A Cup of Tea
(A personal story from the Bangladesh tour)
By Afif Hossain
It’s a lovely sunny day. The temperature is almost like Danish summer, yet it’s just a regular winter day in Shaghata. A small and a bit isolated place in green rural Bangladesh. Today, we are visiting Bonarpara station to visit a small group of women on a local three-wheeler vehicle called “auto”. Natalia, Katrine, me from Bandhab, and some colleagues from our partner organization are following us. This is Natalia and Katrine’s first visit to Bangladesh. They barely know the country or where we are going, but they seem to be very excited. I have visited Bonarpara before. It is a small and quiet railway station. We will meet a group of women who live just beside the station.
Four years back, in 2018, I was sent from Bandhab, Denmark, for a field visit in Bangladesh, also to search for a new area and target group to work with. In that quest on a similar foggy winter morning, I reached this station. I was informed there was a Dalit community or low caste Hindus, also known as the “untouchables”. The Dalit community was my destination. The word Dalit literally means “deprived”. Dalits were brought from different parts of the subcontinent and assigned manual cleaning jobs in British ruled India. Dalits face discrimination in every sphere of life, including schools, workplaces, and hospitals. They are not allowed in restaurants or in regular salons. They are not even allowed to enter Hindu temples to worship. 100% of boys and girls in these communities are victims of child marriage, and very few receive primary schooling. Lack of education, stuck with ancestral jobs, low income, superstitions, malnutrition, poor hygiene, and strong patriarchy have paralyzed these communities for over a century now.
That day in Bonarpara, I saw maybe a 12 or 13 year old Dalit girl standing in the corner with two kids handing on her weak malnourished body. My local guide told me they were her kids. One Dalit woman hesitantly asked me if I would like to have a cup of tea. She said, “ no one takes tea from our hands”. I drank the tea and told her I would try to get some help once I return to Denmark. She replied, “we don’t need your help, just drop by someday for a cup of tea, we would be happy if you do so, because no one comes to visit us”. I left that day with a heavy heart.
After four years, I am back with our volunteers from Denmark to visit them and to have a cup of tea. Now, with CISU’s funding, our members’ and volunteers’ support, we will be working with the women in this community, including thirty other groups in nearby areas consisting of a total of 750 marginalized women. We, with our local partner organization Udayan, hope to support them by providing training on income-generating activities, building awareness about their rights, self savings programs, creating networks with local government and integrating with adjacent communities and much more. They gave us a warm welcome this time. They were wearing colourful dresses and were in a festive mood. They said, “this is the first time ever a foreigner came to visit us.” There were hugs and laughter. We were touched by their hospitality. Katrine and Natalia had happy tears on our way back. I couldn’t hide mine either. We didn’t talk much on the way, but we all knew our work had just begun.