Maoists pledged to uplift marginalised. And they further marginalised themDalits in party are questioning if they are going to get the promised space, as they are left out of committees now.
When Umita Baraili joined the Maoist party more than two decades ago, she was just 14. Three years after she became an active member of the party, the Maoists launched their “people’s war” to ensure among other things inclusion and uplift of the Dalits, the oppressed and the marginalised who had suffered for decades because of a state structure that was skewed towards a certain section of society.
The war, which was launched in 1996, ended in 2006 following a peace deal. The Maoists got the credit they deserved for ensuring some social reforms, including awakening the oppressed and the marginalised, including the Dalits.
It has been more than a decade and a half since the Maoist party joined mainstream politics.
As her party is holding its eighth national convention, Baraili, a Dalit, however, feels excluded now from her own party.
“The leadership said the party championed Dalits’ cause. But it looks like the party rarely cares about them,” Baraili, now 37, said on Sunday.
The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) is electing 299 members for its new Central Committee, but given the way it has devised the process, Dalits feel they are set to be left out.
The amended party statute has proposed electing 50 percent members to the Central Committee from the open category and the rest through proportional representation. There was a provision of 15 percent representation of Dalits, but with the amendment, it now will be counted from among the 50 percent allocated under the proportional representation system.
This, Baraili says, will hugely reduce Dalit representation in the Central Committee.
Had 15 percent of Dalits been counted from a total of 299 members, there would have been 44 Dalits in the Central Committee. But now the number has come down to just 22, according to Baraili.
“Our party leaders have failed to practise what they preach. They had promised that they would ensure two percent more Dalits in all party committees than the ratio of Dalit population in the country,” said Baraili.
As per the 2011 census, Dalits make up around 13 percent of the total population.
“Now the Dalits’ participation has been reduced to 7 percent,” she said.
Ever since the party’s statute amendment proposal, presented by Dev Prasad Gurung, a Standing Committee member, was endorsed by the delegates on Saturday, Dalit representatives are up in arms.
They have handed over two memorandums to Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal in as many days—one by 75 delegates on Saturday right after the amendment proposal was endorsed and the other by 118 delegates on Sunday afternoon. As many as nine are from the existing Central Committee.
On Sunday, 236 members were picked as Central Committee members. All names were read out by party chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal—111 from the open category and 125 under the proportional representation system.
In the 299-strong Central Committee, as many as 145 seats have been allocated to open category and 154 to proportional representation.
Dev Gurung, who has been appointed a Central Committee member, said the remaining 63 members will be nominated soon.
Of the total selected for the Central Committee on Sunday, 25 are Dalits.
“As many as 20 have been selected from the proportional category and five from the open category. Two are yet to be selected under the proportional system,” said Buddhi Nepali, one of the delegates demanding at least 13 percent representation of Dalits in the new Central Committee. “Leaders shattered our hopes and dreams. Our party has turned regressive.”
The protest by Dalits comes amid growing criticism of the party leadership for failing to carry forward the core agenda of the party—achieving socialism, ensuring inclusion, providing a platform to the marginalised and above all, working for the proletariat.
Delegates participating in the ongoing convention had come down heavily on Dahal’s political document, saying it failed to uphold the essence of a revolutionary party. Dahal in particular has faced charges of leading an extravagant lifestyle and preferring to live in big houses, contrary to the working-class people who he proclaims to fight for.
Baraili from Dharan was area in-charge of Morang-Sunsari joint district committee formed by the party during the “people’s war”. She has been working as a member of the party’s provincial committee in Province 1 for the last five years.
According to Baraili, all her contemporaries are sure to make it to the Central Committee under various clusters but she is sure to be left out because she is a Dalit.
“Due to the flawed policy of the party, I will have to remain out of the Central Committee when all my contemporaries, despite making less contributions, would make it to the apex body. It’s because I’m a Dalit,” Baraili told the Post. “It’s not fair. Earlier we fought against a discriminatory society and now we have to fight within the party for its discriminatory approach. ”
When the Dalit delegates met with Dahal on Saturday evening to hand over their memorandum, he had said he would do his best to increase the number of Dalits even by incorporating them under the open category, said a delegate.
“It does not matter even if there are 100 Dalits in the Central Committee unless the statute ensures it,” said Padam Bishwakarma, another delegate. “Though Dahal seemed positive and serious about this issue, I think he has been influenced by leaders surrounding him.”
The Maoist “people’s war” resulted in the loss of 13,000 lives and among them, party’s Dalit leaders claim 1,200 were Dalits.
When the Maoists launched the insurgency, their promise to end discrimination against Dalits attracted thousands of them to join the party. Dalit members of the party say there was no reason not to believe the party leadership when everyone “ate together”, as so-called upper caste people would not even eat or drink anything touched by Dalits.
Dalits saw a glimmer of hope—that the Maoists would bring a massive transformation and change the way society viewed and treated them.
To its credit, the Maoist movement did bring some changes in a revolutionary style. But the revolution has stalled.
Dalits feel betrayed now.
“Many Dalits made huge contributions to the party. Dil Bahadur Ramtel, 14, from Gorkha was the first Dalit to sacrifice his life for the party as it had promised to fight for a change in society, for Dalits and the marginalised,” said Baraili. “Now, 15 years after the end of the war, we are here fighting against our own leadership demanding our inclusion.”
Though the Maoist party is never tired of saying it is not like any other parliamentary party in Nepal, over the years since joining mainstream politics, it has failed to demonstrate how it is different from any other “bourgeois” party.
Khas-Arya males have been governing the party for decades with no room for competition. Through an amendment to the statute, the party has created 15 office bearer positions including the chairman. This, however, is seen by the delegates as an attempt to “manage” the aspirants.
The amended statute envisions one senior vice-chair, six vice-chairs, one general secretary, two deputy secretaries, three secretaries and one treasurer.
When it comes to aspirants who are most likely to be elected, there is only one woman—Pampha Bhusal. No Dalit is likely to become an office bearer as of now.
Political analysts say leaving the groups that made huge contributions to the “people’s war” behind is going to cost the Maoist party dear.
“Dalits have sacrificed more than anyone else in the Maoist movement. The Maoist party’s failure to ensure their proper political representation will cost them highly,” said Hari Roka, a political analyst. “It will make a huge difference when it comes to their vote base also.”
According to Roka, the Maoist Centre has failed to take up Dalit issues ever since it joined mainstream politics.
“The latest example is the lynchings in Rukum,” said Roka, referring to the murder of five Dalit youths in May last year by some so-called upper-caste people.
“The party failed to take up the issue.”
Bishwa Bhakta Dulal, a Dalit leader himself who was with the Maoist Centre until the party decided to merge with UML, said none of the parties in Nepal are committed to ensuring Dalit representation in their committees.
“Regardless of what the Maoist party says, they won’t be able to give space to the marginalized and Dalits, as the party is run by the same Brahmin and Chhettris,” said Dulal, who leads a party called Baigyanik Samajbadi Communist Party, Nepal.
For Dalit members like Baraili, confusion remains.
“We want a change, and we believe a change is possible,” said Baraili. “But when the leadership has turned against us, we wonder if we have to launch a new fight.”