The river between

According to the 2001 census, the number of ethnic groups (Janajatis) holding high-ranking government positions is only two per cent. Their participation in a number of other fields too is very low. Among other things, discriminatory laws against ethnic groups are sometimes held responsible for this state of affairs. Some hold the view that this also hinders them from preserving their cultural identity in accordance with the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of Nepal. Various political parties have also been accused of not taking a clear stand on the problems facing the Janajatis, but providing only lip service to attract votes. Given this scenario, there is no doubt that it is urgent to restructure the state’s policies towards the ethnic groups and Dalits to uplift them. The Constitution guarantees equality to all citizens, and barring exceptions, the laws seek to embrace the spirit of the Constitution. Nevertheless, their participation at all levels of governance and decision-making is so low that it calls for some kind of affirmative actions. This, however, need not be outright reservation for jobs in the government. Focus should rather be on uplifting the general mass of Dalits and disadvantaged groups, for example, by free universal education for them, than by benefiting just a few through job quotas irrespective of merit. Policies geared to enabling them should be adopted in the first place.

But people belonging to the disadvantaged communities should, on their part, realise that reservation of jobs will not be able to resolve their problems. The government’s efforts to uplift them can only have a limited impact. Those who have lagged behind in development should develop the culture of inculcating knowledge and equipping themselves in every way to compete in today’s world. They should, therefore, first of all, take full advantage of the existing facilities like free primary education. In a democracy worth the name, there is no place for any bias of any kind — be it cultural, ethnic or communal — against anybody. All the laws of the country should be reviewed to see if any discrimination exists despite the constitutional quarantee of equality, and wherever it does, it must be dealt with promptly. In addition, some fair provisions to encourage and help the underprivileged would always be in order.