Righting historical wrongs: UNDP-supported monitoring group takes on caste-based discrimination

Jun 19, 2017

The National Dalit Commission's Joint Monitoring Group, formed with UNDP support, has helped over 30 families access justice, as well as raising awareness among thousands of Nepalis regarding existing anti-discrimination laws

A major breakthrough in addressing the rights violations of the historically-excluded Dalit community in Nepal had come in 2014, with the formation of a monitoring group by the National Dalit Commission (NDC), as part of the country’s response to the Universal Period Review recommendations it had recently received related to caste-based discrimination. Formed on May 15 of that year—and with technical support and funding from UNDP’s Rule of Law and Strengthening Human Rights Protection System in Nepal (RoLHR) programme—the Joint Monitoring Group (JMG) was composed of six other key organizations working in Dalit issues: the National Human Rights Commission, National Women Commission, the Adivasi Janajati Utthan Rastriya Pratisthan, Dalit NGO Federation, Nepal Police and the Prime Minister’s Office. And within a short time of the JMG’s advent, the NDC had completed 31 incident- and issue-based monitoring of cases relating to caste-based discrimination.

Among these was the case of Jhuma BK, of Nangkholyang in Taplejung, who “hanged” herself in July 2014. Initially, local authorities were ready to shelve the incident as an instance of suicide, but when Jhuma’s brother, Nar Bahadur, appealed to the NDC, the JMG was dispatched to investigate. The team soon learned that Jhuma had been subjected to beatings and harassment by two of her neighbors, and based on the evidence, it was found that it was the beatings that had killed her. The accused were subsequently apprehended and jailed, and justice thereby served to Jhuma’s family.

A similar tale, and which made evident the general apathy of local police and investigators towards Dalit deaths, was that of Ajit Mijar of Kavre, who was also found to have died from hanging in early July 2016 in Fursekhola, Dhading. Ajit had gotten married to a “high-caste” girl, and his parents suspected the girl’s family to have had a hand in his death. But by the time the NDC stepped in, following an appeal by Maiya Rokka of the Kavre chapter of the Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organization, the police had already buried the body without conducting a post-mortem. The Commission spared no efforts, collaborating with the civil society, and had the body dug up and sent to be examined, and further registered the case and took it to court. High-level meetings were held, and an investigation committee duly formed with the involvement of the Assistant Chief District Officer at the district level and the Human Rights and Social Justice Committee of Parliament at the centre. The case reached the High Court and the family was given Rs. 1 million as compensation.

Religion and notions of purity comprises one of the key bases of discrimination against Dalits, who are also often prevented from religious practice and advocacy. Manmaya Devi Damai and Laxmi Pariyar of Nawalparasi learned this the hard way when, in the process of promoting the Hindu religion, they were verbally and physically accosted by non-Dalits, who claimed that they had gone against the spirit of Hinduism. Upon having the case registered with them, the NDC held a meeting between political parties, victims and members of the concerned society, and the discussion therein helped the guilty party recognize their mistakes, and led them to apologize to the two women. Likewise, Jagnarayan Kori from Kapilbastu had also been rebuked by members of the dominant Chaudhari community for having touched and “polluted” the sacred land surrounding a temple in his village during a worship programme. Although the issue was quickly resolved, things soon turned violent when the Chaudharis attacked the Koris in the midst of their own celebrations. The local police eventually arrived to arrest some of the offenders, and the District Court did charge them some fines, but the Chaudharis soon registered a counter case against the Koris, accusing them of robbery and even murder. It wasn’t until the NDC’s intervention that the case moved ahead, with the victims receiving the necessary compensation for their treatment.

laxmi pariyar case 1

Another case, and one that received a great deal of media attention, was that of Laxmi Pariyar of Kavre, who was found to have been murdered in late 2016 over allegations of witchcraft by local Hira Tamang and his family. Laxmi’s younger brother reported the incident to the NDC, and a JMG team moved swiftly to the site to gather facts. The story was given high priority and after meetings with the police, the family of the victims, the locals and other related stakeholders—including one with the Dalit Civil Society, the media and politicians—to gather their support, the NDC was able to help in placing the suspects in custody. The issue was even raised in Parliament and an investigation team put together. While the government has so far given Rs. 1 million to Laxmi’s family, the case is still being finalized in court.

Other cases illustrate the various barriers faced by the Dalit community in accessing essential services, such as an incident registered in 2016 from Nawalparasi district by Jeet Bahadur Musahar, which stated that the Musahar students studying at the primary level were being deprived of the government facilities being allocated to the community since they were used “Majhi” as their surnames. The NDC, led by its chairperson, undertook a field visit, and upon making inquiries in the area, learned that the Majhi students indeed belonged to the Dalit Musahar caste and were therefore eligible for government incentives. This was a particularly significant distinction considering there were around 8,000 Musahars in the area. Following the Commission’s efforts, the scholarships were extended to the Majhi students as well.

There are also examples of discrimination against Dalits in the course of employment. Bhim Bahadur Pariyar, for instance, had been deployed to Khotang district to teach at a high-school there, but he had been prohibiting from starting his job for being a Dalit. Matrika Prasad Bishwokarma of Ilam had a similar experience when he became headmaster of the Sangrumba Higher Secondary School, following which the parents of the students and the society at large had refused to accept his appointment. Interventions by the NDC in both cases—through conducting extensive interactions with stakeholders such as the District Administrative Office, District Education Office, the school and the School Management Committee in the former; and by registration of the incident with the police in the latter—improved circumstances considerably. While Bhim Bahadur says he has now started his service at the school, Matrika Prasad’s case is still in the process of being finalized at court, although he reports feeling more secure in going to work now.

interaction with police abt ajit case