Rukum West massacre: It’s not only caste that killed Nabaraj BK, but poverty too

Bheri as seen from Nabaraj BK’s village in Jajarkot

Recently, Nabaraj BK and five of his friends were brutally murdered in Rukum West after BK, a Dalit man, allegedly wanted to marry his an upper-caste girlfriend. Everyone is holding the caste system prevalent in society responsible for the incident, but it may not be the only reason.

As per reports, the couple was planning to get married without the consent of their family. The girl had asked her boyfriend to come and pick her up from her home. When he arrived at her house, he was chased and beaten up by the girl’s family and some community leaders. Six persons died in the attack.

Now, let’s analyse what led to this incident. Is it only the caste system or something else?

History of caste-based discrimination in Nepal

We are well aware that there was a practice of caste-based discrimination in Nepal in the past.

Caste is a corporate social unit marked by birth, marriage and kinship. It is an ascribed, closed and fixed status which means acquired at the time of birth. Charye (1950) gives a comprehensive definition of caste, which also reflects the caste system of Nepal. According to him, there are six main features of caste: segmental division of society, a hierarchy of groups, restriction of feeding and social intercourse, allied and religious disabilities and privilege of different sections, lack of unrestricted choice of occupation, and restriction of marriage.

Dalits were regarded as being of the lowest-caste individuals by Muluki Ain, 1854, and as per Charye’s definition, they had to face untouchability. They were not allowed to participate in public or could merely enjoy their religious status then. Dalits used to compose a dishonoured part of our society.

The official representation of Nepal started to shift after 1990 but did not go far enough to affirm the multicultural composition of the country and promote ethnic equality. With all this, an armed rebellion began in 1996. During this time, the identity issue received more legitimacy. The rebels challenged the established basis of Nepali nationalism and urged for the right to self-determination, and ethnic autonomy. They also questioned caste-based discrimination and the restrictions on inter-caste marriage in particular. They promoted inter-caste marriages widely and threatened the system itself.

The 2015 constitution addressed many concerns of the rebels, but the change in the real social structure has been rather slower. After all, it has already been decades since caste-based discrimination has been criminalised, but it is still in practice.

Dalit people nowadays have equal opportunities in the eye of law and are also not considered to be an inferior part of society. They can participate and enjoy absolute rights and freedom. The same level of cruelty may not prevail today, but marriage still is a greater social factor that influences Nepali society. People prefer to marry in caste endogamy and clan exogamy. Marrying a Dalit still remains an issue for the so-called high-caste people.

The bank of Bheri where Nabaraj BK’s body was found.

Class and other political factors

But, having said that, if anyone had wished to marry a Dalit person with a very well-established job, the one from the family of a sound economic background, or politically well-thrived, related to an influential politician or a businessperson, would such discriminatory behaviours as in Rukum West have been occurred? Or, would it have been denied to the level where a criminal incident as such would be introduced as a result? Or, even after the occurrence of crime, would it have been neglected at such a level having no authoritative support?

Analysing this, if the victim had been a son of a big business family, or if he had access to resources such as money, and social and political influences, such incidents could not have occurred even if he had been a Dalit. And, if anything similar had happened, then also the culprit would have immediately taken into account and punished as per law, which can be seen clearly neglected in the Rukum case.

As in today’s situation, when people’s mindset is absolutely into the economy, the caste division cannot be taken as a fundamental reason in such cases.

A culprit does not have any caste. The suspect needs to be punished as per the prevailing law if he/she has committed the crime and justice must be served immediately. Law and statutory procedures should be applied neutrally along with the evidence without any discrimination. Criminal incidents somehow indicate power and position of the suspects, which if neglected can harm the justice system and also the right of the victim. Also, opinions having no reference to facts can be raised as a weapon for dividing and ruling, but they can lead to a more distorted society. This can further incite violence and can be a political agenda that may delay delivering justice to the victim.

Therefore, rather than relating this incident to the caste-based discrimination only, changing this corrupt system of benefitting the rich and powerful people should be a priority.

By not being able to save its citizens, the government has already failed. Now, a concrete step must be taken guaranteeing prompt justice to the victim amid this lockdown. So, it is a high time for the citizens to force the government and speak against such corrupt and inhumane action with unity and no disparities.

Dahal is a law student.

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Dahal is a law student.

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