Today while expressing good wishes and happiness on the day of the announcement of the end of caste based untouchability in Nepal we have a pathetic situation where five people have lost their lives due to persistence of so-called untouchability. This day which is limited to declarations only has not been able to end the ingrained caste mentality and there is still a lot to be done.
The Dalit community has been celebrating this day as a historic achievement of their rights movement. Rallies and conventions are organized on this day. Happiness is celebrated. In a sense, it is a day of liberation from the historical shackles of untouchability. But like any other Nepali who are forced to celebrate the republic day in Nepal with a heavy heart, today the Dalits are also forced to celebrate this day unhappily.
Earlier this year the Dalit community felt that the significance of the day is just limited to the declaration. The Dalit community is appalled by the killing of the five people including Nawaraj BK of Jajarkot Bheri Municipality-4, Ranagaun, in Rukum West Chaurajahari Municipality-8 by beating of the villagers on Saturday night of 23 May. Nawaraj BK and his friends were killed when they were attacked by mobs from the village with stones and weapons accusing them of inter-caste marriage. There have been more than two dozen incidents of untouchability cases during the lockdown period. In such a situation it is but natural to question the significance and justification of this day.
The social thinking of caste based discrimination between a Dalit and non-Dalit is deep rooted and institutionalised. Institutionalisation of caste based discrimination, untouchability, exclusion, violence and humiliation, historically created by the ruling class, have always been used by the upper castes as a weapon of social control and repression against the Dalits. It has also shown that the state will protect this weapon of the ruling class and that the same class will be always favoured by those who come to power, and the marginalised community like Dalits will always be forced to live on the sidelines and victims of discrimination.
Although the long struggle of the Dalit movement has succeeded in addressing a number of issues politically, no Dalit has been able to experience these changes in real life due to the lack of change in the character of the state power. There has been organized struggle and movement for the emancipation and justice for Dalits since very long time in Nepal’s social and political history. But the Dalit movement which was longer and stronger Nepal’s political movement history, it has now become the weakest.
Dalit associations, organizations, civil society and human rights activists have been agitating for justice, equality and human rights. The Dalit movement, which has been seeking the emancipation of the Dalit community along with the political change has raised the question of who the political change is for, even after thirteen years of the establishment of the Federal Democratic Republic in Nepal.
It has been almost fifty-seven years since untouchability became a punishable crime in Nepal under the Civil Act 1963 for ending caste based untouchability and discrimination and upholding justice. Nepal has become a party to various conventions on human rights, including the Convention Against Racial Discrimination and Untouchability. The National Criminal Code 2017 and the Untouchability and Discrimination (Fault and Punishment) Act 2011 have also been formulated. In the preamble of the Constitution of Nepal 2015 it has been mentioned that case based discrimination will be done elsewhere. Article 24 puts an end to untouchability. Article 40 has safeguarded the basic rights of Dalits. But there has been a lack of its effective implementation. In honour of the Dalit community and the Dalit liberation movement the parliament declared Nepal as an untouchability-free nation on June 6, 2008. But in reality the declaration has not been able to be translated into action.
Why did it happen like this? Why did the constitutional provisions and the Dalit laws could not translate into action? Why is caste based violence still rampant in a country where the leftist party which opposes untouchability has won the election with more than two-thirds of the votes? Why has this issue, which has been raised as a slogan by political philosophy and political organizations could not bring about real change in behaviours among them, within the party and among the voters? This is something which needs some soul searching. What would have happened if the political parties with millions of members were protesting against untouchability in the parliament or in the streets? Or if only they had zero tolerance to untouchability? What is ironic is that despite the fact the issue of untouchability is included by the political parties in their manifestos, their leaders and cadres have not been able to abandon the traditional mentality about untouchability. The political parties and their leaders have not walked the talk.
The main objective of the declaration was to liberate the Dalit community by dismantling the traditional forms of caste based discrimination and untouchability.
There has been a repeated competition of the succeeding prime ministers in Nepal to declare liberation of the country from untouchability for political popularity. Constitution and laws were formulated safeguarding that from now onwards Dalits will not be allowed to be untouchable, discriminated against caste and if they do it will be a crime. The purpose of the declaration was to end poverty, develop and expand equal opportunities and access to employment, education and health for Dalits. It was to establish a democratic republic state where people received the benefits of modern democratic governance that guaranteed human rights, freedom, equality, rule of law, developing inclusive, equal opportunities without discrimination.
Today fourteen years after the declaration of an untouchability-free nation and thirteen years after the establishment of the Federal Democratic Republic the Dalit community has not experienced much desired change from the past. Dalits continue to be subject to caste based discrimination. Due to which beatings, insults, rapes and even regular killings of Dalits continue to take place.
Caste based discrimination of Dalit continues as the laws and commitments made to discontinue them are not implemented effectively. Dalits have not been able to enjoy their basic rights provided by the constitution and have not been able to live their lives freely. There has been no democratic transformations in the social, political and economic rights of the Dalits as provided by the constitution and for them to benefit from the dividends of the republic of Nepal.
When the advertisements for public service employment opportunities are published Dalits are provided not provided quotas, though the constitution provides for inclusion in public service employments. Due to this there is low participation of Dalits in government services. Politically also Dalits do not get easily get leaderships in any organizations or political parties due to which the leaderships, ideas and existence of Dalits are not easily accepted. Dalits never get a chance for being trained or groomed for political and other leadership. They still continue to be marginalised from the mainstream.
The state does not formulate and implement necessary and effective policies and programs for the development and change of the Dalit community. The same old mentality is maintained in the organs of the state. As a result, when there is violence against the Dalit community, first of all, the case is not registered. Even if the case is registered the investigation will be influenced by the upper caste or dominant caste.
Dalits are deceived in the justice process. On the one hand, the educational and economic conditions of Dalits are weak. On the other hand, the dominance of the ruling caste and class in the judicial process is still there so Dalits do not get justice. Dalits have not received justice in dozens of cases of caste based discriminations since the formation of republic of Nepal. This is evidenced by the role of police and local leaders in the recent Jajarkot incident. Dozens of incidents including that of Ajit Mijar and Laxmi Pariyar have to-date received justice.
The government has set up a mechanism on caste untouchability and discrimination in the prime minister’s office under the coordination of a chief secretary. But it has not been able to implement and operate it. The Dalit cell set up in the police could not be activated and expanded due to which the government’s indifference towards caste based untouchability can be seen.
The government established the National Dalit Commission, Dalit Development Committee and Badi Development Board, but the effectiveness and activism have not increased due to lack of adequate resources and rights. At present, those mechanisms and structures are without officials and lack resources.
Even now the problem of Dalits is not owned by non-Dalits or taken as a social problem in modern Nepali society. This Dalit problem is only for the Dalits, only Dalits have to fight and struggle for liberation and justice. The government, other social movements, human rights activists and the media do not want to take ownership of the Dalit movement. The issues of caste untouchability of Dalits is not registered. Even if registered the police do it reluctantly. Exertion of political, upper caste, social, class and power pressures to destroy the evidences of caste based discrimination crimes, delayed cooperations from local authorities and police denies justice to the Dalit victims.
No matter how many Dalit cases reach the court, they are stuck in the drawer of the judge and the victims do not get justice. The incident happens due to the continuation of caste based discrimination of the Dalits. The justice to Dalit victims are weakened and denied on the basis political party, caste and class affiliations. The political parties have abolition of untouchability in their manifesto and talk untiringly in their speeches but has failed to walk the talk.
Nepal’s constitution envisions a socialist Nepal. Although there is still a debate on what kind of socialism should be in the system of government, almost everyone has accepted socialism. The ruling party has said that it will lay the foundation for socialist revolution. But what is the way to it? By being able to find answer to this question it will shed light on the reality of Nepal as an untouchable free nation.
If the problem of Dalits is only for Dalits will there be social justice in Nepal? Continuation of the suffering of a Dalit due to untouchability and subsequently of the Dalit community will help us to built a society we seek? Will the dream of a prosperous Nepal come true when a certain caste group like Dalit are in poverty and deprived at all levels of the state of services and opportunities, and the orthodox mentality is maintained in the structures and levels of the state? What are we looking for in socialism and prosperity? Who are we trying to call happy Nepalis? If we are trying to reach socialism through the slogan of happy Nepali, prosperous Nepal, is it possible by putting a large section of the society in constant state of fear and violence?
So the biggest thing is that everyone should realize that this Dalit problem does not belong to any particular caste or class. Political parties in particular need to be clear on this issue. Political parties should start the campaign of untouchability from within themselves. If only one million party workers are committed to this campaign, Ajit Mijar or Nabaraj will not have to die. Another thing is that the state should build a Dalit-oriented, victim-oriented justice administration. Attitudes towards Dalits should change from bureaucracy to security. Accordingly, the state needs to move the program forward.
This is not possible if we do not take it forward as a political campaign and dream of freedom from untouchability only on the basis of the declarations in the book. It will not stop the killings. The problem of Dalits is not only the problem of Dalits. It is a common social and political problem that hinders happy Nepalis and prosperous Nepal. It is important to realize this. It is necessary to make the monopolistic state structure and dividends of the republic in all judicial, civil and administrative sectors democratic and inclusive.
Congratulations to all on the occasion of Untouchability Free Nation Day!
Original article published in Nepali, available online at