Dalit Community is not a caste or a group of castes, but a group of population marginalised to the extreme by partly religious sanctions and partly by social and economic deprivations. The Dalit literally means deprived. The Dalits are socially and economically deprived and forced to work under abominable conditions at the lowest return of their labour. The term 'Dalit' is academically applied to all low castes marginalised and discriminated. There are two types of Dalit ethnic groups in Bangladesh: Bangali Dalit and Non-Bangali Dalit. About 3.5 millions of Dalit live in Bangladesh. Of them, the untouchable sections of Bengali speaking people are called 'Bengali Dalit' or 'Bangalee Dalit'. Workwise, they include: Charmokar (Cobbler), Malakar (Garland maker), Kumar (Potter), Kai Putro, Koi-borto (fishers) Kolu, Kol, Kahar, Khourokar, Nikari or trader, Bauli, Bhagobania, Manata, Malo (Fishermen), Maual (Honey collector), Mahato, Rajo Das, Rajbongshi, rana Karmokar, Roy, Shobdokar, Shobor, Sannasi, Hazra etc. These communities are divided into various groups. Although Islam does not allow discrimination many of them are remained underprivileged, for example: Jola (Weavers), Hajam (Circumcisers), Bede (Gypsy) and Bawali (Honey and fire wood collector) etc.
The non-Bengali Dalit groups who generally speak in Hindi, Utkal, Deshwali and Telegu migrated or brought in to East Bengal before 1947 from Uttar Pradesh (UP), Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Orissa, and Madras. They worked as cleaners, tea gardeners (1853-54), jungles cleaners, and other cleaning jobs in the middle of the British Rule (1838-1850).
The leading Dalit groups in Bangladesh are as follows:
Rishis are found mainly in North Bengal and their exact number is uncertain. They live mainly in Shimulia of Jhikorgacha, Monirumpur, Keshobpur under Jessore; Tala, Kashimnagar, Ashashuni under Shatkhira; Mollarhat, Fakirhat under Bagerhat; Kaligaonj under Jhenaidah, Jaipurhat, and almost every upazilas under Manikganj. The Rishis identify themselves as Hindus. But many of them have yielded to Christian missionaries and embraced Christianity. The nature of their jobs relate to raw materials like leather, canes and bamboos. Their native language, 'Thar', is more or less extinct by now.
Kaiputro' raise pigs, popularly known as 'Kaora'. They are deemed to be a sub-caste of Rishis. They live mainly in Khulna, Jessore, Gopalgonj, Gazipur, Dinajpur, Lalmonirhat areas where boars have demand and a plenty of grazing lands are available. Most of them are Hindus.
Kumars known as Kumvhokar, Pal or Rudropal, are generally engaged in pottery. They make and sell various kinds of earthen household pots and appliances. There are eighty thousand Pal families in Bangladesh. They are Hindus of lower castes.
Kamars make and sell metal products to meet up household and agricultural needs like Nirani, Shabol, Kural, plough-plate, scissor, Da and Boti. Some blacksmiths also make the items with bell-metal and brass; they are called 'Bosak' and 'Karmokar'. Although, in the past, only the Hindus held the profession, now many Muslims also have entered the job.
Kolus are oil pressers operating 'Ghani', a traditional oil-mill made of heavy tree-trunk. The traditional kolus are now turning to alternative professions due to introduction of new technology for extracting oil from seeds. Kolus belong to both Hindu and Muslim religions. The Hindu kolu is called 'Teli'.'
Jele or fishermen are the oldest professional group still active in significant number. The fishermen are called Koibortos in general. Their particular caste groups are Malo, Rajbongshai, Jaladas. The Muslim fishermen by profession are called Nikari.
Sabor lives on hunting. They live mainly in the tea gardens of Moulovibazar under Sylhet division. Many families belonging to Sabor community have settled in the tea gardens of Alinagar, Shamsernagar, Bharaura.
Shabdokars live on singing. They are a kind of beggars. They sing at a home and expect alms. Most of live in Moulovibazar district. Shabdakars are Hindus and sing at Shib Puja and Chorok Puja etc. They have also deep regard in Muslim pirs and dargas. They are mostly landless.
Patni' community is ply boats in transporting people and goods over river regime. The patnis are traditional makers of fishing and household instruments like Chalun, Dol, Chai.'
Bhagobania is also familiar as Bhagomene and Bhagobene. They are expert on folk and traditional medicine. A few hundred families belong to this community live in Shatkhira, Khulna, Jessore, Kaliganj of Jhenaidah. They introduce themselves as the followers of Kartabhoja sect of Hindu religion. They make traditional medicine.'
Telugu' came from South India during British period. Telugu has several sub-communities like Mala, Magida, Chakali, Shacchari, Kapulu etc. They are locally known as Madrasi. Most of live in Dhaka and tea gardens of Sylhet, Ishardi, Pabna, Khushtia. It is estimated that 35 thousand Telegu live in Dhaka alone. Telugu people work in tea gardens introduce themselves as Almik. They are also known as Telenga in tea-gardens of Shamsernagar, Ita, Karimpur, Langala. The Telugu is most Muslims and Hindus, though they were almost entirely Hindus during British period.
Kanpuri migrated to Bangladesh from Alahabad, Nagpur and Kanpur of India during British period. They are divided into various groups: Hela, Muchi, Bashfori, Balmiki, Rabidas, Dom, Domar etc. They are engaged as cleaners in most of urban areas. The number of Kanpuri population is quite significant, about five lakhs. They introduce themselves as Horijon. They have an organisation named Horijon Oikko Parisad. [Banani Biswas]