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Unite and conquer

  • Dalit groups need to politically combat caste-based discrimination at all levels

JUN 10 -

It has been over 60 years since the Nepali constitution banned caste-based discrimination. Nepali society has transformed dramatically during that period. Yet the notion of caste hierarchy and the various oppressions associated with it continue to persist. Among the various groups that have been victims of caste discrimination are the Dalits who face the most pernicious form of oppression. In many areas of the country, non-Dalits seek to impose a rigid social barrier between themselves and Dalits. When this barrier is breached, or if Dalits seek to assert themselves in any way, there is often a major backlash that includes severe violence against Dalits. Most of these events remain localised and unknown to the broader world. A few of them, however, are reported in the media.

One such case occurred last Friday in Rautahat district. A large group of non-Dalits attacked a Dalit settlement and vandalised all the houses there. When the Dalits attempted to protect their property, they were beaten up and fourteen of them were injured. A tap, which was the single source of water for locals, was uprooted. It appears that the non-Dalit villagers of the area were aggrieved that a group of Dalits had entered a local temple on the occasion of a wedding. It is well-known that one of the ways in which upper-castes seek to perpetuate their domination is to restrict the entry of Dalits into the social and religious lives of communities. Dalits across South Asia have had to face violence when they have tried to enter temples and other communal spaces.

It is to the credit of the authorities that a large number of security personnel have entered the area where the attack occurred and are protecting the Dalits from further violence. A number of attackers have also been taken into custody. We hope that they will be confronted with the full force of law. Over the longer term, civil society activism will be necessary to uproot discriminatory practices such as those faced by Dalits. Most importantly, however, the response has to be political. Even as many other groups have succeeded in mobilising over the past six years, this has not been true for Dalits. There are many Dalit organisations but they remain fragmented. Strong Dalit groups that succeed in creating a feeling of belonging and unity across the nation need to be formed. Such organisations need to intervene at all levels of politics—through political parties and elections, through attempts to formulate laws and attempts to change popular discourse and perceptions. Granted, this is a long-term project; it does not seem that caste discrimination will become extinct anytime soon. But as the history of oppressed groups in South Asia and other areas of the world have shown, strong organisation and militant campaigning is the only way in which people such as the Dalits can gain their rights.

Posted on: 2013-06-10 08:27