02/27/2023, 17.31
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More than a thousand Telugu Christians evicted and abandoned in Dhaka

by Sumon Corraya

Telugu speakers were brought to Dhaka by the British in the 19th century from Andhra Pradesh to work as sanitation workers, which they still do. But in Bangladesh they have always been marginalised. A few days ago, the Dhaka South City Corporation began tearing down their homes and settlement deemed “illegal”. Two Evangelical churches were also demolished.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – Over a thousand Telugu Christians from Dholpur, Jatrabari district, find themselves homeless after being evicted by the Dhaka South City Corporation, one of the two municipalities in which the capital of Bangladesh is divided.

The Christians belong to three different denominations: Catholic Church, Golgotha Baptist Church and Jordan Church of Christ.

"Within one day of issuing an oral notice, the Dhaka South City Corporation evicted us from our church and homes. Now we cannot conduct daily and Sunday liturgies. It is very painful for me as a pastor," said Rev Das, 83, pastor of the Golgotha Baptist Church, speaking to AsiaNews.

Between 1836 and 1850, 40 Telugu families were brought by British colonial authorities from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh to Dhaka to work as sanitation workers. Even today, most of them do this kind of work.

Wiping away tears, Rev Das said that this was the third time the Telugu community of Dholpur was removed.

“In 1990, the government allocated land here for us but now they are telling us to go. It is totally unjust. Our people earn very little; how will they manage to find another home?”

“The government brought us here,” the clergyman added, and “now we are citizens of this country. We have the right to live with dignity. We want the government to give us a place to live in peace.”

Living conditions for the Telugu community are inhumane, AsiaNews found. Water, gas and electricity have been cut, and sewage is everywhere.

The Golgotha Baptist Church and Jordan Church of Christ have already been torn down. Some 25 Telugu Catholic families also live in Dholpur, but they do not have their own church, and attend instead a neighbouring parish church in Laxmibazar, about 3 kilometres away.

“We live in inhuman conditions, without electricity, cooking gas and drinking water. Children and the elderly are the most affected; how are we going to live?" wonders Niromola Malleti, 51, a mother of two.

The Dhaka South City Corporation began implementing its removal order of “illegal” buildings  on 12 February. Since then, representatives of several human rights groups have visited the victims, calling on the authorities to stop the evictions.

“It is an injustice to send you away without offering an alternative place,” said Nirmol Rozario, chairman of the Bangladesh Christian Association (BCA), addressing the residents.

“We call on Mayor Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to take care of the Telugu community, so that it has a chance to live in a dignified manner. The Telugu cannot get houses for rent because they are sanitation workers,” Mr Rozario, a Catholic, explained.

“On the occasion of the centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman,[*] the Government of Bangladesh provided 70,000 homes to landless and homeless people. But now it is evacuating people from the Telugu community. This is an unacceptable double standard.”

Reacting to the criticism, the mayor of South Dhaka promised action.

[*] Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (1920-1975), known as Bangabandhu (Friend of Bengal), is the founding father of Bangladesh.

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