Low caste communities still suffering discrimination

Nepal’s impoverished low caste ‘Dalit’ community continue to be discriminated against almost 20 years after the caste system was banned, human rights activists in Nepal's southwestern city of Nepalganj have complained.

“We still have to live with the hard reality of being discriminated [against] in every aspect of our lives,” said Dalit school teacher, Hari Bahadur Biswokarma, in Nepalganj, 600 km west of the capital Kathmandu.

Biswokarma added that the situation was much worse in the remote western areas of Nepal, which remain among the least developed areas in the country with a per capita income of less than US $1 a day.

The Dalits have suffered from caste discrimination ever since the former Nepalese rulers, the Mallas, introduced the system in the 13th century. It was only in 1990, following the restoration of democracy, that the new constitution declared the practice of caste discrimination a crime.

“But even today, the situation has barely changed as discrimination is rife in both social and economic aspects,” said Dalit activist, Parsuram Nepali, from the local rights NGO, Neglected Community Awareness, Nepal.

He added that due to discrimination, the Dalit families are excluded from most development and economic activities, children are often deprived of education, and women have to work under exploitative conditions in the cities in order to make a living.

According to the Dalit NGO Federation (DNF), around 80 percent of the five million-strong Dalit population lives below the poverty line. DNF explained that the literacy rate is barely 10 percent, with only 3.2 percent of women literate, and most Dalit children suffering malnutrition.

Until recently, the former Maoist rebels had been supporting the Dalits while engaged in a decade of conflict with the Nepalese government. However, following a peace agreement between the two parties in November, the Maoists have been preoccupied with their own political issues, Dalit activists have complained.

“The Maoists had proved themselves committed to end discrimination by punishing especially the high caste landlords who had been exploiting the low caste farmers,” said activist Bhim Nepali from the NGO, Dalit Sewa Sangh.

“The only way to end the discrimination is by empowering and educating more Dalits, but the government has to be seriously committed, otherwise another civil war will start in the country if the neglect continues,” claimed activist Ram Singh Karki, who explained that one cause of the armed conflict over the past decade was related to the social exclusion of the low castes. He warned that the Dalits may be forced to take up arms if their wellbeing is constantly ignored by the state.