Discriminated Dalits in Nepal seek hope in education and employment
By Toni Bacala
Fatalities of discrimination: A Dalit woman and child hope to build a
better future. (Photo credit: Creative Commons)
4 May 2011 [MediaGlobal]: In the Kailali district, deep in the
mountains of western Nepal, children from the Dalit caste go to school
only to be shunted to the rear of the classroom, excluded from
activities, and return home with exam papers unmarked by teachers.
Decades since Nepal officially rejected the customary caste system,
the lower-caste Dalits, which comprise over 20 percent of the nation's
population, remain viciously ostracized. Dalit women and children are
especially vulnerable, barred from receiving education, employment, or
the possibility of social equality.
"Caste-based discrimination continues to raise serious human rights
concerns," Representative Jyoti Sanghera of the United Nations High
Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Nepal told MediaGlobal .
The Dalits, literally the "suppressed," have long endured the caste
system established by migrant Hindus in South Asia centuries before.
Their marginalization permeates the basic aspects of life, such as
denial of access to potable water, practice of religion, and freedom
to marry outside of their caste.
In the less developed western regions of Nepal, the economic,
physical, cultural, and psychological violence against Dalit women and
children is acute. Dalit women endure double discrimination based on
gender and caste, which renders them prey to violence and
"Women also often bear the brunt of acts of vengeance against Dalit
communities that try to better their circumstances," explained Maria
Brink Schleimann of the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN).
Poverty and discrimination push Dalit children further to the margins.
The few who are able to go to school are banned from taking certain
classes and from drinking from communal water fountains. "This type of
discrimination has a devastating effect on the self-esteem of Dalit
children and the prospects for them to better their circumstances,"
Literacy provides a tangible gauge of discrimination in the country.
The average literacy rate of Dalits is significantly lower than the
national rate, with Dalit women about 20 percent below the average
"Their limited access to quality education reduces their possibilities
of alternative and better paid employment, pushing them further into
the cycle of poverty and marginalization," Sanghera said.
Recent OHCHR investigations revealed that prevalent discrimination of
Dalits in the workplace bind them to hard labor such as garbage
disposal, butchering, or scavenging. They are restricted to work in
trades that require contact with food and water because, as their
caste implicates, they are deemed impure.
According to Sanghera, there have been several attempts of resistance
from Dalits who sought better lives. However, these were met with
violence, displacement, and further deprivation of daily sustenance.
The prevalent exclusion of Dalit women and children from education and
employment was addressed at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of
Nepal in Geneva last January. The UPR is an evaluative mechanism of
the UN Human Rights Council to ensure the compliance of UN member
states to their human rights obligations.
At the review, attending nations called for Nepal to adopt an
inclusive constitution grounded on human rights, strengthen the
National Dalit Commission, criminalize caste-based discrimination, and
improve educational and economic opportunities, especially directed
toward Dalit women and children.
Humanitarian programs are instrumental in providing Dalit women and
children opportunities of social mobility. Nonetheless, much of the
future of these destitute groups depends on the commitment of the
government to protecting Dalit communities.
In the past year, the Poverty Alleviation Fund (PAF-Nepal) and USAID
Nepal's Education for Income Generation Program have collaborated to
develop literacy and skills trainings program for the disadvantaged
youth of western Nepal. The program provides capacity building and
training in agriculture, technology, commercial marketing, enterprise
creation, and scholarships for vulnerable groups including Dalits.
"The government needs to ensure access to justice for the victims,"
said Sanghera. This requires an aggressive implementation of a
comprehensive legislative framework and justice system against
caste-based and gender discrimination.
As the international community intensifies its call for social
equality in Nepal, special attention must be directed to vulnerable
Dalit women and children to empower themselves for a better future.
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