Unrealised constitutional promise: Advancing human rights of Dalits in the country

caste discrimination - Rights of Dalits
File: A participant of a demonstration that demands justice for Dalits

Recently, the data from the 2021 census has been released, revealing that the total population ratio of Hill and Madhesi Dalits is 14.79 per cent. With such a significant portion of the population being Dalits, it is evident that the state’s role in protecting the rights of Dalits should be increased.

Throughout history, the state has marginalised Dalits, either through legislation or by discouraging them from exercising their rights. The Constitution of Nepal provides various provisions to protect Dalits’ rights, address their issues appropriately, and ensure effective representation and implementation.

The preamble of the constitution states that all forms of discrimination and oppression created by the feudal, autocratic, centralised unitary state system will be ended. It also pledges to eradicate untouchability and promote unity, social and cultural harmony, tolerance, and diversity.

The constitution opens doors for the full exercise of civil liberties, human rights, and fundamental rights. However, it is still not materialised fully as it should be. So, there is still some work the country can do to protect the human rights of Dalits.

Making constitutional bodies effective

By ensuring the effectiveness of constitutional bodies, the state can effectively empower the commissions created for backward and minority communities, including Dalits. This can be achieved by providing adequate resources and not compromising on budget allocation.

It is important to focus the budget on research and enable the relevant commissions to effectively listen to the sentiments and desires of the people they represent. Additionally, the state should demonstrate its support for Dalit youth by providing scholarships through various means.

Political parties should prioritise the appointment of members and chairpersons to commissions such as the Dalit Commission, Human Rights Commission, and Women’s Commission, ensuring they possess moderation, sensitivity, and a genuine commitment to the cause.

The Dalit Commission, as a dedicated body for Dalits, should demonstrate its vigilance in protecting the rights of Dalits. By working within the framework of the constitution and exercising caution, the commission can effectively fulfil its role. When appointing members to constitutional bodies, it is advisable to select individuals with good conduct, a comprehensive understanding of society, knowledge of the issues faced by Dalits, and a strong determination to address these challenges.

It is important to avoid sending the wrong message to the public by appointing individuals with ulterior motives and instead prioritising securing political participation. The recommendations put forth by the Dalit Commission should be implemented, and if necessary, policies, rules, and reforms should be adopted with flexibility by the state to protect the rights of Dalits.

File image: A Dalit settlement in Terai

Appointment based on proportional representation

Constitutional provisions indicate that appointments should be made based on proportional representation, and advertisements should be transparently released.

When appointing members of the Council of Ministers or ambassadors, the government’s effective results are achieved when appointments align with the constitution and represent all classes and communities.

If there is no representation from the Dalit community, which constitutes around 14 per cent, in ambassadorial appointments, it sends a message of exclusion.

Sensitivity on the part of the state will increase public trust. The state should adhere to the constitution, laws, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights without prejudice.

Access to information technology, education, and healthcare

As the state facilitates an environment conducive to harnessing the full potential of information technology, individuals from all walks of life can express their opinions, and marginalised communities can utilise it as a powerful tool to voice their concerns.

Information technology has evolved into a means of connecting with the global community, and with smartphones in the hands of Nepali youth, they can stay informed and engaged. The younger generation must be aware of the potential for societal fragmentation when individuals are categorised into lower or higher social statuses.

Presently, in Kathmandu, the current generation demonstrates little interest in affiliations to specific communities and refrains from discriminatory behaviour. This showcases the positive impact of education on fostering inclusivity.

Revolutions, rights movements, and advancements in information technology have contributed to significant improvements over time. The government must enhance education and healthcare for all citizens and create an inclusive environment where everyone can exercise their rights equally.

Education reforms are key to eliminating discrimination and fostering positive transformations. Therefore, the state should prioritise creating an investment-friendly environment and allocating a substantial portion of the budget to education to address inequality. In doing so, the state can effectively safeguard the human rights of Dalits.

Timely reforms in law and improvement of reservation policies

Photo: Pexels/ Fauxels

Timely reforms in law are crucial for safeguarding Dalit rights. The government should ensure that laws do not harm the interests of Dalits, as they can lead to social disharmony, chaos, and unrest. Reservation policies should also be periodically reviewed and adapted to the changing times. Currently, communities benefiting from open-side reservations have effectively demonstrated their presence and progress. The state’s investment in education has not been in vain.

The reservation system was implemented in Nepal in 2007/2008. Its positive impact can now be observed in constitutional bodies, civil service, Nepal Army, Nepal Police, and various organised organisations, demonstrating the beauty of democracy.

The Supreme Court of Nepal has stressed the need to make reservations goal-oriented and fair in 2020. Reservation systems should be based on needs rather than caste, and adhering to this principle will help achieve the goals of the Constitution. Recent data from the Public Service Commission shows that recommendations from the inclusive group have exceeded those from the open group. This demonstrates the effectiveness of reservation policies.

The recent ruling by the US Supreme Court has deemed affirmative action discrimination based on race in university admissions to be illegal. In cases related to the admission processes of Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, the Supreme Court stated that considering an applicant’s race as a basis for admission is a violation of the right to equality.

In recent news, it has been reported that individuals benefiting from the reserved quota in public services have a greater presence in the open category. Over the past six years, there have been 9,829 recommendations from the reserved category, compared to 9,031 from the open category. According to data from the Public Service Commission, in the last fiscal year 2020/21, 1,230 recommendations were made from the reserved category, while 625 recommendations were made from the open category.

In Nepal, the state must include all communities under its protection. By investing in education and health, the conditions of Dalits, tribal tribes, Madhesis, Muslims, Tharus, and women can be improved. The presence of women in campus colleges and government services is already significant.

The government’s provision of scholarships and the active role played by non-governmental organisations in helping the poor and needy are commendable. Reservation policies should be periodically improved to reflect changing times, and it is essential to treat everyone equally by providing access to education, thereby upholding the right to equality.

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Panthee is a law student.

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