Discrimination against Dalits still rife, continue to be left out of decision-making processesMarginalisation of members of Dalit communities still persists even though several laws and constitution bar discrimination.
Chandan Kumar Mandal
Family members of Maya Bishwokarma, who was brutally murdered after being gang-raped, are slowly losing hopes of getting justice. Maya, who was involved in collecting household data from Gauriganga Municipality, Kailali, was gang-raped by five of her co-workers last year.
“She had repeatedly refused sexual advances of her co-workers, and they raped her and killed her. They must have thought that they were entitled to her body,” said Kamal Bishwokarma, her uncle in Kathmandu on Saturday.
Ajit Mijar, 18, originally from Pachkhal, Kavre was reportedly murdered after he married a woman from another caste. Within a week of their wedding, his dead body was found buried by the riverbank of Furke Khola in Dhading district. Even after three years of his death, the dead body still lies at the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital. According to his family members, Ajit did not commit suicide. They say it was a staged-murder.
The two cases are isolated. But what is common between these two cases are the victims are from the Dalit community.
“The culprits have been arrested, but conspiracies are going around to protect those arrested. The court hearing has already been postponed six times,” said Bishwokarma. “How long can we wait for justice? How long should her soul suffer? Is it just because she was a Dalit that the central government has maintained silence in Maya’s case?
Narrating similar pain and struggles for the justice for his son, Hari Bhakta Dhakal Mijar, father of Ajit, said: “Everyone seems unaffected because the son of a Dalit died.”
Despite strong legal protection against any discrimination based on caste, class, religion, region, and any other grounds, Dalit families like that of Maya and Ajit continue to face subjugation and discrimination—in society and also by the state— across the country, according to rights activists, Dalit leaders, political party leaders and civil society members.
According to Pradeep Pariyar, executive chairperson of Samta Foundation, at least 16 deaths have been reported in which victims were killed only because of their caste since the new Caste Based Discriminations and Untouchability (Offence and Punishment) Act 2011 came into force.
“Dalits were at the forefront of the People’s War. They have died for various democratic movements of the country. They are discriminated and left aside by those in power,” said Pariyar. “Even after seven decades of Dalit’s struggle history, the Dalit movement has not yet gained the expected momentum although the democratic movement in the country has flourished in the same period.”
Participants at the event organised by Samata Foundation, who had assembled to discuss mainstreaming of Dalits in the state and their quest for dignity, said plights of Dalits have not yet improved the way it should have with the arrival of the new constitution in 2015.
According to Ramprit Paswan, a National Assembly member, Dalit’s marginalisation has been falsely blamed with their fate.
“Now, we have the best political system, but Dalit’s struggle continues to be same,” said Paswan. “Dalits are protected in the Constitution and other laws. If these laws are not followed, then that’s a crime. But the protector of the constitution—the state—itself practises discrimination.”
Jagat Bahadur Sunar Bishwokarma, Minister for Youth and Sports, admitted that the socio-cultural transformation of the country has not happened along the lines of the new constitution. However, the condition of the Dalits has improved in comparison to the past.
“The Dalit liberation movement is not in a disappointing phase now. But there are still incidents of caste-based discriminations and violence against Dalits, which is shameful for all of us,” said Minister Bishwokarma.
“The caste system has victimised other groups as well. Therefore, the whole Nepali society should come together to eliminate this system.”
Braj Ranjan Mani, an Indian scholar and writer on Dalit communities and their struggles, said educating people is the tool that will liberate Dalits, and they have started sharing their stories of struggles.
“History has not been written from the perspective of Dalits,” said Mani. “Breaking the imposed culture of silence, they have started sharing their stories which animate Dalit literature and have sprung up in all languages of the sub-continent.”
The country adopting the federal system has also not yielded expected results in terms of placing Dalits at the leadership level, say Dalit activists. Even those in power are unable to fully exercise their rights.
They pointed out that there is not a single Dalit minister in all the seven provincial governments and not a single appointment at the 13 different commissions. At the local level, only one Dalit mayor has been elected at a rural municipality and six at the municipality level.
According to Nira Devi Jairu, head of the joint parliamentary committee titled State Directives, Policy and Liability Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Committee, political parties should give significant representations to Dalit and marginalised groups.
“Now, we don’t need yet another revolution to improve the condition. But improvement is required inside the political system and political party,” said Jairu.
According to Mani, the spread of education and political consciousness has been changing the structure of public discourse and public space.
“Despite these welcome changes, Dalits are still struggling to enter the crucial areas of knowledge production and policymaking,” said Mani. “More recently, Dalits are resisting the newer forms of caste hegemony, cultural tokenism and political co-option. Dalits are not merely an identity marker but also a metaphor for human suffering, human resilience and human resistance against the inhuman system. This metaphor signifies Dalit’s undying spirit to fight back and regain their stolen rights, dignity, liberty and property.”