Anish Kumar Thokar, Nepal
The recent political conversion in Nepal resulted in several inclusion policies and changes. However, many Adibashi-Janajati, Madhesi, and Dalit are still politically excluded, economically deprived, and socially marginalized from the mainstream of state apparatus. To discover the root cause of this social inequality, we have to study the historical injustices and exploitation committed by the state against its own citizen based on gender, caste, and religion.
Historical records indicate that the discrimination was in existence in Nepal since the Lichchavi era (400-750 CE). But it was the Malla era (1201- 1778 CE), during the 13 year-long reign of King Jayasthiti Malla (1382-1395) that this discrimination was institutionalized through the Hindu Varna or caste system. Historical records from Kumon and Garwal region of north India reveal that the people from certain castes or communities were sold as slaves by the ruling Gorkhas to other empires in the region from 1804 to 1816. Slavery was legalized by the Muluki Ain of 1854, which was Nepal’s first legal code. The Tharu, Tamang, and Chepang indigenous communities, among others, were declared “enslavable” by the Muluki Ain.
Slavery was abolished in Nepal in 1924. The 1990 and 2015 constitutions also guaranteed basic human rights and outlawed any form of discrimination on the basis of caste, class, and religion. In practice, however, discrimination and inequality in a supposedly-democratic Nepal still continues.
Inequality is a hotly-debated issue in Nepal. Some argue that inequality exists but only in the form of economic class. Others, particularly those from disadvantaged communities, argue that ethnic and caste inequality is still real and widespread. The National Census Data, National Human Development Index and other data from the government and non-government organizations point out that inequality in Nepal has multiple dimension. Gender, caste, and ethnic inequality are real in Nepal as much as the economic class-based inequality.
For example, the Tamang people, who make up about 5.8% of Nepal’s population, has a literacy rate of only 62.6 %. On the other hand, the dominant Brahmin community, who make up about 12.2% of the population, has 81% literacy rate. Similarly, 87.8% of Brahmin households have access to clean drinking water compared with only 79.7% of Tamang households.
In addition, 83.2% of Brahmin households have mobile phones while only 60.1% of Tamangs have them. Almost half of Brahmin households have access to clean cooking fuels, but thisrate falls to less than one in four (22.4%) for Tamang households. The percentage of Brahmin families who can avail of electricity are also significantly higher (85.8%) than their Tamang counterparts (70.4%).
This unequal social status shows that the Brahmin community became privileged because of their caste and religion. The Tamang community, however, is an underprivileged group of people as they were categorized as enslavable by the Muluki Ain. They were also restricted from government service because of eating beef. During the Malla reign, forced labour regimes known as rakam were imposed on the Tamang communities in many districts surrounding Kathmandu. Even in the 1970’s, Tamang people were considered aliens, outsiders from the economic and political elite of Kathmandu.
In my opinion, the inequality between the historically marginalized and traditionally excluded Tamang community and dominant Brahmin community cannot be ended with the free market and equal completion. This is because they are unequal. Unless the playing field is equalized, “equal competition” will be equal only in name and highly unfair in reality. The inequality between them can only be addressed if the Nepalese government implements the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) and ILO 169, two major demands of Tamang social movement organizations. If the Nepalese government implements human rights as per UDHR and indigenous rights as per ILO 169, then prevailing inequality between Tamang and Brahmin communities will decrease, thus laying the foundations of social solidarity and national unity.
Featured photo: Stephen Bugno/Forests News
*The contents of this opinion piece are solely those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the view of the either Global Campus of Human Rights Asia Pacific, the universities under it, or the APMA program.