EDITORIAL: Leave no one behind

Disadvantaged groups like Chepangs still face social exclusion that deprives them of agency, dignity and opportunity to lead a better life

The Chepangs of Benighat Rural Municipality in Dhading have not been able to receive the government grant to reconstruct their houses that were destroyed or damaged by the 2015 earthquake. Reason: They don’t have land ownership certificates. The Chepangs are one of the country’s most neglected semi-nomadic communities. That they have not been able to receive the government housing grant is just the tip of the iceberg—they are, as a matter of fact, have been far from enjoying several other basic facilities they deserve as citizens. That they do not have land ownership certificates is only a reflection of how the marginalised communities of Nepal continue to experience social exclusion. People from the Chepang community, with the population of 68,000 as per 2011 census, are mostly poor.

One of the major leaps Nepal wanted to make through the adoption of the new constitution was ensuring social justice to all, more so to those who are underprivileged, poor, disadvantaged and from the marginalised communities. Article 42(1) of the constitution under “Right to social justice” states: The economically, socially or educationally backward…minorities, marginalised communities… shall have the right to participate in the State bodies on the basis of principle of proportional inclusion. Similarly, Article 42(2) says: The indigent citizens and citizens of the communities on the verge of extinction shall have the right to get special opportunities and benefits in education, health, housing, employment, food and social security for their protection, uplift, empowerment and development. The constitution defines “marginalised” as communities that are made politically, economically and socially backward… who are unable to enjoy services and facilities because of discrimination and oppression and geographical remoteness… and are in lower status than the human development standards mentioned in the federal law.

The constitution is progressive in letters. Now there is a need to lay emphasis on the spirit and the intent. Marginalised people also have equal right to education, health, clean drinking water and a dignified life. Social exclusion deprives them of agency, dignity, security and opportunity to lead a better life. With the new constitution in place and stable governments at all levels—from the Centre to local levels—Nepal is now setting sights on rapid development and prosperity. But until social exclusion is addressed, even if the country achieves economic growth, it will benefit only a few, throwing the poor and marginalised into the vicious cycle of poverty. Ending poverty and ensuring inclusive growth only can result in shared prosperity. Nepal’s marginalised communities for years have been lagging behind, for the state has invariably failed to address social exclusion its root causes, whose costs are very—economically and socially. The Chepangs are but one of the marginalised communities, there are several other disadvantaged and indigenous groups who also face poverty and social exclusion. Governments at all levels must work to improve the ability, opportunity, and dignity of all the disadvantaged and marginalised people on the basis of their identity so that they can take part in society and contribute to the nation.

Promoting handicraft

Nepal’s handicraft business is one of the major sources of earning foreign currency. Nepal, especially the Kathmandu Valley, has maintained the long tradition of craftsmanship. They can be broadly categorised into textile and non-textile handicrafts that reflect Nepali culture, religion and tradition of all communities. To promote Nepal’s handicrafts, the Federation of Handicraft Association of Nepal is holding a Handicraft Fair & Trade beginning today.

After the 2015 earthquake the US government under the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Bill in February 2016 offered duty-free access to the US market for Nepal’s 66 items, including certain carpets, headgears, shawls, scarves, leather products and travel goods till 2025. However, due to weak institutional capacity, Nepal has yet to reap benefit from this facility. The federal and provincial governments should promote handicrafts of other communities, for example the Tharus and Maithalis, who can earn money out of this facility by selling their products outside the country. The handicraft business should be inclusive—not only Valley-centric.