Inclusivity and minority rights: Reservation ensures them

Inclusiveness is about not restricting anyone on the basis of race, caste, colour and gender to participate in all government services. We have moved a step further and accepted a doctrine where participation of all is ensured through reservation

Though democracy is all about numbers, our constitution has done fair justice to those holding small numbers in terms of population by ensuring their representation in all institutions of the country.

One of the frequently asked questions is, why do we need a separate provision for the minority and marginalised groups when Article 18 of the constitution assures no discrimination and equal treatment of all Nepalis? First of all, we have to be clear about a widely misunderstood concept that providing certain rights to the minorities doesn’t mean they are exempted from the general rule that all citizens must abide by the constitution. It is said that a country’s diversity should be reflected in every sector, only then can its diversity or heterogeneity be preserved. Minority rights serve as a basis for their representation in diverse sectors of the society. Article 18 creates a legal obligation, and for its execution minority rights serve as a medium.

Over the years, various historical pacts, like the Indian Poona Pact, have created an obligation on the government to protect minority rights. Nepal has gone a step further by accepting a doctrine of inclusivity by ensuring the participation of diverse communities through reservation.

We have rejected the American concept of all diverse identities merging into one American identity. Our 2015 constitution doesn’t emphasise on maintaining homogeneity in society, instead it focusses on preserving its heterogeneity. Nepal is a multi ethnic, multi linguistic and multi religious country, and home to people of diverse races, religions, castes, socio economic conditions and languages. However, minority rights have been limited to the rights of Dalits, Muslims and a few indigenous groups in our country. A Brahmin speaking the Nepali language could also be considered a minority in places of the Tarai where most people are Muslims and speak Maithili or another language. Thus the Brahmin is fully entitled to minority rights in that particular area.

Through various movements and struggles we have incorporated federalism in our constitution, and hence have rejected the idea of one state, one language, one religion and one law. We believe that every community is different, so each should be free to have its own identity and recognition. Each should have its self-deciding power on what language to speak, what practices to follow and enact laws accordingly themselves.

Federalism and devolution of power are not just about creating states and local governments. The main purpose is to allow every community to take decisions on its own about their culture, language and identity. There should not be any authority to impose decisions on a community on how it ought to live.

Every community needs some level of autonomy to grow and develop further. If the state can’t give it autonomy and constantly tries to regulate it and interferes with their way of living, then the community can’t expand and its culture and traditions will die after a few generations. Everyone needs a community to enjoy various rights entrusted by the constitution, like the right to culture, language and the like.

If there is no community where a person can speak his or her language, no one to celebrate his or her culture, then there is no value of such rights. Many of our fundamental rights are linked with our community, and if the government can’t preserve its communities, then the rights given to the members of a community are of no value. A community is preserved when its representation is seen in various sectors of government. And for a suppressed community, it’s very difficult to get into these sectors without government support. Affirmative action is merely government fulfilling its obligation under the pact, that is, the constitution it is bound to. Through positive discrimination or affirmative action we have tried to do justice to those who might have been deprived of opportunities in the past, intentionally or unintentionally. Without providing some extra benefit they may not easily get into the social and economic mainstream.

Nepal has accepted the doctrine of inclusivity, which goes a little beyond the principle of inclusiveness. Inclusiveness is all about allowing everyone and not restricting anyone on the basis of race, caste, colour and gender to participate in all areas of the government. We have moved a step further and accepted a doctrine where participation of all is ensured through reservation. For example, a woman might hesitate to compete with other men having a strong position in the society in a ward election. Through inclusivity, we have reserved seats in each ward for women so that they now no longer have to complete with the men, and their representation is truly ensured.

Through inclusivity and affirmative action, representation of the most deprived community is ensured. However, if not regulated properly, it can be misused yet again by those holding power in the deprived community itself. We have tried something new. To see its results, we might have to wait a decade or so. If we are successful, we truly will set an example for other countries struggling to maintain harmony among various diverse sections of the society. Undoubtedly we have formulated one of the best constitutions in the world, but implementation remains the key challenge.