Laws aren't enough to end discriminationPrejudices surrounding race, religion and caste have to be shattered.
It is unfortunate that Nepali society, two decades into the 21st century, still clings on to discriminatory mindsets. The unequal treatment meted out to over half of the population is well recorded, for example; women continue to suffer from discriminatory citizenship laws. With political will, such inequality can be corrected. But what is harder to rectify is the discrimination and prejudice faced by certain sections, because this requires society itself to change. Chhaupadi is one such practice, where stricter laws haven’t made life much better for women in the far west. Racism is another. But for society to truly flourish, and Nepal to become prosperous, all sections of society have to be uplifted together. This is impossible unless the prejudices surrounding race, religion and caste are shattered.
Embarrassingly, casteism remains deeply entrenched and ever-pervasive, and laws built to eradicate such discriminatory behaviour have not been effective. The recent news report of Dalits in Banke being barred access to Mankhola Shiva Mandir on Shivaratri speaks volumes of the mindset of the people there. Unfortunately, this is the most recent of a string of incidents in recent years that prove how regressive society really is.
On paper, casteism ended in 1962 with the formulation of the Civil Code. The 2015 Constitution has continued to criminalise caste-based discrimination. Moreover, Article 40 provides clear added protections for Dalits—the major victims of caste-based discrimination in Nepal. One of the provisions of Article 40 is ‘the right to participate in all bodies of the State on the basis of the principle of proportional inclusion’ to right historical wrongs. It was in this spirit that local bodies throughout the country had elected many Dalit representatives. Yet, as cases from Province 5 showed, the newfound elective power was reduced to mere tokenism; many Dalit representatives in local bodies feel like they are being used to rubber-stamp policies that they had no hand in formulating.
In June 2018, Member of Parliament Kalu Devi Bishwokarma, who happens to be a Dalit, lamented in the House how difficult it had been for her to find accommodation in Kathmandu due to her caste. If Bishwokarma, a member of the federal Parliament, faced such discrimination in the country’s capital, one can only imagine the suffering that Dalits and other discriminated people have to endure. The severe physical abuse and social ostracisation that Dalits face are unacceptable in a civilised society. Only barbaric societies would deem it acceptable to promote discrimination against any race, caste or creed.
It is true that the constitution has attempted to right centuries of wrongs pertaining to inequity, even though major gaps and flaws in institutional upliftment persist. However, at the individual or societal level, casteism and discrimination have been allowed to remain completely unchecked. Unless there is a systematised and synchronised effort to eradicate prejudice on the legal, political and cultural fronts, sections of Nepalis will continue to suffer for no fault of their own. The change has to come from within, and soon; but a sustained push to educate the masses about the dangers of discrimination, by making the subject a core part of the syllabus in schools, would go a long way in rooting this evil out of society in the future.
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