I travelled Char Mantaj, the last southern island of Rangabali Upazila of Patuakhali district on 27 September 2022 to conduct climate and disaster vulnerability and readiness assessment with CPE team. The story has been developed from the observation of the study sideline.
I see that women with their children are living in boats, somebody cooks food on there at Char Mantaj, the last southern island of Bangladesh. They are `Manta’ folks who spend their whole lives in boats. I knew little about them. I read some articles about them. After returning to Dhaka from Char Montaj, I searched for the articles on the `Manta’ community. Approximately 500 plus families are in `Manta’ community in Patuakhali district, these articles say. `Manta families’ float around the rivers of Char Mantaj. They are also found in the southern rivers, char and estuaries, particularly in Panpotty, Golachipa, Kalaiya, Boga, Bodnatali, Ulania, Patuakhali Sadar region. We also found such a family near the Goinkhali Launch Ghat of Rangabali during our journey from Char Momodarbunia Sluice Gate to Char Mantaj by launch.
Manta is a heterogeneous population community who are born on boats, living in a floating boat and also die on boats. Their lives move at the rhythm of tides and ebbs. Many of the Manta community do not know where their ancestral home was, or was not! These people are almost isolated from modern civilization. Most of the community has a citizenship identity crisis. The children of the community reaching the age of six-seven-eight go fishing with their male family members in order to earn living expenses. As a result, they are deprived of literacy. Due to lack of education, they have to be deprived and humiliated at every step of life; the next generation is following the trends.
Pregnant women of Manta give birth on boats and they grow up in an unsanitary, dirty environment. So, they, particularly the children, suffer from various malnutrition and unhinged diseases. They hardly go to hospital for their treatment. After the death of the people of this community, the bodies are floated in the river or buried on the riverside banks.
Founding the shelter homes for landless people on the riverbank, provided by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during `Mujib Year’, a hostile thought was created in my mind. We thought, “Establishing a shelter home just on the river bank is completely irresponsible activity of government administration and local government institutions. They have put these poor people in danger by establishing shelter homes just adjacent to the river.” But when I read the news of the rehabilitation of 31 Manta families in these shelter homes, my mistake was broken. The Manta communities have been living in water for the last 30 years. They didn’t have any permanent addresses. homes had given them shelter and a citizenship identity. After 30 years, they have got their permanent address and enlisted on the voter list. As a result, they have come up within the social safety net of the government, including food.
Jago Nari, a local NGO, has already opened a boat school for the storm-hit children of this community and children of `Manta Community’ have started their education in the boat school. Hope, the shelter home and schooling of Manta Community will change their lifestyle and connect their lives and livelihoods with mainstream country people.