Whilst we are dedicated to the development of all indigenous people within Sylhet Division, we primarily work with Manipuri, Khasi, Patro, tea labor and other small minority communities who are living under the poverty line.Our long-term aim is to work for all indigenous people, and we hope to expand our projects to achieve this in the future.
Expedited by the conflict between Manipur and Myanmar in the 18th century, many Manipuri fled their homeland of India and resettled in the northeastern corner of Bangladesh, known today as Sylhet.
To this day, the Manipuri community remains linguistically, culturally and religiously isolated from mainstream Bangladeshi society as they attempt to preserve their traditional Hindu lifestyle.As an ethnic minority group, Manipuri people experience a variety of problems. They, like most other marginalized groups, are discriminated from development activities of the government and NGOs. Agriculture is the primary source of income for Manipuri families, and thus they are heavily dependent on land, which in itself is a source of problems such as land grabbing, encroachment and illegal settlements. Despite the integration of many Manipuri people into mainstream society, and the fact that they are physically located in comparatively developed areas, economic hardship remains a pressing problem, and Manipuri children find it difficult to receive mainstream education due to distinct linguistic and cultural practices.
Our projects, with support from donor agencies, have helped establish income-generating activities, introduce reforms to primary education for Manipuri children and improved health in many Manipuri villages.
The Khasis are one of the countryâ€™s largest, and most remote, indigenous groups, who have inhabited the hilly areas of northeastern Bangladesh for centuries. They coexist with their surrounding environment, and depend on the land, particularly the forest, for their survival and livelihood; agriculture is their primary source of income. Unlike other indigenous groups, Khasi communities have a matriarchal system, and adhere to Christian religion.
In the 1970s, the Bangladesh government introduced a land tax, which forced the Khasis to pay for the land they had inhabited for years. Despite paying an annual land tax to the government, the Khasi people have yet to be granted a permanent lease. Instead, they are offered short-term leases, which are renewed on a continual basis. There are few cases of land ownership amongst Khasi people, but those who own land lack the proper title documents, and are therefore subject to exploitation.
The common issue facing Khasis is the grabbing of their ancestral land. As they lack legal ownership of the land, they are often forcefully evicted through violent coercion, and fall victim to influential and/or powerful people. Loss of land due to deforestation, tourism development and infrastructure is also another root of sufferance for Khasi people.
We work closely with Khasi people to protect their lands by providing crucial support with the government lease application process, and offering training workshops to help maintain and update important land title documents to ensure their legality.
Tea labor communities
The tea estates of Sylhet, which were first developed in the mid 19th century during the British Raj, gave rise to an influx of migrant workers from India. Today, nearly 300,000 workers, of which 75% are females, work as tea-pickers in these tea estates, and form one of the largest marginalized groups in Bangladesh: the tea labor communities.
Perhaps one of the most vulnerable groups in Bangladesh, the tea labor communities are largely deprived of their rights, and characterized by low wages, poor living conditions, limited access to clean water, poor sanitation, lack of land rights, social exclusion and are disconnected from mainstream society. Tea laborers are often confined to the tea estate they live and work in, and this physical isolation and segregation from mainstream society means that their issues are largely ignored by government, mainstream development activities, and NGO projects. Despite the need, there is very little intervention in these communities, primarily because of the restrictions imposed by both government and private tea estate owners.
Health and education are major concerns for the tea labor communities. They have a much lower literacy rate than most other marginalized groups, and due to their confinements, have very limited access to health and medical services. Our intervention efforts with tea labor communities have focused on improving both health and education through the provision of education materials and HIV awareness workshops. Climate Change training.