The Nepali constitution bars discrimination “on grounds of origin, religion, race, caste, tribe, sex, economic condition, language, region, ideology or on similar other grounds”. This constitution itself was drafted by the fully sovereign Constituent Assembly that was elected following a bloody civil war. The hereditary monarchy, blamed for all kinds of social discriminations, was removed and a federal republic heralded in its place. From here on in, all Nepalis would be equal before the law, and those practicing any kind of discrimination would be prosecuted. Or such was the exalted vision.
In reality, all the kinds of discriminations proscribed by the constitution continue, none more so than the one based on caste. And no other section of the society is as discriminated against as the Dalits, who, according to the 2011 census, make up 13.6 percent of the national population. Scattered all over the country and regarded as the ‘lowest caste’ (or ‘untouchables’) in caste hierarchy, the food they touch is still ‘impure’ for higher cases and they continue to be barred from Hindu temples in parts of Nepal. Sometimes, they may even be murdered.
On May 23, Nabaraj BK, a Dalit from Jajarkot in western Nepal, and five of his close friends, also Dalits, were chased and beaten, and their injured bodies thrown into a raging river. All of them died. Another 12 friends of BK were injured, at the hands of the ‘high caste’ villagers in Chaurjahari Municipality of Rukum (West) district. BK had planned to elope with his high caste lover and gone to Chaurjaharai with his friends to get her. It turned into the worst nightmare they could have imagined.
In the ongoing investigation, police have detained 34 suspects for the crime. Yet Dalit activists fear the investigation may not be impartial. “We fear evidences might be tampered with or the investigation might be relaxed if we are not vigilant,” says Pradip Pariyar, executive chairperson at Samata Foundation Nepal, who also identifies as a Dalit Lives Matter activist. “Our team of lawyers and rights activists has visited the incident site and made our own observations. We conclude that this is a premeditated murder fueled by racial discrimination.”
It is important that the pressure on the government and the judiciary be maintained so that bereaved families can get justice. If the police can sort this out and the perpetrators get punishments that befit their crimes, it will set a strong precedent. It will be a potent show of the state’s intent to wipe out caste-based discrimination.
At the same time, the state must work more with the NGOs, civil society organizations, and the media to create a new discourse on Dalit empowerment. What are the problems they face and how do we as a society help them deal with them? What kind of message do we give to our youngsters to get them to ditch the discriminatory paths charted by their parents and grandparents?
It’s a tragedy we have to keep emphasizing that Dalit and Black and Ahmadi and Rohingya lives matter, as if many of us silently believe just the opposite.