Citizen’s Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh, in association with HEKS/EPER and Eco-Social Development Organization (ESDO), organised its fifth Citizen’s Consultation Meeting in Thakurgaon, on Saturday, 24 September 2022. The earlier meetings were held in Rangpur, Khulna, Tangail and Sylhet. The purpose of these consultations is to engage with the stakeholder representatives of the district to explore their experiences and expectations in the context of the official development narrative.
Interacting with stakeholder representatives at the district level and learning more about their opinions on various issues relating to national development were the primary objectives of the Thakurgaon consultation. As in earlier occasions, the exchanges in Thakurgaon took place from the perspectives of disadvantaged communities, including Dalit communities and the plain-land adibashis of the locality. Around 50 people participated in the consultation meeting, shared their views on the country’s development narrative and highlighted the traditional and new challenges faced in their locality.
The conditions of the lives and livelihoods of plainland adibhasis living in Thakurgaon (e.g., Santal, Oraon, Munda, Mushor and Rajbanshi) were one of the most urgent concerns of the consultation, which covered a wide range of issues. Limited access to education came out as a prominent development agenda for these communities. In most cases, the people of this community cannot utilise the quota benefits. There was a demand for the reallocation of khas land among the landless indigenous people, but a solution has not been reached in this regard. The people of this marginalised community also demanded dedicated budgetary allocations for the plainland adibhasi groups.
During the meeting, one core topic of discussion was the phenomenon of “reverse migration” (urban to rural). Many participants cited examples from their acquaintances who moved to the capital with the hopes of earning their livelihood but had to shift back to their village. The high living expense in Dhaka was cited as the major factor behind reverse migration.
Poor quality of education was also brought up in the discussions. Participants identified a unifying theme among the topics brought forward. Different streams of education, complicacy in creative question structure, and discrimination between MPO and non-MPO institutions are the factors resulting in poor educational standards. The participants opined for an integrated, universal national education system where teachers would be appointed exclusively based on merit.
It was observed that there is a declining trend of youth engagement in cultural activities, particularly in the backdrop of rising socio-religious pressures, intolerance and drug issues. In addition, the consultation pointed out that most youths are unaware of the various public services. The discussion also highlighted the increased number of suicide due to employment scarcity and financial insolvency.
They highly appreciated Citizen’s Platform’s proposal regarding the introduction of “Student’s Credit Card” and agreed that such schemes would help the students to sustain their education. The meeting further proposed that the government should allocate more resources to build more sports facilities to hold back the “disengagement” of the youth. Sports enthusiasts are often discouraged due to the lack of proper equipment, let alone a lack of incentives. The emerging practice of “moral policing” in society is considered a major challenge.
The high rate of post-COVID school dropouts and child marriages, corruption in public services, nepotism in appointments, diversification of business, and agro-based industries were highlighted during the discussion. The participants demanded to ensure better accountability in delivering public services and the development process during the consultation.
Demands were also expressed for reopening the Thakurgaon airport (which has been there since the British period), establishing EPZ and launching the North Bengal University and an IT park at the earliest.
Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, Convener of the Citizen’s Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh, and Mr Towfiqul Islam Khan, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), moderated the consultation session. They also had a separate session with the prominent professionals of the media community in Thakurgaon.