Caste-based Discrimination and the Fundamental Rights
The constitution of Nepal has criminalized discrimination on the basis of any ground. Fundamental rights of the constitution have also ensured rights of people from multidimensional identity. However, untouchability associated with caste-based discrimination is common in both rural and urban households. People from Dalit communities are still deprived of human rights whose core value is dignity and equality. This overwhelming caste based discrimination which is somehow considered as ‘normal’ in our society sometimes leads to extremist events. Recently, in Soti Village of Rukum, the so-called upper-caste people killed 21-year-old Nabaraj BK and five of his friends when they tried to bring BK’s 17-year-old ‘upper caste’ girlfriend to marry BK. After the criminalization of caste-based discrimination in 2011, altogether 17 people have lost their lives just because they belonged to Dalit communities. However, only the mass killing in Rukum succeeded to get the needed attention from national as well as international communities. Several parliamentarians from the both ruling and opposition parties raised their voices for an unbiased investigation and justice process. In several parts of the country, youths from various groups have conducted demonstrations and protests demanding fair investigation for the massacre. A nine-membered parliamentary committee has been formed to investigate the case. Meanwhile, the United Nation and Amnesty international in Nepal have urged abrupt and effective investigation of the deaths. Nepal Police has filed cases of homicide, attempted homicide, and caste-based discrimination to 34 people for their alleged involvement in the killings. However, an effective investigation process is a real challenge in a country like Nepal, where justice mechanisms have been highly interrupted by the influence of political elites. The case of Nirmala Pant, a 13-year-old girl from Kanchanpur who was found raped and murdered in a sugarcane field in July 2018, many high-level investigation committees were formed, many protests hit the road, but Nirmala still waits for justice. In this incident too, since a local representative was a girl’s relative, primary investigation processes such as filing an FIR and arresting those involved were delayed.
Analyzing the incident from the lens of patriarchy, it has also played a far-reaching role in the killings of those youths. In a patriarchal society, girl’s sexuality and mobility is controlled by family and society despite the constitutional provision of the right to choose a partner. In our society, girls are taken as an asset or a burden or an honor of a family and not as a citizen with full fundamental rights. Ingrained patriarchal ideology and toxic hegemonic masculinity provoked the villagers to kill those youths; otherwise, they could just call the police to stop that incident and take legal remedies. These ideologies do not let many women and girls exercise even their fundamental rights and take control of their bodies and lives.
Similarly, the caste system is deeply rooted in the mindset of both ‘upper caste’ and ‘lower caste’ people. In most of the villages, the ‘upper’ ones claim their superiority and lower ones are condemned to live without self-esteem and feel themselves inferior because this caste system sprouts from religion which has shaped the psychology and ideology of the majority of the people. The spiritual hero of Hindu religion Manu plays a significant role to establish and ingrain such derogatory values. In Manusmriti, he introduced the Varna System, and also mentioned the relationship between the ‘upper caste’ woman and ‘lower caste’ man as a condemnable act and said that that man should be sentenced to death. The previous legal system was also made on the basis of Hindu religious texts and philosophy. The country code of 1854 was based on Hindu jurisprudence in which untouchability and caste-based discrimination was valid, and hence was a legal act. The ones who disregard these activities were punished. After the establishment of democracy in 1951, the Nepali legal system became a little progressive for the marginalized ones, but the societies were still largely discriminatory.
Nepal has gone through various political transitions, but the real achievement of such transitions have not been felt by the marginalized people. Rukum was the center of Maoist movement whose major agenda was caste, class, and gender equality in society. However, this incident forced us to rethink the real achievement of such political movements from which only the political elites have been benefited.
Why the Discrimination?
Gender and caste-based discriminations have a greater effect on the lives of the people and actual development of the country, but the concerns and efforts to eradicate those offences are less prioritized. Currently, the country is focused only on infrastructure development, neglecting human development. Now, due to its federal structure, Nepal has an opportunity to decentralize human development programs and resources in an effective way. However, the federal structure and people’s representation in decision-making processes also could not provide the sense of democratic values among the general public. Political prioritization of Nepal mostly revolves around power control, neglecting issues which have direct impact on equitable social development. And so, such incidents take place in the societies, and ironically, lawmakers also normalize such crimes. Also, the state mechanism still revolves around the periphery of Hindu religion, casteism, and patriarchy which have shaped the bureaucracy, executive, and legislative bodies of the country. Intersectional identity has created multidimensional discrimination for marginalized peoples to get access to such bodies. People who are at the superior position in the social strata enjoy more human and constitutional rights, and marginalized people are often treated as second-class citizens, both from state mechanism and society. Despite the fact that proportional representation and quota system helped to increase the numerical participation of marginalized Dalit community, they have a little say in decision making and agenda setting. Lower representation of marginalized communities may have affected the prioritization of such issues in the decision making level.
Thus, Dalit communities have faced minor to extreme forms of human rights violation in the society. Untouchability, hatred, discrimination, and inequality in both public and private domains are common in the society, and these violations are rarely questioned. People from the ‘upper caste’ usually claim presence of harmony in the society and refuse to accept that their historical privilege is directly or indirectly contributing to marginalization of ‘lower caste’. They might see the societies harmonious because the marginalized ones rarely spoke against their structural oppression and took legal action at the grassroots level. So society has a toxic balance of status quo.
To eradicate these forms of violence from the micro as well as macro settings, the privileged ones need to question their ‘advantages’ from hegemonic superiority and create an environment where everyone, irrespective of their caste, class, culture, or traditions, live in harmony, without the fear of being persecuted for who they are.
Author: Prabha Poudyal