Despite law, Nepal fails to ensure representation of Dalit women in neighborhoods

When Prabha Pariyar was approached with a proposal to run as a parishioner, she had no idea.

“I spoke with senior members of the community. Then some CPN-UML leaders also contacted me,” said Prabha, 43. “Then I thought the post could be a platform for me to raise issues in our community.

She was lined up as a member of Kathmandu Metropolitan City Ward 27. As no candidacy was filed against her, she won the post unopposed long before the election.

“I have now also accepted membership in the party,” said Prabha, who previously worked for a non-governmental organization.

Nepal is holding local elections on May 13. The Local Elections Act 2017 made it mandatory that out of the five people elected in each ward, one of them should be a Dalit woman. This means that 6,743 female Dalit representatives are to be elected from 753 local units across the country. Prabha is one of them.

Despite the law, however, only 6,620 Dalit women will be elected ward members in the upcoming elections, as there are no candidates for 123 wards. The legally mandated number could also not be reached in the last local elections held in 2017. As many as 176 seats reserved for Dalit women as parish members remained vacant.

Political parties used the excuse that they could not find Dalit women candidates.

Dalit rights activists, however, say there are multiple factors – from the discriminatory mindset of leaders to the unwillingness of political parties – that have become obstacles to the election of members of the Dalit neighborhood. in the legally mandated number.

According to Pradip Pariyar, a Dalit rights activist, the prevalent patriarchal mentality among political party leaders and their discriminatory approach continue to hinder the advancement of Dalit women.

“Instead of implementing the constitutional provision of inclusion, they [political leaders] have the mentality of looking for loopholes so they can reduce seats for disadvantaged communities,” Pradip said. “They seem to be the least embarrassed to implement the constitution they drafted.”

The Samata Foundation, headed by Pariyar, had organized provincial campaigns before the candidacies were submitted for the local elections. According to Pradip, political parties had pledged to field as many Dalit candidates as possible for leadership positions in local bodies.

“It is surprising that not only one political party, but all political forces are reluctant to field Dalit candidates,” Pradip said.

According to the 2011 census, Dalits make up 13.8% of the total population of Nepal.

Article 42 (1) of the Constitution states that socially backward women, Dalits, indigenous peoples, indigenous nationalities, Madhesi, Tharu, minorities, disabled people, marginalized communities, Muslims, classes backward, gender and sexual minorities, youth, farmers, workers, oppressed or citizens of backward areas and indigent Khas Arya have the right to participate in state bodies based on the principle of inclusiveness .

When Nepal held its first local elections in 20 years in 2017, around 41% of those elected were women. No less than 6,567 Dalit women were elected for 6,743 vacant positions. This was hailed as a big step towards women’s participation.

Although 176 ward seats reserved for Dalit women remained vacant, political parties were expected to strive to elect the 6,743 female Dalit members.

Durga Sob, a Dalit rights activist who has worked for decades for the upliftment of Dalit women through various social organizations, joined politics a few years ago, hoping that the political platform could help her raise the voice more strongly.

“But I realized that the political parties are not committed to the spirit of the legal and constitutional provisions,” said Sob, former chairperson of the Dalit Feminist Organization and now core member of the Janata Samajbadi party. “If Dalit women have been elected in the past and will be re-elected, it is because of the mandatory legal provisions, not because the political parties really want it.

Most Nepalese political parties are led by men from the so-called upper caste.

Article 24 of the constitution mentions exclusively the right to untouchability and discrimination. Its clause 1 states that no one shall be subjected to any form of untouchability or discrimination in private and public places because of their origin, caste, tribe, community, profession, occupation or of his physical condition. Clause 5 states that any act of untouchability and discrimination in any form committed in violation of this article shall be punished by law as a serious social offence, and the victim of such act shall have the right to obtain compensation in accordance with the law.

There is also a specific law in the country – the Caste Discrimination and Untouchability (Offence and Punishment) Act 2011 – which protects the rights of Dalits.

Despite the constitutional provisions and the law, however, few politicians seem determined to ensure their implementation.

As a representative case, consider a remark by a senior Nepali Congress leader in 2017, made before the local elections at the time. Addressing a meeting of the then Legislative Assembly in April 2017, Arzu Rana Deuba had called for the mandatory provision to send Dalit women to each ward of the 753 local units to be removed as it will not be possible to find Dalit women leaders in every neighborhood.

She had also called for the President’s decision to amend the Local Elections Act 2017, which requires parties to nominate a Dalit woman as a member in each ward. Central Congressman Arzu is also the wife of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba.

According to Bhim Bishwokarma, Researcher and Executive Director of Jagaran Media Centre, who advocates for the elimination of caste-based discrimination and the creation of a more equitable, inclusive and secular society through media mobilization, Nepali society continues to regard Dalits as second-class citizens. .

“Dalit women are not deployed in certain neighborhoods because there is a kind of fear among the so-called upper caste people that they have to show respect to Dalits if elected,” Bhim said. “Discrimination based on caste continues despite the law prohibiting it. Although it is difficult for Dalit women to secure seats, they continue to face discrimination once elected.

According to Dalit rights activists, some of the reasons for the non-appointment of Dalit women who are members of the neighborhood are that they are not affiliated with political parties, their names are not on the electoral roll and they encounter difficulties in obtaining citizenship certificates.

Dalit political party leaders admit that they have not paid enough attention to the issue of inclusion and appointments of Dalit women in the numbers prescribed by law.

“It took five years for parties to learn to avoid a similar mistake after 176 Dalit women members in wards were not elected in 2017. But this time too, there will not be 123 Dalit women members,” said Chhabilal Bishwakarma, a secretary. of the UML.

Rights activists argue that positive measures are essential to ensure the participation and space of the marginalized in state bodies.

“Despite the law, the parties do not present candidates. Now it has become imperative to amend the constitution to mention the provision,” said Pariyar of the Samata Foundation. “I don’t think political leaders take the issue of inclusion seriously. Hundreds of neighborhoods will continue to have no female Dalit members unless mandated by the constitution. »

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