Nepal: Dalit in Federalism Discourse

M. Bishwakarma
A district level Dalit woman in Ilam expressed her grievances over
recent discourse on Federalism stating Dalits are always Dalits, any
form of system will not address their issues. I do not think
Federalism will be supportive for us.

In her quote, there is clear meaning that Dalits are not assured that
they have not found any justifiable reason of future federal mechanism
which will be supportive for them. Federalism is one of the main
issues of discourse in the Nepalese political arena which has not only
created confusion but also given rays of hope for certain community.
There seems division among the Nepalese people in understanding the
federalism though the Interim constitution has clearly provisioned
that Nepal will be a federal country henceforth. A section of the
people are in favor of federalism especially Madhesi and ethnic
communities. However, except the ethnic and Madhesi people, other
people are seen reserved especially on the formation of ethnicity
based provinces in Nepal. In this context, large number of people are
in a dilemma whether the country will be disintegrated if there is
implementation of a federal republic.

Mostly self explanatory fears and suspicion is playing role among
larger section of people that Federalism is unfavorable in the context
of Nepali economical and social situation. Moreover, the recent
proposal of CA’s State Restructuring Committee on the identity based 9
provinces and prime rights to the ethnic groups have added more
troubles to the acceptance of establishing federalism. And, this has
fueled other caste groups to deny the ethnicity based federalism.

In this discourse, some community like Chhetri is demanding that they
are also indigenous marginalized groups and they need equality while
deciding over the rights of indigenous group in Nepal. Dalit is also
one of the communities who are mostly in the state of confusion in
this federalism discourse. Mainly, Dalits are not assured by two
reasons. One, Dalit community is not considered as the separate
identity that deserves separate Dalit province or sub autonomous
province and second, whether their rights is guaranteed or not?

Referring this, Dalit community observes reluctance over extending
blind support to the recent proposal and efforts for the federalism
process in Nepal. As professor Krishna Khanal refers that “the federal
model of Nepal as proposed by CA won’t directly address the concerns
of Dalit and women in Nepal despite these groups are in bigger size in
population.” This is a glimpse for the future of Dalit and women in
federal structure despite there is still a way of negotiating with
political parties. Dalit community in proposed some province can
bargain for their political representation considering their second
larger population.

Nepalese politics is only for those who have power, link and are from
higher class of society, in this reality, Dalits can’t fight for the
rights in provincial level unless the constitution ensures all the
rights clearly.

Dalit Demands?

Dalit are demanding non-territorial province in case CA denies in
providing separate Dalit identity based province. Reason behind
demanding non territorial federal unit is to establish an institution
which can exercise democratic power and can play vital role for the
policy making for Dalit. In the context of world, among 28 federal
countries, there are only two countries like Belgium and Ethiopia
where non-territorial federal practice exist. Some political party
proposed informally non-territorial federal unit; however, later it
could not reflect into the CA preliminary draft papers. Besides, Dalit
leaders of political parties and civil society organization attempted
to establish their agenda of demanding three sub-autonomous units
considering the density of Dalit population like Sahalesh
sub-autonomous province in eastern Tarai, Bhagat Sarbajit
sub-autonomous province in western hills and Bhul sub-autonomous
province in Mid-Far western hills. In these places, Dalit come in a
second position demographically speaking. If there is provision to
establish the sub autonomous provinces; Dalit could easily get some
sub-autonomous provinces. The demographic composition in far western
region shows that they have strength for the political bargain.
However, Dalits are divided by political ideologies and caste
hierarchy that can hinder them for taking united efforts to establish
their rights. That is why Dalits are demanding that they should be
clearly written provision of special rights for certain period of time
unless they are equal to other caste groups. Unfortunately CA state
re-structuring committee did not come with the idea of sub-autonomous
provincial structure. Leaders and representatives of Dalit community
are raising their strong voice in favor of either non-territorial unit
or sub-autonomous province. CA progress to date, do not show that
Dalit demand will be fulfilled with two options mentioned above. If
Dalit identity is considered, Dalit in reality will get a sense of
justice for the discrimination prevailed over past centuries. Only
structure as federal unit does not work for the radical change into
the lives of Dalit community, there should be economical reformation
and affirmative action in every sectors of development.

Dalit in CA thematic report?

Comparatively CA thematic reports are more progressive on the rights
of Dalit. However, issues of eliminating the caste-based
discrimination and restorative justice to Dalit community are not
provisioned in line with Dalit demands. Among the eleven CA thematic
reports, Dalit issues are covered more or less; however, in the case
of federalism, Dalit could not be central agenda for policy makers.
Professor Krishna Hachhethu refers that federalism emerged by the
movement of Madhes and Indigenous community; that is the reason why CA
has given more emphasis on the identity based federalism in Nepal.
But, non ethnic leaders defers over the CA proposal. They claim that
ethnicity based name of state creates more violence and destroys the
social harmony. Name on the basis of rivers and geography is suitable
instead of naming by ethnicity which does not impact people’s
psychology. Dalit are also seen reserve on naming the provinces. CA
thematic committee has come out with special provision in central and
provincial parliamentary political structure for Dalit. Dalit will be
benefited by the special provision of proportional representation in
the all sectors of state. Moreover, 3 % additional quota in central
government and 5 % in provincial government will be added as the
compensation of historical discrimination. Other thematic committee
has attempted to address the issues of Dalit by provisioning that
there will be proportional representation of all caste & ethic groups
in legislature and electoral system, judiciary, administration and
other development spheres as well. Caste based discrimination outlawed
since 2020 BS civil code though practice of untouchability is  rampant
in our society. CA has additionally proposed that perpetrator of the
discrimination will be punished and victim will get compensation as
per the rules of Nepal government. Dalit demand is not only to define
caste based discrimination as social crime instead they are demanding
to make discrimination as the crime against state so that perpetrators
get one step back to encourage discrimination. Almost all the Dalit
representatives of federalism dialogue showed their reservation over
the prime rights provided to the indigenous community. As they
mentioned that they are not against the idea of prime rights. Their
logic is to guarantee the prime rights to Dalit community since they
are discriminated and marginalized for centuries. Similarly, non
ethnic community stands against the prime rights. They have also same
logic that since the province is named on the basis of indigenous
identity and their majority that brings automatic leadership.


Larger number of Dalit leaders and people are not convinced that
Federalism will transform their condition by increasing the access to
state mechanism, equal opportunity in education, economical growth,
politics and discrimination free society. With their reluctance over
federalism, among them some are still hopeful that they can bargain
with political parties’ and state mechanism for their rights to be
ensured at the provincial level. As is the Nepalese political trend,’
might is right’, the top level  Dalit(s) can show their strength in
front of state, will get more rights. However, the division among the
Dalit and non uniformity on their demands will drag to the uncertainty
of the fulfillment by state mechanism. Dalit will not get justice for
the sacrifice of their human rights and devotion for the nation
building. Thus, this is the time to hit the iron otherwise time won’t
wait them for long.

Posted on : 2010-08-29 06:48:17


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