When it comes to caste-based crimes, political parties tend to choose silence

Dalit

Nishan Khatiwada

  • Read Time 5 min.

Kathmandu: On May 23, 2020, 21-years-old Nawaraj BK from Jajarkot and his five friends were mercilessly beaten and killed. This all happened because a Dalit boy dared to love a Thakuri girl from Soti, Rukum. They had gone to Soti village to bring Nawaraj’s girlfriend home as his bride. Then, a mob of villagers chased them, beating them all along, up to the Bheri river, where they were killed. After the incident, social media was flooded with #DalitLivesMatter call and the public from different walks of life and the Dalit community came into the streets in outrage. 

While the painful memories of the Rukum incident are still fresh in our minds, incidents of glaring injustice are taking place including in Kathmandu, the country’s capital. 

On June 15, 2021, Rupa Sunar from Tanahun district, currently working as a mediaperson in Kathmandu, faced caste-baste discrimination as a homeowner in Babarmahal, Kathmandu refused to rent out her house because Rupa belonged to a Dalit community. Saraswati Pradhan, the homeowner, declined to let her apartment after knowing that Rupa Sunar was a Dalit. The case has now reached the Supreme Court after Sunar filed a writ petition against the alleged perpetrators of the caste-based discrimination. 

Sunar has also demanded the suspension of Krishna Gopal Shrestha from the post of Education Minister and punishment to him under the Caste-Based Discrimination and Untouchability (Offense and Punishment) Act, 2011. Shrestha had escorted Pradhan home in his vehicle from the police office where she was held after her arrest following Sunar’s complaint.

People from Dalit community, along with the community itself, continue to face persecution and caste-based discrimination though Nepal was declared an untouchability-free country on June 4, 2006, by the then Parliament. As many as 80 caste-based discrimination cases were reported in 2020. Moreover, 27 assaults and 18 murders of the people from Dalit community were reported last year. 

As things stand, caste-based discrimination is still a deep-rooted ill in the country. 

Ignored by all

Rupa Sunar’s case has reignited the discourse on Dalit issues. People belonging to Dalit communities are in outrage. But state actors do not seem to have taken this matter seriously. A minister of education openly stood in favor of the accused of perpetrating caste-based offense, yet there was no outrage in the cabinet, other ministers did not dare to question his conduct either. Prime Minister K P Oli reportedly told Shrestha (many days after the incident) that he (Shrestha) made a mistake. There has been no action on him, not even interrogation.

The apathy toward Dalit issues resonates in parliament as well.

Dalit-related issue rarely becomes the subject of discussion in the country’s parliament.  In the National Assembly meetings, only one member is found to have spoken about the matter.

This could be partly because Dalits have much lower representation in parliament. Dalit community makes up 13.8 percent of the total population, and according to the quota by ethnicity, their representation should be 13.8 percent in federal parliament. But in the House of Representatives, they make up around 7 percent, while in the National Assembly, the representation is around 11 percent. 

The political leaders of both the ruling and opposition parties are well aware of the caste-based discrimination prevailing in our society. Still, they are reluctant to make it the main agenda.

One of the reasons behind caste-based discrimination against Dalits is that Dalit issues are not getting adequate space in the political agendas and discourse, and political parties have not raised these issues with the top-most priority, according to Dalit rights activists. Politicians and their parties are in the dirty game of power struggle, lending deaf ears to the discrimination faced by Dalits, they argue. 

Rita Pariyar, a Dalit rights activist, said it is not a secret that prominent posts in Nepali politics and bureaucracy are dominated by Brahmin and Chhetri communities. Dalits are lagging culturally, socially, economically and politically for many years. “Politicians in power, if they have any hidden benefits, let the caste-based discrimination go as it is,” she said.  

The political leaders of both the ruling and opposition parties are well aware of the caste-based discrimination prevailing in our society. Still, they are reluctant to make it the main agenda, according to Rita Pariyar. “Dalit and caste-based discrimination issues have never been effectively made political issues. The political parties are reluctant to solve the problems prevailing in Nepali society. Dalits are only used as vote banks,” she said.

Activists say ignoring Dalit-related issues is a major drawback of our political culture. Even the voices of Dalit leaders are not heard by the main leadership. 

“If they mainstream Dalit issue as a political issue and if strict laws are made and they are effectively implemented, it can help root out injustice,” Rita Pariyar added.  

Then why does caste-based discrimination and crime keep happening? According to observers, it is because those legislations are not implemented. 

“Nepal’s political discourse is driven by so-called upper caste people. So, Dalits facing discrimination is not top-most priority for them. Power and position come first for them,” rejoined Pradip Pariyar, executive chairman of Samata Foundation, an organization that advocates for social justice, inclusiveness and rights of marginalized people. “Until and unless the main leadership makes this the main issue in their agenda, it will not bring positive changes, even if some Dalit leaders and other leaders raise their voices.”

Pradip Pariyar notes with concern that movements and protests of Dalit community against discrimination are failing to leave their marks at the expected level. “The young generation is also not questioning the discrimination existing in society,” he said.

He, however, believes that political parties can become change agents.  “Political parties have networks at the grassroots level, they can effectively change the perspectives of people at the grassroots, if they want,” he said.

Singha Bahadur Biswakarma, a National Assembly member, said Dalit-related issues are repeatedly raised but the voices fade away without leaving any serious impact. “The raised voices just get lost everytime we do so,” he said.

Biswakarma believes that caste-based discrimination should be a matter of serious and intense discussion among all political leaders. Dalit-related issues should be made the main political agendas of political leaders, especially the main leadership. 

“Then, whenever a leader raises such issues, they should be carried forward seriously to find out the solutions. That is not happening in our case,” he added. 

Laws for laws’ sake 

Dalit people in Nepal are still facing discrimination and untouchability still exists even after 15 years of the declaration, despite having several legislations in place to prohibit such practices. 

Caste Based Discrimination and Untouchability (Offence) Act-2011 and the Criminal Code, which came into effect in 2018, have provisions of punishment considering caste-based discrimination a punishable offense. 

Moreover, Article 24 (1) of the Constitution of Nepal states, “No person shall be subjected 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.”

Then why does caste-based discrimination and crime keep happening? According to observers, it is because those legislations are not implemented. 

Samikshya Baskota, a leader of Bibeksheel Sajha Party, said Dalit issues have got some, but few, political spaces. There has been a reservation system and the Constitution of Nepal has also termed caste-based discrimination as a criminal offense. “But we lack implementation as always,” she said.

According to her, big political parties don’t care about caste-basted discrimination in societies. “Whatever is in the laws, political parties should help in the effective implementation.” She argues that as they have stronger presence at the grassroots level, the big parties can make a difference by mobilizing their cadres for change. “If they mobilize their cadres to eradicate discrimination, it will speed up the process,” she said.

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