Caste system End discrimination against Dalits

The suppression of the rights of the so-called lower caste has not ended even after 42 years of legal reforms.

In modern times, in a democratic age, the issue of human rights has assumed great importance. Before the founding of the United Nations, emphasis was laid on fundamental rights. However, the founders of the United Nations had the foresight that the causes of conflict were deeply rooted in the denial of basic needs of the people and it was pronounced that the people had a right to be free from the pangs of hunger, discomfort of disease, and lack of education, among other things. Thus, human rights is an extension of fundamental rights in order to address the socio-economic problems of the country as well. The Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal 1990 guarantees fundamental and human rights.

However, in the democratic set-up of our country, despite the constitutional guarantees, a large number of people have been deprived of most basic needs of a civilised society and have been treated as sub-humans. Though the Constitution has declared every Nepali to be equal before the eye of law and enactment has been made to guarantee equality, almost 15 per cent of the Nepali population of Dalits have been totally marginalised and have to face humiliation almost every minute of their life.

During the rule of King Surendra, Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana enacted a civil code for the first time in the country. This Law of the Land (Muluki Ain) contained almost all codes necessary for dealing with the political, economic and social needs of the country. However, it was based heavily on the old Hindu code known as ‘Manu Smriti’ and so the discrimination among the people on the basis of birth and caste received legal support and sanctity. During the rule of King Mahendra in 1963, the old code underwent a fundamental change and reform was made to declare equality of every person before the law and discrimination on the basis of caste was declared a crime and hence punishable. Yet in practice, caste discrimination has not been completely eradicated. Hindu society is the only one in which discrimination on the basis of caste has been perpetuated for almost three thousand years. Racism took root in the Hindu society and suppression of the rights of the so-called lower caste was practised without any hesitation. This ancient practice has not died down even after 42 years of legal reforms.

News of Dalits being humiliated, harassed and punished physically is still a live phenomenon. Only two years back, the news of violence against the Dalits in Lahan was widely condemned by the human rights organisations and civil society, yet the main leader who prompted the violence against Dalits and who belonged to the ruling party was not even censured by his party for such a heinous act. It is a matter of great shame that a party which has been in the forefront of democratic movement in Nepal could ignore such a grave crime and still talks of human rights and democracy.

It is reported that when a complaint is filed with the police or the authorities, in an overwhelming number of cases, the police are not ready to accept it or even when the complaint is registered attempts are made to minimise its effect. The reason is obvious. The police and the administration are overwhelmed by the so-called high caste people who have perpetuated and tolerated such crimes for generations. This raises the question of how to eradicate the discriminatory practices and enforce the law against discrimination. On the one hand, the human rights workers, civil society and the political parties of various hues should be in constant vigilance to take a tough stand against the perpetrators of the crime, on the other hand, adequate placement of Dalits should be made in the police force and the administration. For adequate recruitment of Dalits, reservation of a certain per cent of the jobs available is necessary.

The human rights groups, the civil society and the political parties must lead a movement by allowing entrance of Dalits into the temples. This section of society should also take them to the hotels to eat with them, encourage them to draw water from the common wells and other sources. Along with such a movement to change the attitude in favour of the rights of the Dalits, special courts should be established to try cases of discrimination so that they too can get speedy justice. We talk of a new world in the 21st century, yet we condone the violation of basic human rights. The laws against discrimination have to be made stricter. The offence should be made severely punishable and the offenders should be isolated from social functions so that the action is not repeated in future. We observed the 42nd anniversary of the New Muluki Ain on August 17 but the occasion was less than enthusiastic and ritualistic. Therefore, let us make a day of real celebration, marking the end of discrimination, untouchability and old mind-set so that the Dalits, too, can enjoy their rights offered by the Constitution.

Upadhyay is a former foreign minister