How the already-marginalized Dalit community is marginalized in Nepali politics

The representation of the Dalit Community, which accounts for almost 15 percent of the country’s population, in the parliament is expected to fall as only a few Dalit candidates got tickets from major political parties for the upcoming polls.


Laxman Darnal

  • Read Time 5 min.

Dalit’s participation in politics actually goes back to the Panchayat system. The Panchayat regime, in a bid to influence the community, even appointed Dalits as ministers and parliamentarians. 

In 1959, king Mahendra nominated Saharsanath Kapali to the Upper House. Then in 1962, he nominated Dhanman Singh Pariyar in the National Panchayat. The Rastriya Panchayat had six members representing the Dalit community.

In 1974, king Birendra appointed Hira Lal Bishwakarma as Assistant Minister of Supply, making him the first Dalit minister of Nepal. In 1984, he became Minister of State.

Since then, members from the Dalit community have, regularly, become ministers and parliamentarians. Post 1990, after the abolition of the Panchayat regime, the number of Dalit ministers and parliamentarians continued to increase. Their participation significantly increased after the decade-long armed conflict and people’s movement in 2006.

Our constitution has a mandatory provision that 13 percent seats under proportional representation for the House of Representatives should be represented by the Dalit community. These achievements are the results of long and sustained Dalit movement in Nepal.

Dalits’ representation in the state agencies has further improved after adoption of the federal structure. Dalits are represented in all three spheres of the government–local, provincial and federal. But compared to their population size, their representation is still low.

Dalits in local polls

Nepal held elections in 751 local levels on May 13. The Local Level Election Act (2017) has made it mandatory that of the two members elected in each ward, one must be a Dalit woman. As a result, a total of 6,620 Dalit women were elected as ward members in the local level elections.

The constitution also has a provision that political parties must field a women candidate either for the post of mayor or deputy mayor in the local level elections. This provision has helped a few Dalit women get elected as deputy mayors. However, apart from the reserved seats, the participation of Dalits, Dalit women and women is still low. And the government has not prioritized the representation of Dalit community based on merit or contribution. In most cases, Dalits are in state mechanisms just because of the mandatory constitutional provisions.

Dalit community in local units

 As the table shows, only three members from the Dalit community were elected as mayors–all of them male. Dine Dalits were elected as deputy mayors–five of them female. Similarly, nine chairs were elected in rural municipalities but all male. All of the seven deputy chairs, however, are female.

Compared to 2017 local elections, the number of elected Dalit deputy mayors and deputy chairs has seen a significant rise, thanks to the mandatory provision ensured by the constitution.

Source: Election Commission Nepal, Dalit Women Association

In District Coordination Committees, four Dalits have been elected as chiefs, while five Dalit women have been elected as deputy chiefs.

In Province 1, out of 137 local units, one has an elected Dalit mayor. Likewise, the province has one Dalit deputy mayor, and seven Dalit ward chairs. Of the 14 districts in the province, there are two Dalits as chiefs and deputy chiefs in district coordination committees.

In the Madhesh Province too, only one Dalit has been elected as mayor, and one as deputy mayor. The province has 136 local units. The local units in the province have 21 ward chairs from the Dalit community. And only district coordination committee has Dalit deputy chiefs.

The Bagmati Province, which has total of 119 local units, has no Dalit mayor. It has two Dalit deputy mayors and one vice chair. A total of nine members from the community won the election for the post of ward chair. And in the district coordination committees, there is only one Dalit as a deputy chief.

Dalit women as wards members from political parties

Gandaki Province has a total of 85 local units–where only two Dalits have been elected as mayor and chair. The number of deputy mayors and deputy chairs in the local units of the province stands at four–three of them women. Likewise, there are 14 Dalit ward chairs. The province, which has 14 districts, just has two chiefs and one deputy chief in district coordination committees.

In the Lumbini Province, two local units have Dalit mayors, and three have Dalit deputy mayors. The province has 109 local units. A total of 27 Dalits won the election for ward chair. And in the 12 district coordination committees, there are just two deputy chiefs from the Dalit community.

Karnali Province, which has 71 local units, has one rural municipality chair and two deputy mayors from the Dalit community, followed by 45 Dalit ward chairs.

The Sudur Paschim Province, which has 88 local units, has one rural municipality chair from the Dalit community, with 27 Dalit ward chairs. Of the nine districts, two have Dalit deputy chiefs in district coordination committees.

In terms of representation by political parties, Nepali Congress has the most Dalit women as ward members–a total of 2,553, followed by 2,293 from the CPN (UML), 976 from CPN (Maoist Center), 296 from Janata Samajwadi Party, 180 from CPN (Unified Socialist), 113 from Loktantrik Samajwadi Party, and 54 from the Rastriya Prajatantra Party. Total of 55 Dalits won elections as independent candidates.

Looking at the results of local level elections, the representation of the Dalit community is extremely low.  Even this low representation, it seems, is by virtue of mandatory constitutional provision for the political parties to nominate members from the Dalit community. For example, Dalit community has just one percent representation in the top posts of mayors and chairs.

In the 2017 local elections, six Dalits were elected as mayors, and 11 as deputy mayors. And in rural municipalities, one Dalit was elected as a chair and 16 as deputy chairs. There were 197 Dalit ward chairs in 6,743 wards with 797 Dalits as ward members. Compared to 2017 local elections, the representation of Dalits in top posts has declined.

What now? 

Given this scenario and what is happening now, it seems the situation will be no different after the upcoming federal parliament and provincial assembly elections either. The constitution has already ensured 13 percent representation of Dalits in the proportional representation seats. But, in the first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system, the Dalit community will not even have two percent representation, for the major political parties have not recommended Dalit candidates in FPTP posts.

The Nepali Congress, the grand old democratic party of Nepal, did not recommend any Dalit for the House of Representatives and provincial assembly polls under the FPTP category. Likewise, Loktantrik Samajwadi Party and Janata Samajwadi Party also have not fielded Dalit candidates.

While the CPN (UML) has one Dalit candidate for HoR and four for provincial assemblies, CPN (Maoist Center) has two dalit candidates for HoR and four for provincial assembly elections, followed by two dalit candidates for HoR by CPN (Unified Socialist) under FPTP electoral system.

Even if all of these candidates win, the Dalit community will have just two percent representation in HoR and of the total 550 seats in provincial assemblies, Dalits will have only three percent representation even if all of the 10 candidates win.

Article 40 (1) of the Constitution states that the Dalits shall have the right to participate in all bodies of the state on the basis of the principle of proportional inclusion. “Special provision shall be made by law for empowerment, representation and participation of the Dalit community in public services as well as other sectors of employment,” says the constitution.

But that sounds like a mere promise if you consider how the political parties are picking Dalits as candidates for the sake of it and the low representation they have at the local bodies.

This story has been prepared under the fellowship program of ICDR International.