Murder of Nabaraj BK driven by discriminatory and racist behaviors should drive a process of national reckoning.
Murder of Nabaraj BK and a group of his friends all belonging to the Dalit community, a gruesome act of violence driven by discrimination and racism, is again bringing up latent patterns of social exclusions, structural patterns that are still dominant in the society.
This piece is focused on a positive example of how a young leader from the same community has risen to success, breaking a glass ceiling or a taboo that impedes youths from marginalized communities to emerge and thrive.
These two extremes, murdering of a group of Dalit youths and a great success story, could help the nation to rethink about social equity and ways to address the problems that are reflected not only in periodic cases of violence but also daily discrimination.
In March, after some years of gap, another young Nepali got nominated as Young Global Leaders (YGL) from the renowned World Economic Forum, the prestigious “action-tank” that, fostering cooperation and partnership across a variety of issues, is a real influencer in the global decision making. PradipPariyar, the Chief Executive Officer of Samata Foundation, an independent research and advocacy organization that works to make Nepal a nation free of any type of caste discrimination, is going to be part of a cohort of under 40 peers from all over the world, a community, according to the World Economic Forum, with the “vision, courage and influence to drive positive change”.
Pradip has been recognized for his outstanding contributions to end caste discrimination in Nepal, peacefully struggling to make the nation more just and fairer for all those citizens who are still discriminated and marginalized because of being considered inferior.
There is no doubt that country has been making great strides in relation to social inclusion but it is also equally true that there is so much to be done to truly create a level playing field for all.
Stratification and classification are truly ingrained in people’s mindset. Ask a child her name, she will duly reply with her full name that inevitably includes her family one. We should not get confused in thinking that the discrimination faced by Dalit citizens is different from other forms of marginalization and exclusion faced by other groups, for example persons living with disabilities or persons belonging to sexual minority.
It is all about entrenched attitudes and habits compounded by cultural and religious beliefs that have dominated the history of this country for so long. Changing such status quo is a quest of national consciousness, partnerships, personal leadership and power. It is about consciousness because change will happen only if those belonging to historically dominating groups will be able to admit and recognize that their position in the society is a result of a political process and related dynamics that were exclusionary in nature. Yet, you cannot fault anyone for the unjust structures of the society that were created centuries ago.
It would be too easy to generalize through rigid simplifications and categorizations because many so-called upper class citizens have been also going through personal and economic challenges.
After all you can find vulnerabilities and pockets of exclusion across all the spectrum of the society, including among citizens from the so-called upper groups. Poverty is real for many citizens, not only for those belonging to historically marginalized groups.
Yet achieving a truly inclusive and integrated Nepal would require a reckoning, an admission that the past has set the country in a trajectory where only limited groups had access to a certain pathways leading to some degrees of education and economic stability and such progress was mostly centered on unequal share of resources and power, making marginalization and discrimination the only possible default options for millions of excluded people who had no access to what would be now their inalienable rights enshrined in the constitution.
The fact that no one can be blamed for past injustices does not mean that citizens from more privileged groups should keep perpetuating the status quo or restrain themselves from actively challenging and changing it.
Coming to terms with such history of the country and how the present has been dramatically influenced by it should come only through peaceful and well moderated dialogues and discussions in a spirit of reconciliation, harmony and peace, where attitudes leading such engagements should always remain forward looking, positive and emphatic. It should not be at all a zero sum game.
Doing this can be risky though.
Take the recommendation of European Union Election Observation Mission for elimination of quota system for Khas/Arya. The Mission said granting quota to them “is arguably in contravention of international standards on equality, as affirmative action measures are foreseen only as a means to promote equality.” Those words kicked off a tense debate with even Prime Minister Oli strongly rebuking the recommendations. As long as someone genuinely feels the need of being included in a quota system, a rationale debate, devoid of emotions, should arise and everybody should feel free to argue the pros and cons and the impact of such quota system and the underlying causes for such request. This is valid for any members of Khas/Arya communities.
The same chance should be allowed to other millions of citizens who have been feeling discriminated, marginalized and excluded from the political and economic sphere. This does not include only citizens who are Dalit and other groups already mentioned but also women, whose political power is marginal and often symbolic and their neglect and marginalization is costing the country a fortune.
Coming to terms with marginalization and discrimination requires a bold national conversation across all the segments of the society, an exercise genuinely based on emphatic listening and not finger pointing where everybody has the right to express her opinions without delegitimizing or discrediting other fellow citizens. A citizen belong to a Brahmin family might as well feel cut out of the game and she has all the rights to demand a change to such status quo.
This leads to the second determinants of a fully just, integrated nation: partnerships. Only together the country can prosper. More opportunities for those who are feeling neglected and marginalized should not come at the expenses of those considered more privileged. Fortunately Nepal is not a country like Malaysia where even the political parties are race based and even it is not a country like South Africa where many young white citizens, whose privileges have been built upon an oppressed system like the apartheid, felt they had no other option than migrating to other Commonwealth nations.
Ending caste discrimination requires a peaceful, rationale effort that brings together all citizens, those who feel oppressed and those who are perceived as more privileged. The political leaders that chartered the country out of the war had this essential understanding, a real quality and foresight: peace and reconciliation would not happen through revenge and upending the social economic system of the country.
The only problem is that progressive policies and genuine affirmative discrimination actions have been very limited on the ground though the latter, we must admit, achieved some, although limited and symbolic impact, in the political arena.
If we want to end the discrimination of persons living with disabilities, we need to involve able bodied persons. If we want to create more economic opportunities for Dalit, then we need to engage and work with other members of the society, especially those who belong to more historically privileged groups. If we want women leading political parties, we need to engage men who are in power. If we want to end gender violence and discrimination, we need to work with husbands and young men. And if we want to empower members of LGBT communities, we need to engage straight persons.
The third determinant is about leadership or better self-leadership.
The struggles faced by Pradip Pariyar and other activists, women, gay, lesbian, transgender, persons with disabilities and anyone, regardless of her caste, fighting an uphill battle for self-determination requires investing on leadership. Everybody can be a leader of her life.
Working at school levels would be a first essential step to instill this self-belief that everything is possible and everybody must have the same chance at succeeding like everyone else.
Setting up all inclusive leadership circles, expanding the work of the numerous youth clubs across the countries, supporting small groups and NGOs run by youths can be all ingredients to promote an inclusive idea of leadership. Governments at all the levels must embrace the cause and step up.
Without the top echelons of the country showing more commitment not with words but with deeds, the pace of change will be abysmal and only generational. We cannot wait that long.
With a new national consciousness, the springboard for all inclusive partnerships across all the sectors, with investment on character leadership and with schools acting as propellers of inclusive change, we will achieve the forth determinant: power, a power that is equally shared, where members of minority groups work alongside other peers with the overarching mission of making this country truly great for all.
When we talk about measures to erase social and cultural discrimination from the society, we are entering a difficult conversation that might stir people’s emotions. Issues of elitism and privilege even within the discriminated groups should be fully taken into account as the process of upliftment of disadvantaged youths should be as inclusive and open as possible. It is inevitable that some citizens might feel uncomfortable or singled out. For this reason it is important that we keep the debate as rational as possible but also driven by principles of social justice.
Only a deep commitment to these principles, a commitment from the government but also from the society as a whole, can help erase the inevitability of future violence driven by entrenched values that are against the universally enshrined principles of human rights.