By Kanti Parmar*
While the discrimination of Dalits in Nepal is a well-known fact, it particularly became a topic of discussion in media more recently after the devastating earthquake shook Nepal in April 25, 2015. Soon after the earthquake, complaints began piling up, suggesting that Dalits communities, traditionally excluded and subjected to several forms of inhuman treatments due to caste-based stigma, suffered from extreme forms of the socio‐economic vulnerabilities in the distribution of relief and rehabilitation, carried out the government.
More recently, a study, titled “Waiting for Justice”, was released jointly by the Dalit Civil Society: Massive Earthquake Victim Support and Coordination Committee, Asian Dalit Rights Forum, National Dalit Watch, and the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, India. It said that, during 65 focus group discussions, held with the affected communities, more than 70 per cent of the respondents unanimously shared the view that, although the destruction of mud houses was massive, there was a willful negligence in providing evacuation services to severely-damaged houses of Dalits.
Confirming the discrimination during the earthquake, a Nepalese Dalit delegation, which visited Gujarat recently, told activists from several non-government organizations (NGOs) in Gujarat that illiteracy is extensive among Dalits, with exceptionally low percentages of the community having access to any type of education. During the interaction, which took place at Navsarjan Trust office in Ahmedabad, it was revealed that landownership is negligible among Nepal’s Dalits. In fact, available facts suggest that landlessness is particularly high among specific Dalit sections: It is 85 to 90 per cent of Madhesi Dalits and 95 to 97 per cent of Musahar Dalits.
The meeting with the Nepalese delegation — which visited several Gujarat villages and met different sections of society in Ahmedabad — was organized by Narsarjan Trust executive director Manjula Pradeep.
Mainly consisting of members of the Feminist Dalit Organization (FEDO), those who gave information on the condition of Dalits, especially women, included Renu Sijapati, Durga Sob and Laxmi Nupani from FEDO, and Nirmal Adhikari, a journalist representing National TV, Nepal. While pointing towards how Dalit women are victims of two types of oppression – untouchability from dominant caste people and domestic violence – it was suggested that the condition of Dalits remains poor despite nine per cent reservation in the government within the 45 per cent overall reservation for vulnerable sections of the Nepalese population.
A law abolishing untouchability was adopted only in 2012. While discrimination is widely prevalent in all parts of the country, it is particularly very deep along the borders with India. One can see this prevailing among the bonded labourers, who are also called haliyas. Though bonded labour was abolished in 2008, and on paper the haliya system does not exist anymore, landlords continue employing them at will, as they have no alternative source of living. Lakhs of haliyas are not paid any wages. They are only “paid” in kind – they are given foodgrains.
It is not just men who work as bonded labourers in the rural areas of Nepal. The entire family is forced to work as hailya for the landlord’s farms. There have been many cases of haliya women being sexually harassed. The extreme form of exploitation led to the formation of the Haliya Mukti Samaj movement, which led to the abolition of the system in 2008. Ever since then, the Nepalese government has been working on schemes to provide land for housing construction to haliyas, which they did not have earlier, the main problem is, they are not being offered any alternative means of livelihood. Even in the draft Constitution, there is no provision of providing land to the haliyas, so that they could live a life of dignity. Haliya children do not go school but work on farmland with parents.
The delegation informed activists that there are other sections of Dalit women, apart from haliyas, who face extreme forms of societal discrimination. Thus, there are vadi women, about 40,000 of them, involved mainly in sex work in Nepal. Because of the stigma attached to them, they are subjected to all types of social harassment. While they are being rehabilitated, their condition remains vulnerable. Further, there are large number of Dalit and indigenous women, particularly in the border areas, who are illegally trafficked into different parts of India and are used into sex trade. Some women are even trafficked to as far away as West Asian countries. Even children are trafficked. Though there is strict checking on the borders, still agents find their way.
The delegation claimed that there is no manual scavenging of the type that prevails in India. People belonging to all castes of the Nepalese population get involved in cleaning work. The delegation also said that there is no temple restriction on Dalits to enter in, as found in different parts of India, pointing out it has become a thing of the past. Such restrictions used to prevail till 1960, when all sections of the population were not allowed into the world-famous Pashupati Nath Temple. But now no more.
*Senior activist, Navsarjan Trust, Ahmedabad