EDITORIAL: Shameful act

That caste-based discrimination and untouchability still continue in the country in this day and age is but a national shame

The late King Mahendra had criminalised caste-based discrimination and untouchability some 55 years ago through Muluki Ain (civil code). It was a landmark decision of the then government to criminalise untouchability which was widely prevalent at that time. Several amendments had been made to the civil code making any forms of offences related to caste-based discrimination and untouchability. To make both the offences – caste-based discrimination and untouchability – even tougher, Parliament has enacted a separate law relating to Caste-based Discrimination and Untouchability (Offence and Punishment) Act, 2011. Section 4 (2) of the Act states that no one shall, on the ground of custom, tradition, religion, culture, rituals, caste, race, descent, community or occupation, commit or cause to commit any act in public or private sphere against a person by making caste-based discrimination or untouchability. However, caste-based discrimination and practice of untouchability against the Dalit community are still prevalent, mostly in rural areas. Even well-educated persons, including teachers and elected officials, from the so-called upper-caste groups are found to have misbehaved with the Dalits in public places.

A recent example of such ill-practice of caste discrimination came to light in a school in Siraha. A community school in Govindpur of Golbazar Muncipality-9 had to stop mid-day meal programme after the school appointed Bharsai Marik, a Dalit woman from the Dom community as a cook six days ago. According to a local, who himself is Dalit, the so-called upper-caste people boycotted the meal, saying Dalit teacher Gita Rokka had touched the meal while serving it to students. Malatidevi Mahato who used to work before Marik’s appointment as a cook had scolded Rokka in front of the school head teacher Jagadish Yadav. Following the Dalit woman’s appointment as cook, head teacher Yadav had refused to hand over the kitchen key to Marik. It has also come to light that Ward Chair Ram Kumar Kamati had opposed to Marik’s appointment as a cook.

In this case, it has become evident that even the head teacher Yadav, Ward Chair Kamati and so-called upper-case woman Mahato had discriminated against Marik and Rokka on the ground of their caste. Teacher Rokka was scolded in the public place – that too in the presence of the ward chair and the head teacher. Such acts are gross violation of the Act. The accused deserve severest punishment. Siraha CDO Rudra Prasad Pandit has vowed to take action against all those involved in practising untouchability. If someone is found guilty of discriminating against anyone from carrying out his/her occupation – as a cook in Marik’s case – on the ground of caste and untouchability s/he is, under Section 7 (6) of the Act, liable to a jail term of three months to three years or the fine from Rs 1,000 to Rs 25,000 or both. It is a shame that an elected official and a head teacher were involved in mistreating the Dalit women. It’s good that the issue came into the public domain due to timely intervention from some Dalit activists. The National Dalit Commission also should take up this issue seriously.

Road rescue

Majority of Nepalis travel by roads, but sadly our highways are not very safe. We come across reports of road accidents almost every day. According to Nepal Police data, road accidents claimed around 9,000 lives in the last five years (2013-2018). The 88-km road section Nagdhunga Pipalamod on the Tribhuvan Highway to Mauwakhola on the Prithvi Highway witnesses accidents almost every day. The Prithvi Highway sees the second highest number of accidents in the country. Negligence on the part of drivers, poorly maintained and risky roads, overloading of vehicles and speeding are the major causes of road accidents. But most importantly, lack of effective rescue mechanism is resulting in more casualties.

Due to poor rescue management, hundreds of people including dozens of vehicles that fell into the rivers are still missing. There are no trauma care facilities or well-equipped hospitals along the highways, even though road crashes are so common. In case of an accident, the injured have to be rushed either to Kathmandu or somewhere else, and many succumb to their injuries before they reach the treatment centres. The government must recognise road safety as a major issue and work to set up effective rescue mechanisms along the highways.