Thousands came from India in search of work in the 1950s. The first generations worked as street cleaners or tea pickers. Today their youth are studying and looking for better jobs. Landless, the community lives in slums.
Dhaka (AsiaNews) – Bangladesh’s Telugu community numbers around 40,000, including some 7,000 Christians, concentred in the capital Dhaka, the city of Pabna and Moulovibazar District.
For years most were employed as cleaners, in the streets and hospitals, or picking tea leaves, but recently they have had to increasingly compete with Bengalis.
Since their arrival in the 1950s from the Indian State of Andhra Pradesh (where they are known as Telegu), they have preserved their linguistic and religious traditions and are now asking the government to protect their culture.
From their ancestral home, they kept their Hindu and Christian faiths, and at home they speak Telugu whilst using Bengali (Bangla) at work.
Today the community is struggling to keep its culture alive as its young people move to the big cities to study or in search for work. Michael Piregu, 22, is one of them. Originally from Moulovibazar, he currently lives in Dhaka.
"My father was as a tea worker,” he said. “But now young people don’t want to clean the streets anymore, we want to study. Some young Hindus have returned to their villages of origin because they feel neglected in Bangladesh."
Michael attends the Nazareth Telugu Baptist Church and is the leader of the Bangladesh Telugu Council. "The government should protect our Telugu culture,” he said. “This is why we ask for support in the creation of the Telugu Cultural Academy."
Poverty is one of the issues that afflict the community, whose members are largely landless, living in slums or on government land.
S P Appora, 60 (picture 2), lives in Dhaka’s Sara Bangla slum. "I have worked in a hospital for many years,” he explained. “Now I am retired and ill. Our ancestors came to this land and started working as garbage collectors. We were born here and we have citizenship, but we do not own land to live on. In my life I have lived in three shanty towns. For us, it is very painful."
The slum where Appora lives has no sewer, electricity or gas. For cooking, he uses a gas cylinder or burns wood. Sanitary conditions are a great concern because his family of ten use the same lavatory.
His ancestors were Hindus who accepted the message of Christ brought by Protestant missionaries. "Today we are better than when we were Hindus because by worshiping Christ, we have peace in our hearts."
In the capital, Telugu live in five slums. At present, Telugu Christians are getting ready for Christmas, by praying the Gospel and decorating their humble, metal-sheet shacks as best they can.