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TERAI DALIT WOMEN- VIOLATION OF POLITICAL RIGHTS

Prakash A. Raj

Dalits in Nepal can broadly be divided into Hill Dalits and Terai Dalits based mainly on the language they speak as mother tongue. While Hill Dalits speak Nepali as their mother tongue, those in the Terai speak such languages as Maithili, Bhojpuri and Awadhi considered to be dialects of Hindi in India but considered to be separate languages in Nepal. Terai Dalit women are a linguistic minority in Nepal and have to suffer discrimination due to their caste and gender. It could be said that they have to face triple disadvantage: caste, language and gender while compDeting with others in the Nepalese society. On the other hand, Hill Dalits living in the hilly region of Mid-Western and Far Western part of the country also live in most backward districts having lowest HDI (Human Development Index), those in the Terai live an area that are connected by road and have a higher level of HDI. If Achham in far western hills is at the bottom of 75 districts in overall ranking, Dhanusha in eastern Terai is 27th from bottom.(1).

Dalits in Nepal constituted 13.8 percent of the population of the country according to 2001 Census. Hill Daltis and Terai Dalits made up 8.87% and 4.93% of the population respectively.

Table 1: Hill Dalts in Population of Nepal (2001)

Caste
Numbers
Percentage
Kami (blacksmith)
895,954
3.94
Damai
390,305
1.72
Sarki (cobbler)
318,989
1.40
Sonar
145,088
0.64
Lohar
82,637
0.36
Gaine
5,887
0.03
Badi
4,442
0.02
Inidentified Dalit
173,401
0.76
Total
-
8.87

(Source, Central Bureau of Statistics)

There are supposed to be nine groups among Terai Dalits and there is a strict caste hierarchy between them. These include Tatma (weaver) at the top of hierarchy to Halkhor (sweeper) at the bottom.(2)


Table 2: Terai Dalits in Population of Nepal (2001)

Caste
Numbers
Percentage
Chamar, Harijan
269,661
1.19
Koiri
251,274
1.11
Mushar
172,434
0.76
Dusadh,Paswan
158,525
0.70
Tatma
76,512
0.34
Khatme
74,972
0.33
Dhobi
73,413
0.32
Dhagad
41,764
0.18
Total
-
4.93

(Source- Central Bureau of Statistics)

REPRESENTATION IN PARLIAMENT

Three general elections for Parliament were held in Nepal since the Restoration of Multiparty Democracy in 1990. The total number of seats in the lower house of Parliament called House of Representatives is 205. According to a study, fourteen Dalit males (all from the hills) were members of the Upper House, mostly by nomination (3)

Table 3: Women candidates winning in 1991 elections

Nepali Congress
5
UML
2

(Source: Election Commission)

According to a study of candidates for elections in 1994, only one Dalit candidate was nominated to contest elections by a major political party in the entire election.(4) . This candidate was from Nepal Sadbhavana Party. Each political party is required to give at least 5% representation to women among the candidates for elections. The study concluded – “The women of depressed classes were totally ignored by all political parties”. Actually, the Constitution of Kingdom of Nepal (1990) requires that at least 5% of candidates of all parties for elections to the House of Representatives must be women.

Table 4: Women Candidates of major political parties in 1994 elections

Nepali Congress
11
UML
11
RPP
13
NSP
9
UPF
6

(Source: Election Commission)

Table 5: Women Candidates winning 1994 elections

Nepali Congress
4
UML
3

(Source: Election Commission)

Table 6: Women Candidates of political parties in 1999 elections

Nepali Congress
14
NCP (UML)
12
RPP
14
NSP
5
NCP (ML)
11
RPP (Chand)
14

(Source: Election Commission)

Table 7: Women Candidates winning 1999 Elections

NC
5
UML
6
RPP
1

(Source: Election Commission)

Chitralekha Yadav (Nepali Congress), one of the women MP’s from Siraha district in Terai was elected Deputy Speaker of House of Representatives. Renu Yadav (RPP) was appointed Minister in the Government formed under the premiership of Surya Bahadur Thapa. Although both the women were not Dalits, the election of two women from the Terai and their appointment to important posts is a significant development.

The total number of members in the upper house of Parliament, called Rashtriya Sabha is 60. According to the Constitution, thirty five members are elected by House of Representatives on the basis of proportional representation to Rashtriya Sabha, which must include at least three women. On the other hand, Ram Bilas Paswan , a Terai Dalit male was elected Vice Chairman of Rashtriya Sabha, upper house of Parliament from CPN (UML).

Conclusion

No Terai Dalit woman was ever nominated by any major political party for any seat in Parliament. Terai Dalit women have remained unrepresented in Parliament since restoration of multi-party democracy in Nepal in 1990. Although some Dalits have been nominated as members of upper house of Parliament (Rashtriya Sabha), these have not included Terai Dalit women.

REPRESENTATION IN LOCAL GOVERNMENTS

The following analytical study is based on publication of Election Commission on local level elections held in 1997 (BS 2054). These included Village Development Committees (VDC), Municipalities and District Development Committees throughout Nepal. The names of all candidates and winners are given.

Table 8: Women or Dalit candidates and winners in elections for DDC in the Terai (1997)

S. No.
Name of District
Women or Dalit Candidate
Party
Elected/Defeated
1
Morang None - -
2
Dang Biswamaya Regmi Independent Defeated
Indra Shah NC Defeated
Rama K. C NC Defeated
3
Kailali Kalawati Joshi UML Defeated
4
Dhanusha None - -
5
Nawalparasi None - -
6
Sarlahi None - -
7
Siraha None - -
8
Parsa Ramabatar Lohar NC Elected
9
Mahottari Misridevi Giri RPP Defeated
Indrakala Yadav Independent Defeated
10
Kapilvastu Amarnath Maurya UML Defeated
11
Saptari None - -
12
Banke Kamala Tiwari Independent Defeated
13
Bardia Bhagirathi Paudel NC Elected
14
Kanchanpur None - -
15
Sunsari Netra Kumari Rai UML Defeated
16
Chitwan None - -

(Source: Election Commission) No data for Rautahat and Jhapa were available

It is interesting to note in this context that there are 3915 VDCs, 58 municipalities in the country. There are women members in each of ward committees of VDCs as required by law. Many of them are Dalits and were elected. On the other hand, there are DDCs in 75 districts of Nepal. Table 8 shows that there were no elected members of any DDC in the country who were Terai Dalit Women. However, there were some Dalit males and non-Dalit women who were elected. Many of the elected non-Dalit women were from the hills. Not a single Dalit woman was elected as Chairman, Deputy-chairman of any of the VDCs in the country. It was also found that out of 963 women elected at elections in 1994 for 44 VDCs, one municipality and District Development Committee, there were only 60 Dalit women. Only one Dalit woman was chairman of Ward Committee. Similarly, out of 1388 women elcted in Kathmandu district, there were only 30 Dalits (5). The conclusion from the above analysis is that there are extremely few candidates and no winners among Terai Dalit women at DDC level.

Recommendations

The Directive Principles of State Policy in Constitution of Nepal (1990) states that all kinds of economic and social inequalities should be removed by the State. Nepal has ratified United Nations Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against women (1999) and Convention on Political Rights of Women (1966). Any discrimination is defined as “any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any field. Nepal has also signed United Nations Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discriminations under Minority Rights Declaration. The number of women members of Parliament is quite small and it appears it is due to provision in the Constitution (1990) requiring at least 5% reservation for women rather than change in society. On the other hand, there is no such requirement for Dalits which has resulted in the lower house of Parliament (Pratinidhi Sabha) not having even a single member. Political parties have not given tickets to Dalits for elections to Parliament. On the other hand, the fact that Nepal has adopted a system of universal adult franchise for all its citizens according to 1990 Constitution is a very significant development historically. In the country considered to be “mother of democracy”, Great Britain only 1.8% of the population had right to vote in 1832 and 12.1% in 1884. It was only in 1930 that universal adult franchise was adopted after women were given right to vote. In the United States, Blacks were theoretically given right to vote in 1870 after the end of Civil war, but it was only a century later in 1970 that this was implemented fully. Women in the US were given right to vote only in 1920 (6). Proposals made by Government during third round of talks with the Maoist insurgents in August 2003 included provision for reservation for Dalits in popular representation, education, health, administration and other fields of employment in proportion of population for a limited time. Similarly, the proposal also included 25% reservation for women in all representative institutions and also for reservations in education, health, administrative service and other fields of employment.

Three Models for Reservation

The Indian Constitution has given Dalits reservation in elections for seats of Parliament. There are certain reserved constituencies where only Dalits are eligible to become candidates, although all communities could vote for candidates for such constituencies. All candidates for the reserved constituencies irrespective of political parties would be required to be Dalits. Although this provision was intended only for a period of ten years when it was first adopted in 1950, extensions were made every ten years and these continue to this day. A similar feature could also be included in the Constitution of Nepal in the future

The second alternative is to make a requirement in the Constitution that all the political parties should give 13% of their tickets in elections for lower house of Parliament to Dalits. Such a requirement is similar to the one existing for women candidates (5% of ticket although they make 50% of population) existing at the present time. As Terai Dalits constitute about 5% of population of Nepal, a requirement that all political parties in the Terai nominate a certain percentage of candidates from this group should also be considered. However, there may be a problem in finding qualified and educated candidates for this purpose at the present time. The percentage currently existing (5% for women) could be further increased to 25%. A similar provision could also be made for elections to such local bodies as VDCs or DDCs.

The system of reservations in the United States is known as “affirmative action”. Seats in educational institutions are reserved for disadvantaged and minorities. There is no system of representation in either Congress or state legislatures in proportion to population for minorities. There are many state legislatures with little representation of blacks even in states with large black population even to this day. Pros and cons of all three models should be considered to determine which is best suited to Nepalese context.

_________________________________________________________________________

-(1) ICIMOD, Districts of Nepal, Indicators of Development, 1997

( 2) Dahal, Dilli R, “Hindu Nationalism and Untouchable Reform- The Status of Dalits

in Nepali Society . Paper presented at “The Agenda of Transformation: Inclusion in

Nepali Democracy”, seminar held in Kathmandu on 24-26 April 2003

(3) Bishwakarma, Padma Lal “Dalit as the victim of Caste System and Untouchability in Nepal”, Gurung, D.B , Nepal Tomorrow- Voices and Visions, Koselee Publications, Kathmandu, 2003

(4) Jha, Hari Bansh “Issues of Ethnicity and Regionalism in the Election”, presented

National Seminar on Election as a vehicle for promoting Democracy, organized by

Centre for Economic and Technical Studies, Kathmandu, 1994

(5) Hemchuri, Kamala, “Dalit Mahilako Chunauti ra Sambhavanaharu”, Nepalma Dalit

Utthaanka rananiti, edited by Haribansha Jha, CETS, 2000

(6) Zakaria, Farid “The Future of Freedom”, Viking, 2003

(Paper presented at a seminar organised by CETS/FES on 28 October 2003 at Janakpur)

 
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