Prevalence of caste-based discrimination, untouchability continues despite laws criminalising it

Kathmandu: With the aim of settling down, a Dalit Pudke Okheda built a house on his plot at Syaldhunga of Bithadchir Rural Municipality in Bajhang. He bought the land 25 years ago. But in a case of caste-based discrimination, non-Dalits dismantled his house when it was being constructed calling him a man from a so-called lower caste. On 26 July, 2023, a group of around 40 people who called themselves being from the so-called upper caste pulled down his house saying why you (a Dalit) constructed a house near ours (non-Dalits), he shared recalling the incident. They went a step further in an inhuman incident manhandling the Okheda family and destroying crops they had grown. “The land in which I built the house is registered in my name. T

he people calling themselves being from the so-called upper caste destroyed my house, crops, and scolded us.” On 13 March, 2023, Saraswati Khadka of Gauriganga Municipality-7 in Kailali district and Suresh Bishwokarma of Godavari Municipality-9 got married. Theirs was an inter-caste marriage. However, their case landed in Kathmandu-based Gaushala Police Circle. A police official from the police office has been accused of mistreating Khadka, saying- ‘is it not a shame for you (Khadka) to marry a man from a lower caste being a girl from Khadka caste’.

This incident has led the couple to be in mental stress while Suresh’s mother and brother in Kailali district are facing a threat. In an incident connecting to a love affair between Mukunda Nepali, a Dalit, and Basanti Giri, on 30 June, 2023, the house of Nepali was torched at Gidikhola of Tatopani Rural Municipality-4 in Jumla district. The family of Basanti has been accused of resorting to the arson. A love affair between the couple (one from the so called lower caste, another from the so called higher caste) is said to be the cause behind the arson. As a result, not only the Nepali family other 28 Dalit households in the village have been a terrified lot. These are incidents of caste-based discrimination and untouchability just in point.

Caste-based discrimination and untouchability are taking place rampantly despite the Constitution protecting and promoting social and cultural solidarity, tolerance and harmony, and unity in diversity by recognising the multiethnic, multilingual, multi-religious, multicultural and diverse regional characteristics, resolving to build an egalitarian society founded on the proportional inclusive and participatory principles in order to ensure economic equality, prosperity and social justice by eliminating discrimination based on class, caste, region, language, religion and gender, and all forms of caste-based untouchability.

The country has established the federal democratic republic on the back of various political movements aiming to pursue economic development while building a society based on social justice. But there is still the prevalence of caste-based discrimination and untouchability. Caste-based discrimination and untouchability cannot come to an end until economic and social status of Dalits is improved, viewed political analyst and writer Bishwo Bhakta Dulal ‘Aahuti’. There is a need for addressing economic, social, cultural and political problems facing the community, he said. According to Article 24 of Part 3 of the Constitution, right to against untouchability and discrimination (1), no person shall be subject to any form of untouchability or discrimination in any private and public places on grounds of his or her origin, caste, tribe, community, profession, occupation or physical condition.

Likewise, Article 24 (3) says no act purporting to demonstrate any person or community as superior or inferior on grounds of origin, (17) caste, tribe or physical condition or justifying social discrimination on grounds of caste, ethnicity or untouchability or propagating ideology based on untouchability and caste-based superiority or hatred or encouraging caste-based discrimination in any manner whatsoever shall be allowed. It has been 12 years since the Caste-based Discrimination and Untouchability (Offence and Punishment) Act, 2068 was issued. But there is a lack implementation of the laws, said rights experts. It is unfortunate that the Dalit community has to suffer inhumane treatment due to caste-based discrimination and untouchability even in today’s 21st century, said Bindi Pariyar, chairperson of the Association for Dalit Women’s Advancement of Nepal (ADWAN). Many Dalit people who have become victims of caste-based discrimination and untouchability have yet to get justice. Some of them for instance are Manbire Sunar (Kalikot), Shiva Shankar Das (Saptari), SeteDamai (Dailekh), Jhuma BK (Taplejung), SangitaPariyar (Tanahun), Rajesh Nepali (Parbat), Asmita Sarki (Jhapa), Laxmi Pariyar (Kavre), Ajit Mijar (Kavre), Shreya Sunar (Kaski), Mana Sarki (Kalikot), Rupmati Kumari Das (Morang), Ditiya Reshma Rasaili (Dhanusha), Maya BK (Kailali), Tikaram Nepali (Rukum), Angira Pasi (Rupandehi) and Nawaraj BK (Jajarkot), all of them fell victim to caste-based discrimination and untouchability. Ajit Mijar of Panchkhal in Kavre was killed in 2073 BS due to inter-caste marriage. On 9 July, 2016, Mijar got love-married with a girl from Parajuli caste near his house. Due to extreme pressure from the girl side, their marriage collapsed within two days.

On 13 July, 2016, he went out of contact. The following day, he was found hanging in a forest of Parewatar, Dhading. His body has been still kept in the Teaching Hospital, Maharajgunj waiting for justice. In the context when the bureaucracy has expressed ignorance about the act relating to caste-based discrimination and untouchability, CPN (Maoist Centre) politburo member Parshuram Ramtel has called for the state to effectively implement laws. According to the Act, committing the crime of caste-based discrimination and untouchability is subject to the imprisonment of between three months and three years, and Rs 50,000 to Rs 200,000 in fine. Additionally, the victim gets up to Rs 200,000 in compensation. In a bid to control caste-based discrimination and untouchability, Maoist Centre leader Ganesh BK suggested that equal participation of Dalits in law enforcement agencies and decision making level should be ensured.

According to Article 40 (1) of the constitution, the Dalit shall have the right to participate in all bodies of the State on the basis of the principle of proportional inclusion. Similarly, Article 42 (1) stipulates that the economically, socially or educationally backward women, Dalit, indigenous nationalities, Madhesi, Tharu, Muslims, backward classes, minorities, marginalised communities, persons with disabilities, gender and sexual minorities, farmers, labourers, oppressed or citizens of backward regions and indigent Khas Arya shall have the right to participate in the State bodies on the basis of principle of proportional inclusion. But this has yet to reflect in practice.

A total of 16 people from the Dalit community were elected into the House of Representatives through the recently held elections (15 elected under the proportional representation system, and one under the first-past-the-post system). The figure is just 5.81 percent. The Dalit community has had a significant contribution to bringing changes in the country, be it during the political movements in 2007 BS and 2046 BS, the decade-long Maoist insurgency, the 1062/63 BS people’s movements. All of these political movements concluded with the promise of ending caste-based discrimination and untouchability. But these promises have remained only on paper, said rights experts.

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