Better education is the key to uplifting the socio-economic condition of the Dalit community

Although caste-based discrimination and untouchability against the Dalit community have been criminalised by the new constitution and related laws, the deep-rooted social, religious and cultural evil practices still continue unabated in the country.

Various awareness programmes, some of them attended by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, were held in the federal capital to mark the 58th International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Various laws have been passed by the Parliament to bring an end to this social evil. But their effectiveness at the practical level is almost non-existent. A recent incident of caste-based discrimination against Dalits and Muslims by the socalled upper caste people during a local feast in Siraha district speaks volumes about the deep-rooted mindset on untouchability in the society. The Dalits and Muslims were segregated during the feast, not by others, but by the mayor of Siraha Municipality himself.

But no legal action was taken against him for publicly discriminating the Dalits and Muslims. This is just a tip of the Iceberg that tells how serious this issue is. Even today, Dalit people cannot rent an apartment in Kathmandu and elsewhere if they identify themselves as Dalits.

Discrimination against the Dalits is subtle in the urban centres, but it is conspicuous in the rural parts of the country, especially in the mid- and far-westernregions. They are not allowed to share the same public taps or wells, visit the temples and share the same food at public feasts. Many children from the Dalit community drop out of school after being ill-treated by the students or teachers from the so-called upper castecommunity. When a case is filed against anyone for practising discriminatory approach in public places, judges are mostly found to dismiss such cases on the ground of lack of evidence. Many people from the Dalit community have now been elected to the three tiers of governance. But they have not been able to bring an end to this age-old evil practices. Nepal has seen a sea change in the political sphere over the years. But it has yet to see any substantive change in the mindset of the so-called upper caste people.

Meanwhile, while addressing a function to mark the Day the other day, PM Dahal pledged to announce a special programme targeting the Dalit community. He assured that the entire state and authorities concerned would act responsibly for the protection and promotion of the rights of the Dalits, who have been facing social and economic discrimination for centuries. According to the annual report of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the police registered 39 cases of caste-based discrimination in 2021-22 compared to 29 cases in the previous fiscal. The caste-based discrimination cannot be eliminated overnight unless the society itself rises above the old mindset. The government should also come up with a positive discrimination approach to uplift the living condition of the Dalit community. Better education and employment opportunities in the governmental and non-governmental sector are the key to uplifting the social, religious and cultural status of the Daits.

Incidents of caste-based discrimination cannot be eliminated unless the law enforcement agencies take this issue seriously.

Digital violence

Today, every Nepali owns a mobile phone. And the internet penetration rate stands at 52 per cent of the total population. It is evident that the communications sector has made great strides over the decades, not only in the urban centres but in the rural areas as well. But with the rapid digitalisation in the country also comes the menace of digital violence and hate speech in the social media. Especially after the decade-long Maoist insurgency that tried to divide the country on ethnic lines, there have been efforts by certain groups to sow the seeds of discord in the country. And what better platform to heap attacks and propagate harmful content against others than the social media.

It is difficult to control such activity in the country as any effort by the government to regulate the media is seen as restricting freedom of expression. The communications secretary was thus right in saying at a workshop, organised by the UN in Kathmandu the other day to highlight the status of digital violence, that self-regulation of individuals on the online and offline platform has become more important than ever - apart from framing laws and strengthening the courts to punish the culprits.

A version of this article appears in the print on March 23, 2023, of The Himalayan Times.