On equal footingThe constitutional provisions for inclusion cannot be ignored or circumvented anymore.
The Dalit fight for social justice and political representation has been a continuing saga for the better part of the last 50 years. Despite a solid vocal pitch from politicians, their political representation so far remains significantly low. And whatever progress in social inclusion is bandied about is all but a farce. Discrimination against Dalits is visible in rural areas where the political and social stranglehold rests firmly with the so-called upper castes, all this despite the rights of Dalits being detailed in the constitution. What manifests from this duplicity is that words aren’t enough to guarantee the rights of our brethren who have for so long been living on the fringes of society.
The inconsistency in Dalit political representation was apparent in the recently held local elections. The Local Level Election Act 2017 has made it mandatory that of the five persons elected in each ward, one must be a Dalit woman, which meant that 6,743 Dalit women representatives would have been elected in 753 local units across the country. However, it still fell short of the allotted representation. As many as 176 seats reserved for Dalit women candidates remained vacant. This clearly shows the political parties’ disinterestedness in trying to bridge the social gap.
If something as clear as a constitutional requirement remains unfulfilled, what chance is there that political parties will act to ensure that the marginalised get fair political representation to voice their concerns? This discriminatory and patriarchal mindset among leaders of political parties continues to blight social harmony and progress of the marginalised. The excuse citing unavailability of candidates to hinder proportional representation for Dalits is merely seen as a garb to cover deep-rooted bigotry of the leaders that purport to represent the people.
If a democratic system cannot ensure fair, equitable rights of citizens in a country, what can? It is a matter of immense embarrassment for the nation that a section of our society sees fit to demand an equitable share in candidacies under the direct election system, which is their fundamental right enshrined in the constitution.
Yet, there is still a way to redress the problem of exclusion. The federal and provincial elections scheduled for November should be used as a platform for the political parties to make amends for the shortcomings. The constitutional provisions for inclusion cannot be ignored or circumvented anymore. Politicians have long been allowed to mock the rule of the land, where loopholes are carefully extracted to turn the tables and make the situation favourable for the select few who have the power to determine the fate of so many. It is time that they make a sincere effort to ensure that the rights of the marginalised aren’t trampled upon.