Sunday, 19 September, 2021

Challenge To End Caste Discrimination

Gopal Khanal 

AMIDST the fight against COVID-19, the issue of territorial protection surfaced prominently in Nepal. With a bold move,Nepal addressed the territorial question by issuing an updated national map that includes territories encroached by India. The constitution amendment bill that endorses the updated map is in federal parliament, which will be, of course, passed by national consensus. In the upcoming negotiation, Nepal will talk to India by presenting the updated map supported with evidences. 

The Covid-19 is global pandemic, therefore, the world is unified to fight the virus and save human civilization. Nepali government and people have been struggling against this pandemic with unity; however the threat is still there - witnessing the more positive cases across the country. Therefore, it should be tackled seriously with effective policy of -Trace, Test and Treat (3Ts). While battling the two-fold war - coronavirus and safeguarding the territorial unity- another criminalised act happened in west Nepal that has been upsetting the Nepali community.

On May 24, two Dalit boys, Nawaraj Biswakarma (BK) and Tikaram Sunar were found dead on the banks of the Bheri river, Jajarkot district. Three other bodies were found later and another of Govinda Shahi is still missing. On 23 May, Nawaraj- accompanied by 18 friends - went to the Soti village of Rukum district, the village of the upper caste girl (17), whom he was in love, with an aim to tie a knot. When they reached the girl's village, they were chased, stoned and badly beaten. In an attempt to save their lives, some of them jumped into the nearby river and managed to escape. But Nawaraj and five of his friends didn't survive. 

These boys were known as 'so called' Dalits or 'untouchables', the social constructs based in the caste system. An inter-caste love relationship was thought to be the major cause for their tragic deaths. It is evidently said that the youths were attacked on the pretext of a 'lower caste' people daring to take away the girl of the 'upper caste' family. The family members of the girl, however, have claimed that the youths attempted to forcefully take the underage girl away without family consent. 

No doubt, this is a criminal act. Article 18 (2,3) of Nepal's constitution, states that no discrimination shall be made in the application of general laws on grounds of origin, religion, race, caste, tribe, sex, physical condition, condition of health, marital status...on similar other grounds. Similarly, Article 24 (1-5), says that no person shall be subjected to any form of untouchability or discrimination in any private and public places on grounds of his or her origin, caste... In 24 (5), such act of untouchability and discrimination shall be punishable by law. 

Various human rights organisations, Dalit and non-Dalit leaders have been pressuring the government to take immediate action against the culprits and provide justice to the family of the victim. Majority of people fear that this case will be forgotten, like many others in the past. Previously, some cases of caste-based discriminations were covered under the carpet, police failed to investigate properly and offenders went unreported and unpunished. 

Against the spirit of the constitution and achievement of different political movements, the caste system has played an influential role in Nepal's social, economic and political landscape. Despite their reservation in state apparatus, majority of Dalits are economically, socially, culturally and politically backward. Such incidents ranging from social exclusion to murder are still prevalent nationwide. The case reminds deep rooted traditional mindset existing in Nepali society. Nepal has ended social ills and anomalies in principle but it still not ended in practice. There is a need to change in thinking and take stern action against the culprits. 

The government on 26 May formed a five-member probe team to investigate the Rukum incident. Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa informed the session of National Assembly about the formation of the team and vowed to take action against those involved in the heinous crime. The probe team led by a joint secretary of the Home Ministry includes a senior superintendent of police, officers of the National Investigation Department and the Office of the Attorney General besides an under-secretary of the Home Ministry. Hopefully, the committee will submit report after properly investigating the incident and the culprits would be brought to book as soon as possible. On 26 May, the same day the team was formed, police arrested Dambar Bahadur Malla, ward chair of Chaurjahari Municipality-8 along with fifteen others in connection with the death of the youths.

Immediately after the incident was reported, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, had directed the concerned ministry to strongly and fairly probe the incident. He said the government was determined to take stringent action again those involved in heinous crime. On 3 June, Prime Minister Oli in a message on the occasion of the National Day against Racial Discrimination and Untouchability, said the problem of racial discrimination and untouchability was a problem not only of a particular community but that of every individual, family, society and the nation. The Prime Minister warned that the government does not tolerate social exclusion, untouchability and violence. He also sought cooperation from all sides to eliminate such social blots and respects people's right to live a dignified life. 

Similarly, the Law, Justice and Human Rights Committee of the federal parliament on 2 June directed the government to take stern action against the culprits, intensify the search for missing person and provide free treatment to the injured. The committee urged the government to launch a mega campaign to raise awareness against the caste and culture-based discrimination as such inhuman acts were on rise of late. In the meeting, Minister for Home Affairs Ram Bahadur Thapa reiterated his commitment to take stern action against those found guilty in the incident. 

Caste discrimination is the common enemy of our society therefore it demands a common action. All people should come forward to eliminate this sort of discrimination with a national resolution. The political system of the country changed, feudalism and autocracy were overthrown but caste discrimination still exists. Let us all commit - we won't tolerate such discrimination. 

(Khanal is consulting editor at Gorkhapatra Corporation.