Monday, November 21, 2011

[ZESTCaste] The Case of the Dalits in Nepal

Opinion: The Case of the Dalits in Nepal
Asia News NetworkBy The Editorual Desk in Kathmandu/The Kathmandu Post
| ANN – Sat, Nov 19, 2011

Kathmandu (The Kathmandu Post/ANN) - Since Nepal opened up its borders
in the 1950s to the outside world and greater global trends,
traditional modes of societal function have undergone a rapid
transformation. Historically a rigid social hierarchy, Nepali society
is struggling to come to terms with modern values propagated by a
belief in democracy and the realities of globalisation. The news of a
Dalit man smeared with soot in Ghandruk is telling of the need for the
values of democracy - equality and justice, among others-to be
internalised by society. In the post-conflict context, ethnicity,
culture and language have taken on paramount importance in all aspects
of life, but the Dalit community, for a variety of reasons, hasn¿t
been able to gain the kind of momentum its Janajati counterparts have.
The Dalit community, unified only through their rejection by the state
and all factions of Nepali society, is notably different to other
Janajati, Adivasi definitions. The news of Karna Bahadur Nepali, who
was smeared with soot by Gurung locals for wanting to take part in a
feast, is a case in point.

It would be false to say the Dalit movement hasn¿t progressed since
the institutionalisation of caste-based definitions in the Muluki Ain
of 1854 by Jung Bahadur Rana. In 1965, caste discrimination was
officially outlawed. But hundreds of years of the practice of
untouchability couldn¿t so easily be ousted with a mere change in law.
However, with the changed laws and the second movement for democracy
in 1990, awareness among the Dalit community began to grow, resulting
in increased levels of education. This progress was made against all
odds: they are geographically, culturally and linguistically scattered
throughout the country. This is the primary reason why the movement
for Dalit rights hasn¿t been able to accomplish what other movements
have - like the Janajati and Adivasi movements. While Janajti groups
may have been discriminated against by higher caste Barhamins and
Chhetris, Dalits face discrimination from both groups.

The incident in Ghandruk is symbolic of the complex caste and ethnic
dynamics. If the Janajati movement is defined by the demand for
equality and justice for marginalised groups in the country, the very
fact that some members of this group are themselves practicing
discrimination against Dalits not only undermines the Janajati
movement, but is telling of how entrenched casteism is in our society.
Furthermore, another

reason for why the Dalit agenda hasn¿t seen drastic positive results
is because discrimination is practiced among Dalits themselves. The
lack of unity among this most downtrodden group is thus weakening the
Dalit movement for equality. Unlike other caste and ethnic groups, the
Dalits don¿t share a common cultural and social identity and often
have more in common culturally with their high-caste counterparts,
making a unified voice particularly difficult. But for the movement to
see more success, these differences will have to be put aside and the
Dalits of Nepal must stand united for the common cause of equality.


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