a good and healthy life. I have another request for a mini community clinic in the slum for medical services for the community people. I hope you will discuss these problems in national and international level. Participant Abdul Hannah said, “I hope the research will continue as it is for us. If the study is for us we need to understand its importance and we have to evaluate it positively. The question must come from within. They (researchers) do the research as part of their social responsibility otherwise why should they engage with this? Every man and woman have tendency to work for others. In this study, we will not get any monetary benefit but it will help solve our problems permanently in the long run. Many of us have a perception that NGOs only give money, but this study has the goal of eradicating our poverty permanently. This NGO thinks like this”. After that he asked a question to all the audiences, 'Do we live for food or eat food for living? (The audiences replied that we eat food for living). But, many of us think that they live for food. In reality, we need food for living which has crisis in the society. On the backdrop of the crisis, the research continues to find an effective way to solve the problem. We have five fundamental needs as food, clothing, shelter, education and health services which are our fundament rights as well. The main right among these is food. We don't have proper shelter to live l as the authority came here a number of times to evict us from the slum. On last 21st January, they evicted some houses and shops of our locality. While we are struggling to manage food how could we make houses of our own? How could we manege food for our family or provide education to our children? This is the main problem existing in the lower income people in our country. I agree with the words of NGO forum official Md Rafikul Islam about price differences of Brinjal from village market to Dhaka. Regarding price difference of rice, I agree with what Dr. Jamal’s view that along with intermediaries, corrupted politics is responsible for the problem. I don't want to mention any name but in reality the corrupt politics creates discrimination in society towards low income people by worsening our condition. The main reason for huge price hike from farmer to consumer is also politics as the syndicate is controlled by the businessmen cum politicians. Now, business is in the centre of politics, so politicians control businesses and we the low earning people are ultimate sufferers. And this food price fluctuation is also due to politics. Now, I have a question to you (dRi)- how could we solve this problem or discuss with the businessmen to solve our problems permanently? When we contact with the government through your help, we face various hassles from them and they threaten us of reprisal for disobedience to government. In this circumstance, I want to inform the government if it is possible to sit with us for solving the crisis of slum people through removing corrupt politics and provide shelter to us so that we can rehabilitate safely. . We lead at the grass-root level through organizing people in the locality and we want to work for the well being of slum people like you do. So, you can arrange meeting with the concerned authority so that we can do something for solving the crisis.
Among the discussants, slum-dweller Ibrahim Rana said, last night I noticed at internet that millions of dollars of Bangladeshi money are stored at foreign banks, then o why the people here are poor? This is my first question and the second one is how Bangladesh could be a middle income country with 29.5 percent of its people living under poverty line? Are the 4 million slum people in Bangladesh out of the middle income? If government declares as a middle income country then why people in Dhaka city still sell and buy low quality faigala fish which is the local name of surma fish. (The price of this fish is very low compared to other types of fishes. In this circumstance, how could we consider Bangladesh as a middle income country? Authorities demolished our slum on 21st last and after that people suffered so much mentally and financially that none is able to buy even a Surma fish. So how do we consider our country a middle income country? I urge you to let the authority know about the matter. We cannot go to them as we are treated as slum-dwellers. We do not get any job or cannot admit our children in good school. I don't know about the merit of our children and how they are doing in SSC examination but we do know that they are living under the sky. We don't know how they will do in coming examination. If your research is centred on us then it would be successful if some elders from our area are taken to discuss with the policy makers. The discussion from both top and lower side would help create a successful policy for us to solve our problems. Otherwise, it would be like Finance Minister’s speech-‘how could we return money from foreign land?’ Millions of dollars are stored at Swiss Bank and other banks and where the Bangladesh's money is stored? Why we the Ricksaw pullers become scapegoats? How our money from central bank is trafficked to other countries? This is the talk of the country. Then, what is the necessity of paying taxes? And you just research on the matter? Answering the question by Ibrahim Rana, the Executive Director of Development Research Initiative (dRi) Mr. Mamun-ur-Rashid said, every country has a national reserve which can either be dollar, pound, or euro or even it can be through gold. Gold is taken as a measurement as the gold market is internationally recognized and comparatively stable as you can sell it in both local and international market. Again, a country's reserve dictates its economic power internationally. In the middle of the discussion Ibrahim Rana said, an USA's researcher said that when slum people do progress in society then everyone tries to humiliate them; don't you research on that matter? Mr. Mamun-ur-Rashid replied, there are process of measurements for TL count rich and poor in the society. Some measure status by income and classify rich and poor. Another group does not consider money as the only measurement for rich, middle income people or poor. They do not take income as only way of leveling a person or family, rather they consider living standards, behavior, mental satisfaction etc for measuring a person's level in society. Again, many say about the middle income country which is a political issue. It depends on which country on which determinants says on what perspective. There is a sort of debate on that issue. As government declares it so it is almost out of our reach. Answering the question of Abdul Hannah, Mr. Mamun said, if you consider a family then you know that father administers the family and his power is sovereign. But, other members of the family can influence the decision of family chief and also can create pressure on father. Theoretically father is head but he should listen to his children and wife's opinion and thus the decision becomes a democratic one. To consider country, government has the sovereign power and it is the guardian of people as well.
Bangladesh has fallen into different critical moments (e.g. in 1971, 1974 etc) when NGO's played a significant role. When any natural disaster like (Aila, Sidr etc) occurs, NGOs extend their helping hands along with government to solve the crisis. Recently, many activists like Dr. Jamal Hossain are working for betterment of the people of Sattola, Korail slums. Ibrahim Rana again said, so don't you do research on us or you can't do anything for us? Also slum-dweller Abdul Mannan said, what is your plan for us? Answering their questions the Executive Director of (dRi) Mr. Mamun-ur-Rashid said, brother, and our stand is very clear. According to law the slum is owned by government and we cannot put any objection if government takes the land; but we always say that the people living in the slum must be rehabilitated in a proper way. They (slum-dwellers) are living in a certain place for 20/30 years, so you cannot just evict them forcefully without providing them a full compensation package for their livelihood. Suppose, government plans to establish an IT park which is very necessary for country. Again, the Jamuna Bridge was constructed evicting thousands of households. But, no demonstration occurred because government compensated the households by equal size of land. Many who did not get land got money or other training for making their livelihood smooth and easier. At present for building Padma Bridge, thousands of acres of land are acquired and people tolerate this temporary problem for better outcome of the country. But, our concern is government should not take land from them without properly rehabilitating them. This is our stand which is very clear and simple.
Among the discussants, Nagor Ali said, - though today's topic is on food, but if we don't have shelter, how could we manage food or other fundamental needs? The number of slum-dwellers has been increasing in Dhaka city. Every government before election said that they would do their best for the well-being of these poor people. But, 44 years after the independence of the country, we are still floating from one place to another due to bureacratic difficulties although the Pakistani Bihari are rehabilitated in this country. Is it the law of this country? And in which country do we live in? Is it our constitution and what about our fundamental rights? Is this our shelter? We want to know from government. We are floating people and we want our rights on food and shelter. Government can take her land but our point is, government has other lands as well and takes your land after rehabilitating us. We got latrines, bathroom, water, electricity from your NGO and we are using these for last 3/4 years but suddenly bulduzer came to demolish all these facilities. Now, government said they don't know anything about the matter. So, which country do we live in where its government doesn't know where its landless people are living and they just say that they don't know about us? If I am a citizen of this country and if I have rights as a citizen of Bangladesh, government can rehabilitate us anywhere and then acquire the land. If government does so, we have nothing to say about this. We all are players of the market syndicate and this syndicate is active in all government terms. From Khulna to Dhaka, the fare of a truck is 12000/14000 taka. This high fare ultimately has to be borne by the lower earning people. This high cost increases the food prices in the market which is very difficult to for low income people to bear. In this process from rice to pulses and other commodities price of everything hikes in the market. If the government has plan, they can store rice, pulses, onion by building storehouses in every district. In the events of strike (hartal), prices of every commodity like onion, ginger, garlic soar high. These commodities are grown in our area but later the price becomes hi-rocketed as garlic is sold at 100/120 taka. But, during the harvest season government does not store them and the farmers have to sell their produce in low prices to avoid the goods from being perished. If this country was really a digital country, there could be no homeless people. But, only in Dhaka city more than 4 million landless people live, now imagine how many people live in the whole country. In this circumstance, it is necessary to provide food and shelter for these landless people. Our wives work at others’ house as maid, children at garments and through this we live hand to mouth. If we don’t stay in Dhaka how could we get job? Our petition to you, please inform and discuss about us to the government.
Shefali, a participant said many rotten commodities are pouring our country from India and we are suffering from various diseases consuming these goods. We are not included in budget, even schools have budgets but we have no budget. As we are poor, we cannot afford education of our children. If we send our children to garments to work, they are not given job due to illiteracy. The Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina also did not ask about our miserable condition and now we are dying. It is necessary to spend taka 10-15 thousand to get our children admitted in a good school. We earn hand to mouth by working at houses, brick fields or clean latrines etc. We don’t get rehabilitation but relatives of the Ministers and MPs do.
Among the discussants carpenter Md. Rukon said, I’m the plaintiff of Kalyanpur slum case. Though our case is pending in the court, how did magistrates come to evict us denouncing the court’s order? We have got verdict from another case where the court provided three months injunction of stay order with no arrest and harassment. The magistrate saw the verdict in the internet but he ordered to demolish our houses from 9.00 am 5.30 am. Doesn’t our Prime Minister’t see this in TV or news papers? If yes then, why doesn’t she clarify whether she will provide us shelter or not? Or why does she not directly tell about us? If she doesn’t know about us then after knowing the matter why she didn’t ask them about our eviction? She is our guardian as well as the countrys’. We want that Prime Minister should speak for us. As Dr. Kamal Hossain said that these are from corrupt politics, we agree with him. However, he is growing older and one day he also has to go and I think after him poor people cannot live in this country.
A participant from the slum named Eskander Ali said, you can understand our level of nutrition by seeing our body. Actually, the country was born with a dream that we live happily and we do not have any sorrows. We live independently, grow crops and eat meals three times a day. But, what did we see after independence? We thought living in a free country no one would harass us as we are brothers and police would not strike us, but alas! Police torture us mercilessly like the Pakistani junta. Police arrest us without any charge and lock up in cell for long time. Did we liberate our country for this? You saw that they demolished our slum on 21st of February. We are asking a question via the Chairman of Human Rights Dr. Mizanur Rahman that if you can please inform the matter to the highest level. When RAB fired on Limon at Barishal, he delivered an inflammatory speech. But, in our slum at Kalyanpur, they demolish most of our houses, killed some and shot on leg, are these not included in human rights violation? I am asking this to Dr. Mizanur Rahman. Many do not consider us human beings. I’m telling you a story of 1996, when the slum was demolished the Prime Minister was abroad but after returning from abroad she declared a permanent rehabilitation for the people living in Korail and Bhasantek slum. On 13th October 1989 when our slum got fired where 9 people were killed and thousands of houses were burnt, Sheikh Hasina, then leader of the opposition, provided her helping hand towards us. Now we are looking towards her as we don’t understand how police evict our slums while she is in power? We urge to the Honorable Prime Minister, please do something for us as we are your citizens and we are poor and landless. We elected you as our Prime Minister as your party assured us that without rehabilitation we will not be evicted. After election when we go to our Member of Parliaments, they say that they do not need our votes which are very few in number. Is it politics? We don’t think so. Honorable prime Minister, we are at very miserable condition as in the last winter two people died of cold. We do not get any warm clothes during winter, not even one kilogram of rice. We want to know why we don’t get any assistance. Are we not the citizens of this country? The people who helped in the genocide are taken under rehabilitation but poor and destitute are killed and burnt at slums. If any of us are attacked or being fired then I urge all of you to resist against this oppression. I urge Honorable Prime Minister to permanently rehabilitate the slum-dwellers of Kalyanpur slum and provide them a happy life. This is all we want from you.