Nepal is a country with a rich history and culture. But unfortunately, it is also one that has been plagued by the evils of caste-based discrimination for centuries. Even today the caste system finds continuity in a strong way. Only about three years ago, in Remote Rukum, a so-called lower caste young man and five of his friends were lynched to death by a violent mob – the young man for falling in love with a so-called upper-caste girl and his friends for helping him to find his love! Perhaps the most poignantly painful aspect of this case was the fact that the chairperson of the village reportedly supported the violent mob while former finance minister and former home minister Janardan Sharma was accused of helping the perpetrators. In a similar incident earlier, in July 2016, Ajit Mijar, another Dalit youth, had faced a similar fate for marrying a non-Dalit girl. On July 14, 2016, he was found murdered after five days the couple was forced to abandon their marriage by the girl’s relatives under the mediation of Panchkhal Area Police Office.
Even the capital Kathmandu, supposedly the most educated and most civilized place in the country, is not free from the clutches of caste-based discrimination. It is painful to think that even members of parliament from the Dalit community are refused apartment rentals in the capital when they reveal their surnames or last names. That highlights the extent of discrimination that still exists even in urban society.
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal who is also the head of the CPN (Maoist Center) party, addressing a program to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in the capital on Tuesday, assured that the entire state and authorities concerned would act responsibly for the protection and promotion of the rights of Dalits. Obviously, he did not forget to mention the role of the armed insurgency in promoting Dalit rights and ending all kinds of discrimination, including the one based on caste.
The Maoist party claims to have fought for the rights of Dalits, but the fact that the former finance minister and former home minister Janardan Sharma of the same party tried to protect the alleged perpetrators of the Rukum massacre shows that their fight for Dalit rights was not as sincere as it should have been. Maoist leaders defend their party's role in creating social change, but the events of recent years, especially the incidents mentioned above, make it clear that the foundation of social change created by violence is weak and unsustainable. Violence cannot be the solution to any problem, least of all to one as deep-rooted as caste-based discrimination.
The so-called 'people's war' that was purported to bring about social change was, in reality, a decade-long dark period of death and destruction that did more harm than good. Maoist leaders may defend their actions by claiming to have laid the foundations of social change, but incidents such as the Rukum massacre and the murder of Ajit Mijar prove that their foundation was weak and unsustainable. Violence may bring about change, but it is a flimsy change at best. Raising awareness and creating a sustainable change is the key to ending caste-based discrimination and untouchability. So, we call upon the government, civil society organizations, and all stakeholders to work together to end caste-based discrimination in Nepal. It is only by creating a more inclusive and equitable society that we can truly achieve progress and development.
In fact, untouchability and caste-based discrimination are specific issues of concern in entire South Asia. It is heartening to see that the Dalit community in Nepal has been observing March 21 since 1990 and that it has contributed to internationalizing the agenda of Dalits and provided a ground for them for further struggles and achievement. It is our hope that this Day will inspire all to develop the sentiments of equality alongside awareness about justice and freedom and implement the commitments to create an untouchability-free society and for nation-building.
In a nutshell, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which was marked on March 21, was an opportunity to reflect on the need for a more inclusive and equitable society. The United Nations General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1965, and Nepal ratified it in 1971. While these were important steps towards ending racial discrimination, much more needs to be done.
And that can be done better by creating awareness among people. That is the key to ending caste-based discrimination. It is only when people become aware of the inherent evils of this practice that they can take steps to eliminate it from their lives. Legislation and government policies can go a long way in addressing this issue, but it is ultimately up to the people to create a society that is free of all forms of discrimination.