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--Anita Pariyar (Feminist Dalit Organization-FEDO)

The people of Nepal are suffering from the violation of their human rights, suffering that is based on a complete breakdown in the rule of law in the country. Because of the country’s internal political conflict, cases of torture, forced disappearance, extrajudicial killing, rape and discrimination on the basis of caste have greatly increased. To begin to reverse these tragedies, the government of Nepal must establish the rule of law in the country in order to guarantee people’s security and ensure non-discrimination throughout the nation.

When we were children, we used to hear praise about the natural beauty of Nepal. We used to hear too that Nepal was about to declare a peace zone. What though was the obstacle to being declared a peace zone? We also used to hear that Nepal is a place where the symbol of peace and justice – the widely accepted Buddha - was born, and our soft minds had the opportunity to hear that we Nepalis are as strong as Mount Everest. As a child, we used to be so proud and glad to be a citizen of such a great nation. But now our national life is dominated by arrests, killing, murders, rapes, threats, fear, suffering, pain, agony, tears, torture, discrimination and other human rights violations, etc. It is really difficult to find even a single day without the killing of someone. Peace and beauty have been converted into blood.

When a child in Nepal grows up, their minds gradually begin to know the reality of society - how imbalanced it is, how disordered it is - and the reality of a culture of discrimination on the basis of caste and gender. The nation is dependent on the donations of the international community, lacks economic development and fails to provide justice to the people. Untouchability is a deep-rooted tradition in society where the people from the Dalit community are regarded as so-called outcastes and are treated as if they are not a member of the human family. Thus, they remain destitute, neglected, marginalized and unheard of, so much so that the stories of caste discrimination have remained untold and a mystery to others for so long.

After the reestablishment of democracy, people, especially the poor and those who live with discrimination daily, had some hope that they would finally enjoy their rights. These hopes though have been dashed, for all political leaders of the country, regardless of who was in power in the government, were BRAMHINS, people who never have cared or thought about the problems and lives of these invisible and voiceless people.

Meanwhile, the internal conflict in the country began, and the Dalits began to be the primary victims of torture by both sides – by the government and by the Maoists, who claim that there will be no discrimination in the name of caste when they take power. As a result, chiefly in the remote areas, Dalits have begun to subscribe to the Maoist thinking that maybe we will be able to get our rights and one day we can breath freely and feel the life of being human beings. They are compelled to believe such thoughts because there has not been any hope offered by the government for many, many years. For example, the security forces have strictly checked Dalits for a long time up to the present. During these security checks, when the security personnel know that a person is a Dalit, he or she will oftentimes be suspected of being a Maoist. This is why, at least mentally, Dalit people support the Maoists but are not actively Maoists.

After a long struggle by Dalits, the government of Nepal established the National Dalit Commission and the National Women’s Commission on 8 March 2002 to monitor respect for the rights of Dalits and women respectively. Because members of the National Dalit Commission were selected by people influenced by politics, the commission was open to political influence; and because of its short existence of two years, it could not do much work. Since it was not a permanent body, this year on 8 March, on the occasion of International Women's Day, both commissions ceased to exist, and presently, there is not any possibility for their rebirth. There is a great need, however, for both the National Dalit Commission and the National Women’s Commission as caste-based discrimination and gender-based discrimination are deeply embedded in Nepal and need to be eradicated.

Article 11(4) of the Constitution reads:

"No person shall, on the basis of caste, be discriminated against as untouchable, be denied access to any public place, or be deprived of the use of public utilities. Any contravention of this provision shall be punishable by law."

Despite this provision, the practice of untouchability remains rampant, and the perpetrators are in most cases not prosecuted. Thus far, the State has failed to implement measures that might significantly contribute to the end of these practices and to enforce Article 11 of the Constitution. The range of existing legislative provisions do not amount to adequate protection for victims of caste-based discrimination. Notable by its absence is any single piece of legislation for the explicit protection of Dalits, despite the fact they comprise about 20 percent of the population of Nepal.

The government of Nepal ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) on 1 March 1971. On 22 August 2002, the CERD Committee in its General Recommendation XXIX - General Recommendation on Descent-based Discrimination (CERD/C/61/Misc.29/rev.1) - recognized caste as a matter deserving international attention. Therefore, now is the time for action. How though will people change the widespread practice of caste-based discrimination?

There are many issues to be addressed. There is the failure of the government to implement existing anti-discrimination laws; there is the government’s ratification of international human rights conventions that it chooses to ignore. When the government dismisses the already-established national institution for Dalits, what can one expect from the government to eliminate caste-based discrimination in Nepal? If there is not even a single institution for Dalits, how can we maintain our hope for democracy and a better life free of discrimination? How can we trust the government and feel secure? It is a critical time to think and act by the entire Nepalese Dalit community. We need to ensure that the government reinstitutes the National Dalit Commission and makes it an independent body this time that will have the right to make decisions itself. Otherwise, again, it will become an institutional plaything in the hands of Brahmins and will remain useless, like in the past.

Posted on 2004-03-11

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