Nepal retains its centuries-old caste system. Dalits, the discriminated people under this system, suffer from restrictions on the use public amenities, deprivation of economic opportunities, and general neglect by the state and the society.
More than twenty Dalit caste groups exist in the country at present and caste-based discrimination is still prevalent in the society. They have remained outcast in every aspects and spaces, be it social or be it governmental. This discrimination and being outcast have affected their lives throughout, as it is, ‘traditionally rooted in the Hindu caste system’. Globally, tradition of discrimination have affected almost 250 million people, the vast majority of it being in South Asia.
The practice of caste-based discrimination is against Universal Declaration of Human Rights and it is against the Constitution of Nepal. Laws of Nepal prohibit the practice of caste-based discrimination as a crime and has set punishment for the violation. The law has evolved as progressive in preventing this discrimination, but changes in the practice is not progressing. Still Dalits across the country face the brunt of caste-based discrimination.
Among the Dalits, the Mushahar and the Dom of Tarai-Madhes are the worst affected.
The Mushahar community and Dom community are more vulnerable due to their socioeconomic status and are treated as lower class groups. The changes in their lives are yet to happen when it comes to equal access and enjoyment of rights as equals . And as always, the women face more discrimination and lack equal access to exercise their rights guaranteed by the state. According to a report by Feminist Dalit Organization (FEDO), 90 per cent of Nepali women have not been able to exercise the rights guaranteed by the state among which 23 per cent are Dalits.1 Dalit women face discrimination in the society, both as a female and also as a lower caste.
Many interactions with Dalit communities of Saptari district in Rupani Rural Municipality and Tilathi Koiladi, show how Dalit women are coping to get rid of discrimination and inequality, and are seeking equal opportunities. The Dalit women are aware that caste based discrimination is illegal. They are also aware about the government programs and provision to enhance their socioeconomic status. However, they still face discrimination in the society. However, the government policy and provision for their betterment is yet to reach them.
“Yes, there has been some changes in caste based discrimination than before, there is no such discrimination in our society,” said a local representative of Rupani Gaunpalika, who herself is from a Dalit community; however, she accepts that the deep-rooted cultural behavior needs time to be uprooted. Similarly, another female representatives from the same community claims that the society is being progressive in this case, but changes have to materialize in many aspects.2
The women from Dalit Mushar community shared their story of discrimination and abuse they face in their daily lives. “Certainly we suffer in the society for being from the lower caste. We survive on daily labor but still we remain outcast as Dalits. We face exploitation and abuse in the society on various grounds,” said Basudev Sada. Dalits are ignored and left to suffer the same situation for ages. Mukti Sada lamented that they have been raising their voice but there is no one to hear and fight for their cause.
Similarly, Tara Devi said, “We hear of government grant and many more facilities for Dalits but where has it gone, we don’t know. Representatives during the election promise to work for us and ask for our votes but later they forget the promises. We are now in the position where we have been forever discriminated and deprived.”
Babita Marik, who makes ornamental objects from bamboos, said, “Our children face abuse, and the society has never treated us as humans. We have always been disregarded. If they want, they can kick us out from this society too.” Birendar Sada who lost half his house in road expansion cried, “When we were complaining, we were threatened of imprisonment. The high caste can misbehave with us anytime because we are poor, of lower caste, and uneducated. If I were educated, they wouldn’t have been able to do this to us. I could have saved my house. It is a fact that everyone, even the government, has made our life hard.”
“We face problems in our daily life. They say they will pull down our house. We do not speak against them, we are powerless. They complain about our pig farming, but it is our traditional profession. Our lives depend on it, so is our income source. And now, they come and say that we cannot raise pigs. We do feel discriminated and abused. We do not interfere in their lives and our children react to this. We cannot stop our children when this happens,” said Sanjha Devi Marik.
Despite all odds, Sanjha Devi Marik believes in the struggle to rise above this discrimination they have to face daily. She said, “We are not going to remain Doms. Doms will not remain Doms forever, and together with my husband, I am working hard to change the destiny of our children. They are pursuing education, my son goes to private school. I have heard that Dalit children have more opportunities to get jobs. We are not going to allow our children to remain outcaste as we have been in the society.”
These sad stories and experiences of human beings born as Dalits, not being able to even enjoy their basic fundamental rights brings a lump to the throat. It is a hard pill to swallow for many people to listen to them. Despite their sad stories, they have the fire in them to change their lives for the better. They hope for a better life for their children. The situation of Dalits will change by formulation and strict implementation of the existing laws. There is always a hope of a discrimination-free society as the society moves towards inclusivity and equality, alongside institutionalization of democracy. The Dalits, however, will have to continue to raise their voices and seek for their rights through the implementation of the new constitution for a better today for themselves and guarantee non-discriminatory tomorrow for their children and generations thereafter.
This article is based on field visit in Saptari district – Rupani rural Municipality, Tilathi- Koiladi Rural Municipality, and Rajbiraj Municipality.
The names of the respondents have been published with their consent.
Author: Srijana Chaudhary
Photo: Pratik Gurung