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Casteism in Nepal
Casteism in Nepal is a centuries-old social class system. This system oppresses lower-caste communities and gives power to upper-caste, educated Nepalis. Historically, the caste system justified the subjugation of lower castes, allowing upper-caste Nepalis to use their status to gain security and power. Roughly 260 million people in South Asia are “Dalits,” or members of lower castes, and are therefore treated as ‘untouchable’ by their social superiors. Dalits in Nepal face social, economic, cultural and political marginalization and routinely fall victim to both institutional and structural discrimination. Despite legal provisions intended to eradicate caste discrimination in Nepal, hate crimes and acts of violence against the Dalit community are rampant. The discrimination and violence Dalits experience severely limit their access to equal education, employment and housing opportunities.

Inadequate Legal Protections

After the monarchy was overthrown, the Nepali constitution explicitly banned discrimination “on grounds of origin, religion, race, caste, tribe, sex, economic condition, language, region, ideology or on similar other grounds.” When the Civil Act 1963 emerged, its primary focus was to make caste-based discrimination a punishable offense. The Untouchability and Discrimination Act and the Constitution of Nepal both provide legal protections for Dalits. Yet, discrimination against marginalized communities in Nepal—particularly Dalit people—remains prevalent.

Despite the instituted legal provisions, cases of caste-based discrimination rarely make it to court, much less result in a conviction. In the rare case of a conviction, perpetrators often avoid jail and walk free after merely paying a small fine. “The discriminatory practice of excluding Dalits from all social practice is so deep-rooted that victims have not been able to speak up for their rights which has resulted in such a few numbers of cases in court,” says Durga Sob, President of the Feminist Dalit Organization.

Discrimination Exacerbated by COVID-19

Discrimination against Dalits is embedded in Nepal’s social fabric. COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown have only exacerbated incidents of violence and prejudice. A global crisis such as the pandemic not only exposes existing structural inequalities but also deepens their effects. The lockdown has not prevented violence against Dalits from taking place; there were at least 31 documented cases of physical violence against Dalits during the lockdown period. In particular, an incident on May 23rd in Soti Village, Rukum triggered a nationwide anti-caste movement against casteism in Nepal. The movement, called “Dalit Lives Matter,” is inspired by the “Black Lives Matter” movement in the United States. That day, Nabaraj BK, Tikaram Sunar and Ganesh Budha were murdered in Rukum–a hate crime committed out of caste-based prejudice.

Especially Vulnerable Groups

As previously established, state-imposed discriminatory practices are historically embedded in Nepal’s social fabric. As a result, marginalized communities including Dalits and Indigenous Nepalis bare much of the burden from the country’s political and economic turmoil. According to the Human Development Index, Dalits are the poorest community in Nepal. Over half of Dalits live below the poverty line and 45.5% struggle to make ends meet. Not only are Dalits much poorer than their upper-caste counterparts, but they also have life expectancies and literacy rates below the national average. Dalits routinely lack access to religious sites, face heavy resistance to inter-caste marriages, use separate water sources and suffer many additional forms of discrimination.

Among the Dalit community, women face more violence and marginalization than men. Females are deprived of control over resources such as land, housing, money or education. They are also extremely vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

The centuries-long egregious treatment of the Dalit community in Nepal incited nationwide protests and the “Dalit Lives Matter” movement. To effectively put an end to the violence and oppression of casteism in Nepal, beneficiaries of that system–wealthy upper-caste Hindus in Nepal–must use their privilege to uplift and liberate the Dalit community.

– Shreeya Sharma
Photo: Flickr

How to Fight for Social JusticeAn important thing to keep in mind when learning how to fight for social justice is what social justice really is. Fighting for social justice is a way of solving social inequalities. Social inequalities can come in different forms, but they revolve around two major categories: inter-social treatment and unequal government regulation.

Inter-social treatment describes the treatment of groups of people on a local and regional scale and deals with issues such as racism, sexism, ageism and heterosexism. These social inequalities are commonly based on personal beliefs.

Unequal government regulation describes the laws and regulations in place which discriminate against minorities. These often relate to poverty, the death penalty, civil rights and access to healthcare and education.

Health, education, social mobility, crime, and wellbeing are directly correlated to social inequalities due to inter-social treatment and unequal government regulation. It is important to remember that these two categories of inequality are often linked to each other. These social inequalities can be experienced directly and indirectly, and it is important to keep that in mind when learning how to fight for social justice.

Direct social inequality is the deliberate mistreatment of minorities or groups of people. This can come in the form of actions that take away resources and opportunities from select groups of people based on prejudices and personal beliefs. This type of inequality can include, but is not limited to, physical and/or verbal assault on a person or group of people and laws created based on established prejudices.

Indirect social inequality is enforcing unfair treatment of people unintentionally. Many people are guilty of this form of oppression because they are simply unaware of it. Consumerism is a large factor in this form of social inequality, because often the products being purchased are made by sweatshop workers, produce waste and chemicals which pollute the areas where impoverished people live and even support political candidates who promote social inequalities.

Taking action on a social issue is a major step in learning how to fight for social justice. Activism, by definition, is using consistent campaigning to bring social and/or political change. With the technology available today, even the busiest of people can become activists for social issues through a variety of means:

  • Using social media
    One of the easiest ways to fight for social justice is to use a social media platform. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are all great starting points to grow an active voice for social justice. In today’s age of technology, something as small as a hashtag can be the start of a worldwide social justice movement, such as the “Black Lives Matter”, “Love Wins” and the “Me Too” movements.
  • Donating
    Organizations are always in need of donations to their cause because to fight for social justice, organizations need funding. For some, it is not always practical to donate money, so an alternative is to consider donating your time. Holding fundraisers, hosting rallies and participating in sponsored walks are all great ways to fight for social justice through activism.
  • Contacting Congress
    A critical part of fighting for social justice is starting from the ground up in local government. Big movements take small steps towards greatness, and one way to help move forward for social justice is making a change in government. Contacting Congress about issues and concerns is a pivotal part of creating change. Voting in leadership who support important causes is another important step in fighting for social justice.
  • Joining local groups
    Connecting with local activist groups can help you stay up to date on events, fundraisers, news and information on social issues.

Whether we are fighting against global poverty, racism, sexism, ageism or the many other social issues that face us, the answer to “how to fight for social justice” is understanding what social justice is, finding a voice and using it through activism.

– Courtney Hambrecht

Photo: Flickr