TOPICS : Ending slavery in Nepal

An arsenal of international instruments has been created to combat all forms of exploitation of human beings. Millions across the globe who were subjected to this most invidious denial of human rights, and those who fought tirelessly to end that tyranny aiming to create a just society, deserve our due respect.

In Nepal, slavery was officially outlawed in 1925 during the Rana regime. The long and elaborate speech of Chandra Shumsher, delivered on Nov. 28, 1924, contains genuine desire to abolish this evil. However, it continued for more than three-fourths of the century. Despite the provision in 1990 Constitution proclaiming freedom from “slavery, serfdom, or forced labour in any form”, the practice existed in the name of tradition like haliya and kamaiya and Nepali society had to wait till July 17, 2000 for its official abolition. At present Nepal has become party to nearly two dozens United Nations Conventions and other international instruments that aim at abolishing all sorts of servitude.

With changing social dynamics, keeping domestic workers has become common. Domestic help, especially women and children, are not protected by prevailing labour laws. Moreover, what they do in other people’s homes is hidden from public view. This leaves them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation and all sorts of abuses.

Another bitter side of Nepali experience with ‘slavery’ that remains unaddressed is the issue of forced labour under the Maoist labour camps. While there was armed conflict between government forces and Maoist rebels, they could justify the practice in their base areas under one pretext or the other. But the context and the scenario has changed drastically.

The charges levelled against the Maoists should be looked into by competent authorities and those found guilty brought to book. Otherwise, what will be the difference between American plantation workers of former American South and the Maoist labour camps?

In the end, while we are reiterating that we should never forget the atrocities committed in the past, we should be equally vigilant in seeking to abolish the contemporary forms of slavery that affect millions of men, women and children across the globe. Despite the arsenal of international instruments created to combat the exploitation of human beings, as well as growing awareness of forced labour and sale and prostitution of children, and women, the disturbing truth is that such blatant violations of human rights continue in many areas.

So, it is time for universal remembrance of the tragic events of the past and renewing our efforts to end all forms of oppression in order to build a just society.

So the labour camps need to be stopped immediately and the issue of domestic labourers addressed from the human rights perspective. History is neither to be repeated nor to be forgotten, rather to be treated as the guide.

Shrestha is with NHRC