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The Unjust Treatment of Dalits in Nepal

By Sera Mishra

Genocide Watch

Source: Nepali Times

Nepal has been a multi-ethnic society since the 5th Century. Caste hierarchy is based on ancient Hindu beliefs. It was officially established in 1769 and legalized in 1854 through the Muluki Ain (National Code). 

The Dalit caste, or Untouchable caste, is at the bottom of the hierarchy and makes up about 13% of Nepal’s population, nearly 3 million out of 30 million Nepalese citizens. 

The ideology which characterizes Dalits as unclean arose out of the Brahmanical hierarchy long ago when upper classes viewed aboriginal tribes as impure. The concept of untouchability is deeply entrenched in Nepali culture, and affects the political, social, and economic rights of the Dalit caste in the modern day. 

Currently, hate speech in person and online worsens the condition of Dalits. This hate speech persists in the form of threats, biases, and stereotyping. There has been an increase in violence against Dalits since the Covid-19 pandemic. The Nepalese government, security forces, and civilian communities subject Dalits to many forms of discrimination and dehumanization. 

Forms of Discrimination 

Dalit communities rarely participate in government and social policy making due to institutional and societal barriers. Few Dalit citizens are elected locally and nationally. Nepal’s government does not represent the diversity of the country. 

As of 2022, 42% of the Dalit population is living below the national poverty line. Dalit communities experience a lack of educational and job opportunities. They often have to live in completely segregated neighborhoods. In many instances, Dalits are not even permitted to drink from the same tap as other castes. 

Many Dalits have poor health due to discrimination and neglect by medical practitioners. High discrimination rates globally and in Nepal are linked with health problems such as lower life expectancy, lower birth weight, higher infant mortality rates, and higher levels of depression. 

This pattern is exhibited by a majority of Dalits in Nepal. Many Dalits are severely depressed, but they are afraid to speak about their condition due to fear of further stigma. Nepalese culture is intolerant of mental health problems because of popular associations between mental illness and insanity or substance abuse. 

Dalits have received the least aid during natural disasters and socioeconomic crises. The devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal in 2015 is an example. Dalit households were intentionally excluded from relief, even though they were often the worst affected by aftershocks. Dalit communities were denied treatment and vaccinations during the Covid-19 pandemic due to lack of access to clinics and higher rates of infection among Dalits. 

The criminal justice system in Nepal disproportionately arrests and convicts Dalits. Dalits are unprotected from abuse by police and higher castes. They are prohibited from entering Hindu temples. They are excluded from ordinary social life. They are not permitted to marry above their caste. 

Instances of Violence 

In 2019, 49 cases of discrimination against Dalits were recorded by Nepal’s Human Rights Commission. This is only a tip of the iceberg of actual discrimination. During Covid lockdown the next year, there was a major spike in violence against Dalits, who were blamed for the pandemic. There were over 753 cases of discrimination against Dalits reported to the Human Rights Commission, including 34 murders.

The perpetrators in cases of violence against Dalits are usually members of other castes who typically know their victims and live in the same neighborhoods. They usually utilize intimate forms of violence such as beating or choking to brutalize Dalit victims.

Dalits are also targeted because Dalit activism is falsely tied to the Maoist rebellion movement. Dalits are accused to be rebels planning insurgencies against the current government. 

People feel comfortable inciting violence against Dalit communities because impunity is permitted by law enforcement agencies. Perpetrators are confident they will not be punished for their actions. Police often refuse to register complaints from Dalits. 

Only weak laws protect Dalits. In 1990, a constitutional guarantee of rights against caste-based discrimination was adopted in Nepal. This bill of rights was expected to prompt social change in Nepal. But it has gone largely unenforced because it must be implemented by the government.

In 2011, the Caste Based Discrimination and Untouchability Act (CBDU Act) was passed, which prohibits caste-based discrimination in any public or private place. The Act led to the formation of commissions to ensure the rights of Dalits and other ethnic minorities. However, the Act does not explicitly prohibit direct and indirect forms of discrimination. It does not prohibit discrimination based on skin color. Colorism is a persistent phenomenon in Nepal. The government fails to prosecute individuals who engage in caste discrimination. So in practice, violence and reinforcement of the caste hierarchy continues. 

In May of 2020, a village mob beat and killed Nabaraj BK and five of his friends due to Nabaraj’s relationship with a girl from an upper caste. On December 5, 2020, one of Nepal’s district courts convicted 26 individuals for the killing of Nabaraj and the five others. The case is seen as a precedent that will hopefully lead to further legal action against hate crimes. 

In 2020, a 13 year old Dalit girl, Angira Pasi, hanged herself in a village in western Nepal. A 25-year-old man, Birendra Bhar had raped her the day before. Instead of referring the crime to the police, locals decided that Pasi should be married to Bhar. When Pasi was sent to Bhar’s home to be married, she was beaten by his mother. In despair, she hanged herself from a tree. Police took no action until there was a public outcry. 

Bonded Slavery System and Its Impact 

Many Dalits were and still are subjected to bonded labor slavery through a system known as haliya. Haliya was officially abolished in 2008, but it is still common. Dalits who are still enslaved are forced to perform inhumane tasks, such as disposing of dead animals or collecting human excrement. 

Most Dalits still in the haliya system are unaware of their rights. Without economic support, families who try to escape the system often fall back into it. The Nepalese government has established a rehabilitation program for victims of haliya. But it is estimated that this rehabilitation program has reached less than 5% of haliya families. 

Dalit Women 

Sexual violence and other forms of violence against Dalit women are common. Dalit women have no control over resources such as land, housing, or money. Children of Dalit women cannot receive an education. Dalit women are vulnerable to human trafficking and sexual slavery. Dalit girls are kidnapped and brought to Indian brothels, where they are forced to work as prostitutes

In Mumbai, there are an estimated 40,000 Nepali prostitutes. The women of the Badi community, who reside in the highlands, are especially vulnerable. It is commonly believed that Badi women’s sole purpose is to satisfy the sexual cravings of men. The Badi are known as the “untouchables of the untouchables.” Due to their low status and extreme poverty, many Badi families have resorted to selling Badi women into prostitution. 

Dalit women are the most exploited slaves in the haliya system. They already play a subordinate role to men in Nepalese society. Being in bonded slavery they have no civil rights.  Nepalese women usually cannot access the land that is supposed to be granted to them as part of a government rehabilitation program. A Dalit woman’s chance of escaping slavery and oppression is almost non-existent. 

What Must Be Done

The Nepalese government has an obligation to abide by its own laws and protect all its citizens, regardless of their caste or social status. Dalit activists have a growing voice in Nepal. Dalit activism is becoming increasingly effective in the fight for equal rights, education, and economic opportunities for Dalit communities. It will take a concerted effort by the government, security forces, and local community leaders to bring full civil rights to Dalits. 

  • The CBDU Act should be amended to fully prohibit direct and indirect discrimination based on caste, ethnic origin, skin color, or religion so that all minorities are protected under this law. 

  • The Nepalese government should establish national-level policies for Dalit inclusion in the economy, moving beyond the quota system to specific protections, provisions, and opportunities for Dalit families.

  • The Nepalese government should make a greater effort to include more Dalit women in the haliya rehabilitation program. 

  • Sources of hate speech against Dalits must be monitored and taken down.

  • Nepalese police forces must take action to stop violence against Dalits and the sexual abuse and trafficking of Dalit women.


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