Chain of injusticeThe perpetrators of the caste killings in Rukum West are yet to face justice.
It has been a year since the caste killings in Rukum West shook the moral foundations of the Nepali state. Navaraj Bishwokarma and his five friends were brutally thrashed and thrown into the Bheri River because Navaraj, a 21-year-old Dalit boy from Jajarkot, had dared to love an "upper caste" girl. What could have been an exemplary case of youths from two disparate castes breaking social barriers for the sake of love and humanity had turned into a tragedy that showed Nepali society where it stands in terms of freedom and equality.
A year later, justice is still too far away for the slain boys and their families as the murder case is still under trial. Of the 34 accused in the case, 11 are already out on bail, and 23 are in custody. As of now, the victims’ families have received Rs1 million each from the federal government and Rs100,000 each from the provincial government as compensation. But there is no certainty as to when, or if at all, justice will be served. To add insult to the injury of the victims, politicians of various hues tried to hush up the case. Almost three dozen people have lost their lives in caste killings after the Rukum West massacre, highlighting how Navaraj Bishwokarma and his friends are not the last people to become victims of this chain of injustice.
It is needless to reiterate the fact that our courts are extremely slow in providing justice. The existing structural hierarchies mean that the justice process becomes all the more difficult, prolonged and out of reach for people belonging to marginalised communities including Dalits. The tediousness of the process often results in the victims refraining from knocking on the court’s doors for justice. There is, therefore, a need to set up fast-track courts to deal with cases related to injustice based on caste and related forms of discrimination.
The caste system has been a blot on Nepali society for far too long already. The loose hierarchy of the discriminatory system was brought into force legally through the Civil Code of 1854. Ever since then, the ruling class, which is mostly constituted of upper caste people, has used the caste system to maintain their hold on power positions. It is this historical structural hierarchy that inspires an individual or a group to suppress, exploit and dehumanise other individuals and groups.
The divisive and dehumanising system has been abolished legally for almost six decades now, but the remnants of the system are very much alive in Nepali society. Those belonging to the so-called upper castes have their interests in perpetuating the caste system as it is beneficial to them. It is natural for those who have long dominated social institutions and agencies to become insecure when anyone commits acts that challenge the rigid caste hierarchies. But this needs to change.
Breaking this systemic chain of injustice calls for accountability from all stakeholders. The government must ensure that citizens feel a sense of freedom and equality as envisioned by the constitution. Individuals and groups belonging to non-Dalit castes must create conditions that allow their fellow citizens to have an equal place in society. Unless we alienate the so-called upper castes from the caste system, a significant section of society will continue to feel estranged and alienated.