Nepaldalitinfo celebrates its 8th anniversary with a forward going call,”It will be wise to extend the term of CA for about six months and concentrate more on pending issues of CA including Dalit issues in addition to addressing issues that are yet to be resolved among the political parties.”
A Special Nepaldalitinfo Report
Today, the nepaldalitinfo, the only international network of 576 Nepali Dalit intellectuals and friends of Dalits as its members, completes its 8th year of successful global intellectual networking. The network is counting the days ahead watching the ensuing sequence of events seriously as the deadline for promulgation of a new constitution of Nepal by the Constitutional Assembly (CA) draws close. Though there is much uncertainty hovering around what course the country will take after May 28, it has been widely clear that a full-fledged all inclusive, representative and democratic constitution for the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal will not be ready for promulgation by this deadline. From the perspectives of Dalit people, their communities and their movement for their rightful position in the society, the constitution with all its parts reflecting their aspirations to live free without any fear of untouchability, caste discrimination and manifold hindrances to their overall well-being is definitely not ready yet.
Looking back before the time when the Nepaldalitinfo was born in 2003, many achievements of Dalit movement made over the years now can be listed with a positive note, though they are still far from the match for the needs and context that the 21st century demands. Most important achievement we’ve got is that the voices of Dalits have pierced through state’s seemingly deaf ears of the past, thanks to the Dalit movement’s continued awareness campaigns and interactions with the people as well as the efforts of Dalit organizations and international communities through their activism, formal and informal media communications and media networking. Upon reviewing the original demands of Dalit people of Nepal that the nepaldalitinfo had put forward at the outset, we can find the following scenarios now:
1. The King of Nepal was the main official agent for fostering the Hindu traditional system of highly discriminatory and hierarchically stratified social structure the forced the Dalit people, about one-seventh of the country’s population, to remain at the lowest stratum as the most oppressed people in the Nepalese society for centuries until today. It was a positive way forward for Dalit people when the King was deposed permanently from the highest seat of power in the country. However, the King never expressed any apology to Dalits, the most oppressed people of Nepal or felt any remorse for keeping them oppressed for far too long until the 21st century. Therefore, Nepal as a state has this important responsibility still left unfulfilled from its part. This must be fulfilled by the new constitution, if the constitution is intended to last long.
2. As soon as Nepal was freed from the autocratic claws of the monarchy, the new interim government took no time to declare the country as being free from untouchability. However, the declaration of the highest order has been no better than a mere lip service to show to the international communities as a part of the state’s international human rights obligations rather than being convincing to any people in the country in terms of its implementation on the ground. An appropriate legislative instrument remains yet to be formulated to effectively implement the state’s declaration into practice in every day life of the people through a comprehensive and compelling set of laws to forbid all forms of caste discrimination and untouchability, removing flaws and ambiguity from the existing laws and putting the severe punitive measures put in action against atrocities committed to Dalits.
3. It is recognizable that there has been some progress in resolving multiple problems associated with citizenship status of many Dalits resulting from age-old practices of caste discrimination. However, some of the pending issues of citizenship are still impacting negatively on the lives of some Dalit people, especially those from Badi community and others, and must be resolved through the new constitution.
4. Dalits are the people from the traditionally hardworking artisan class who were divided and fragmented by the traditional rulers into several hierarchical divisions of labour. Unifying them for the purpose of a common cause of their empowerment for self-determination has been an arduous task for the Dalit movement. The new constitution should make a deliberate provision for their proportional representation to all levels of executive, judiciary and legislative systems of the state. At the same time, Dalit movement has a responsibility to organize its constituent people aligning them a single thread of a responsible and representative organizational system forming their unified assemblies at the national, provincial and local level for their representation.
5. The present National Dalit Commission remains to be elevated to the status of a constitutional body that monitors, administers and advocates Dalit agenda at the national level.
6. Some 20% quotas and special seats at the minimum should be reserved for Dalits in opportunities of secondary and higher education, scholarships, employment in public services and private sectors at all levels. State led century’s oppression on the Dalit people through statutory provisions is the solid ground for allocating these compensatory reservation quotas for them.
7. Thousands of partially or fully bonded Dalit labourers are yet to be freed and rehabilitated in appropriate locations where they can live without fear and hunger.
8. Some signs of affirmative action for Dalits in all high level appointments such as Judge, Ambassador, Government bureaucrat, Commissioner, Director might have come to reality lately. However, they are still negligible and far from being adequate to the proportion of the Dalit population in the country.
9. Dalits represent one of the largest segments of Nepal’s population which has been deprived from the light of education at all levels. Especially, they have less than 1% people who have attained higher education. The state has a responsibility to bring them to the mainstream of higher education through special programs such as targeted campus education as well as open and distance learning.
10. All measurable population level indicators of health show that Dalits are highest in poor health, but are lowest in access to health care. A universal health care system complemented by a long-term program for population health based services based on the care for those who need them rather than those who can pay for them, should be targeted to Dalit population to reduce the inequalities that have been rooted to their births.
Many such scenarios still pending, promulgation of the new constitution now in haste will be flawed and not reflecting the aspirations of Dalit people expressed through their nearly 50 representatives among 601 members of the CA. Therefore, Nepaldalitinfocelebrates its 8th anniversary with a forwarding going call that it will be wise to extend the term of CA for about six months, and concentrate more on pending issues of CA including Dalit issues in addition to addressing issues that are yet to be resolved among the political parties. In doing so, the Joint Committee of CA Dalit Members should be recognized and mandated by the Constitutional Committee as the legitimate representatives of Dalit people of Nepal for the next six-months to bring about all Dalit agenda to the centre of the new constitution making, aligning them with all other provisions made for the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. This will be a way forward for new constitution of Nepal in addressing Dalit rights.
Originally published at NepalDalitInfo, on May 3, 2011. Used with permission.