Landmark verdict and societal reform
The verdict delivered by the Rukum West District Court in the Navaraj BK murder case has rekindled public faith in the judiciary. The esteemed court handed down life sentences to 24 individuals involved in the lynching of six youths, including Navaraj BK, in Chaurjahari Municipality-8, Rukum West three years ago.
Why were Navaraj and his friends killed?
The root cause of this tragic incident was caste, as confirmed by the district court’s verdict. Navaraj, a young man from Ranagaon in Bheri Municipality-4 of Jajarkot, was in a relationship with a non-Dalit Malla girl from Rukum West. Both were happy in their relationship and wanted to get married.
On May 23, 2020, Navaraj and his friends reached the girl’s village in Soti to escort her to his home for the marriage ceremony. Despite the shared happiness of the involved couples and their desire for marriage, the caste divide shattered their dreams.
A mob from the non-Dalit community in Soti village violently attacked Navaraj and his friends, resulting in six deaths and injuring 12 others. The bodies were discovered along the banks of the Bheri River after a long search. Along with Navaraj, his friends Sandeep Bishwakarma, Tikaram Sunar, Ganesh Budha, Lokendra Sunar and Govinda Shahi were killed in the incident.
Caste discrimination remains a pressing issue in Nepal, with Dalits enduring centuries of oppression and violence solely based on their caste. Navaraj’s case is just a representative case. Sayte Damai of Dailekh was murdered by non-Dalit people just because he married a non-Dalit girl. There are many such incidents of discrimination against Dalits. Many reports of INGOs, NGOs and even government offices show Dalits face discrimination in various aspects of life, including access to public spaces, places of worship, and relationships.
A few Dalits muster the courage to pursue legal action in cases of caste discrimination, while the majority remain unheard and suppressed. Local leaders and influential figures often try to settle caste discrimination cases locally.
Non-Dalits caution victims against speaking out, creating an environment of intimidation. Instead of aiding the marginalized majority, whether educated or not, there is a tendency to threaten those who attempt to raise their voice against discrimination. In such a challenging context and prevailing social norms, how can a Dalit hope to attain justice in a case of caste discrimination?
The caste system has persistently denied justice to Dalits throughout history, manifesting in loss of life, property, and enduring inhumane treatment. Despite constitutional provisions such as Articles 17, 18, 24, and 40 explicitly advocating for equality, human rights, and freedom, the prevalence of caste conflicts persists among non-Dalits who disregard these laws.
While there are ongoing caste discrimination cases in the courts, Dalits rarely find justice in such matters. Deepa Nepali’s case in Kailali, where she faced eviction from a rented room based on her caste, exemplifies the challenges encountered by those seeking legal redress. Despite initial threats, Deepa, a university student, courageously pursued legal action. Unfortunately, the verdicts from the Kathmandu District Court and Patan High Court were not in her favor. There are many examples of systemic challenges faced by Dalits in securing justice.
The history of Dalit justice has not been favorable, with the caste system often overshadowing legal proceedings. In this instance, however, the Rukum West District Court has demonstrated a commitment to breaking this pattern. This landmark verdict is not only a victory for the grieving families of the victims but also a triumph for the entire Dalit community. This groundbreaking decision sets a legal precedent that may pave the way for justice in future caste-related cases. The court's acknowledgment of the caste-based motivations behind the violence sends a powerful message that justice can prevail even in the face of deeply entrenched discrimination.
The caste system, inherently discriminatory and illegal, stands against the principles of humanity and the law. It perpetuates division, imposing arbitrary rules and restrictions. It is imperative for Nepali society to reconsider its stance on this inhumane system. Without a collective effort to eradicate caste-based discrimination, incidents like the Rukum massacre may continue to plague our society. Authorities, civil society, and the public must unite to eliminate this systemic injustice from our midst.
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