3rd World conference on untouchability

3rd World conference on untouchability

SOCH Nepal has been working hard to create a Global alliance whereby the issues surrounding untouchability can be addressed. SOCH Nepal created this global alliance by hosting the 3rdWorld Conference on Untouchability. The conference was held on the 12th and 13th of May 2016 at the Dhulikhel Village Resort, Dhulikhel, Nepal. The following individuals attended the conference; political leaders, Dalit right activists, human right activists, journalists, writers, academicians, representatives from embassies, victims of untouchability and caste based discrimination and individuals from INGOs. There were 101 participants with representatives from 25 organizations that work to advocate for Dalit communities. The ultimate objectives of this conference were to create a global alliance, as previously mentioned, and to encourage open discussion regarding untouchability and caste based discrimination. By achieving these two objectives, SOCH Nepal hopes that effective ways to uplift the socio-economic status of Dalit communities will be identified.

The program began with music played by an incredibly talented 3-piece Gandharba music group. Gandharba’s are a community who are found all over Nepal and are also from one of the Dalit communities in Nepal. Uttam Niraula, Executive Director of SOCH Nepal expressed his thanks to the Gandharba musicians, welcomed all participants and gave a short presentation about untouchability and how this conference would aim at eliminating the callous ideas and behaviours surrounding the practice of untouchability. He highlighted the importance of recognising that the major industries; such as the metal, fashion and leather industries were created and have been maintained for many years by societies skilled people, who we have labelled as untouchables. Dalit communities comprise of individuals who make the clothes we wear, make the instruments that are used in war to protect our country from enemies and individuals who invented agricultural equipment that allows for cultivation and sustainable food production. It is so shameful that people with such amazing skills in managing our major industries are considered Dalit and untouchables.

Mr Niraula continued to explain that civilisation was created through the skills of these individuals however we are treating them as untouchables. They have developed skills in making clothing, leatherworks and manufacturing agricultural equipments however due to a lack of investment they are not able to compete with industries equipped with modern technologies. Mr Niraula stated that due to this fierce competition individuals in Dalit communities have to leave their traditional occupation to ensure the survival of their families. Mr Niraula posed the question; has the government of Nepal and other organizations working for Dalit rights made any attempt to protect and promote the traditional occupations of Dalit communities to enhance their socio-economic conditions? Finally Mr Niraula suggested that through creating conversations based on this idea, we maybe able to identify the most effective ways to uplift the socio-economic status of Dalit communities. 

A small group from SOCH Youth then performed a drama based on Untouchability. The drama reflected how the practices associated with untouchability forbid individuals to live dignified and justified lives. The aim of this drama was to also expose those participants from developed countries who has never witnessed or experienced untouchability to develop a greater understanding of how these practices violate basic human rights. The message the SOCH Youth conveyed through this drama was that all human beings are born with equal status and therefore there should be no discrimination based on race, gender or caste. At the conclusion of the drama, Mr Uttam suggested that, “For anyone who has been using products made by individuals from Dalit communities, then what is the problem in drinking the water and eating the food that is been touched by them.” 

The program was formally commenced with a welcome speech from Shanti Gurung, the President of SOCH Nepal. Mrs Gurung briefly re-iterated the objectives of the 3rd World Conference in Nepal. She expressed her happiness in participating in her second World Conference on Untouchability and thanked IHEU for believing in the strength of SOCH Nepal to organise this conference for the second time.

As a symbolic gesture to officially begin the conference, Mr Biswendra Paswan, Chief guest and Population and Environment Minister, performed a watering of plants with the help of Mrs. Shanti Gurung the president of SOCH Nepal. It is important to note that Mr Paswan is the only minister from the Dalit community who is in the present cabinet.

The formal program continued with a speech from Uttam Niraula, Executive Director of SOCH Nepal, whereby he explained about SOCH Nepal as an organisation and its work in within Nepal. Mr Niraula then explained the various conference topics/questions as outlined below;

·         Is Untouchability the result of culture and religion or corruption?

·         Involvement of Dalit communities in traditional occupations to uplift socio-economic status

·         A humanistic perspective on Untouchability in a changing society

·         Does Dalit status vary with power, property and popularity?

·         The rights of Dalit communities in Nepal and India as per their constitutions

·         Caste based discrimination and Untouchability in a global context-experience sharing session with participants all over the world

After outlining and explaining the topics above, Mr. Niraula kindly requested all participants, paper presenters, session chairs and commentators to share views, ideas and experiences in all topics to ensure the most effective solutions could be identified. Mr Niraula explained that this conference was an opportunity to share possible ways to tackle untouchability and caste-based system.

With the coordination of Shanti Gurung, Mr Biswendra Paswan, Chief guest and Population and Environment Minister, they both released the book entitled ‘Darmako Hangover’. This book was written by Damodar Pudasaini (senior writer) and published by SOCH Nepal.  At this book release, Mr Biswendra Paswan explained that this book would assist in explaining the violation of human rights in the name of religion and culture, especially in regards to marginalized people such as women and individuals from Dalit communities. Mr Paswan stated that he was impressed that the writer had identified the points of religious text that lesser the position of marginalised people. These texts are referred to as Mahabharata Puran and Shree Swasthani Brata Katha and they always suggest women and marginalised people to be in a subordinate position. He stated that this book would enlighten many people that God is an illusion created by human beings. Furthermore, Mr Paswan was grateful for SOCH Nepal’s initiation to publish such books on untouchability, against superstitions and against religious dogmas. Such publications will help to aware people against superstitions, religious fundamentalism and caste-based discrimination.

Mr Mohan Duwal, Senior writer and Journalist also spoke about the book and similarly to Mr Paswan, he expressed his gratitude to the writer of the book for writing against negative sides of religion.  Mr Duwal explained that many people are influenced by the philosophy of Buddha however the so-called messenger of Buddha created Buddha to be a god.  Buddha himself was against worshiping statues, however we witness individuals worshiping at the statue of Buddha in many places around the world. He also explained that often society views human beings as God and to serve for humanity is the religion. Mr Duwal stated that, “political leaders did not dare to speak against religion, despite religion violating the human rights of many people. This is a result of fear associated with not receiving adequate votes in election”. Furthermore he said, “Hats off to the writer for having the courage to write against such social evils”.  

Mrs Shanti Gurung the President of SOCH Nepal also spoke in response to the book release and the editorial of this book interlinking religion with similar to drug addiction was also appreciated. She stated that in this book, ‘Darmako Hangover’, Mr Pudasaini had explained how and when people follow religion. She highlighted they follow everything without thinking critically. Mrs Gurung continued to explain how people accept everything, including religious violations of human rights and harm to many people. For example, by fasting from food and fluids during Teej festival to improve the life expectancy of their husbands, many women die as a result of this blind faith. Mrs Gurung explains that women know that life expectancy can be increased from exercise, balanced diet, less-stress life and healthy food and therefore they would encourage their husbands to have disciplined life rather than fasting during a festival. Furthermore, she highlights how this book can create awareness amongst women to be free from superstitions based on religion.

The keynote speaker of this conference was Mr. Sitaram Ghale Pariyar, Chief member Secretary of National Dalit Commission (NDC). Mr. Pariyar explains that ‘Darmako Hangover’ is a very useful book that will guide individuals in being critical against superstitions based on religion.  He emphasized that religion was created to regulate society, however the personal benefit gained by some has caused it to be misused. Sadly, some individuals took advantage in the name of religion by dividing people into the caste system that exists in many societies today, to ensure that their power and position was not overthrown. Dalit and non-dalit communities must work together to eliminate such inhuman practices permanently from society. 

Mr. Pariyar made a commitment to all conference participants that all issues raised at the conference would later be evaluated by National Dalit Commission and the recommendation would be made to the Government of Nepal Government. He also stated that some important issues maybe forwarded to Cabinet to make effective laws ensuring the rights of Dalit communities as per the country constitution.

Mr Paswan responded to the commitment made by Mr Pariyar in requesting all participants to critically discuss the topics raised by SOCH Nepal at this conference. Mr Paswan explained that the current constitution states that each citizen is to be treated equally, however it also outlines that state is responsible for protecting its own ancient religious practices. He feared that this maybe a hurdle in obtaining Dalit rights as per the constitution and highlighted that the protection of ancient practices may result in reviving manuscript. Legally, caste based discrimination is already abolished however the practices based on caste discrimination are still in existence. Similarly, untouchability also remains a serious issue within society.

Mr Paswan explained further, “today I am the Population and Environment Minister of this coalition government and tomorrow I may not be the minister. When I loose the position of Minister I will return the community and I may be faced with similar issues as the Dalit communities”. Mr Paswan felt that at a policy level, he was facing problems similar to the problems faced by Dalit communities. He explained that he raised many important issues in the cabinet and even these issues by him were not addressed. Mr Paswan continue to explain to that many individuals and organizations have made significant contributions to eliminate untouchability, particularly in the past fifty years, however the issue of untouchability is still in existence. For this, we all are responsible. He explained how he had a traumatised childhood that he was unable to relive due to the pain he suffered and he hoped that nobody would face such discriminatory practices. He said, “If everyone is asked what is your wish in your life they mostly wants to relive their childhood but I won’t want to relive my childhood due to problem I faced in my life.”

Mr Paswan continued to emphasise the bleak outlook when considering the elimination of this barbaric system in the next 50 years. This is the result of many people’s mindsets, which have been programmed by traditions, cultures and religion from century’s prior. The hierarchal social structure is the product of a feudalist system, which is ultimately protecting and promoting untouchability. Brahmans were always considered superior to the Dalit communities. For example, Kshatry considered them selves as a higher caste to Baishya and Sudras.  As a result of this superior and inferior outlook society has been ruined. Such mindsets will always promote untouchability within society. The hard work and determination of people’s movements, organizations contributions and Dalit rights activists have made remarkable changes in society to ensure Dalit rights are addressed, however it will take time to eradicate these practices from society permanently.

A script was written by Manu is called Manusmriti. This book segregated Hindu society into caste system. This book was used as national code at that time which always gave special privilege to so called Brahmin. Untouchability is the by-product of Manuscript has modified many times for the personal petition of some people of having power and prestige. Mr Paswan stated “a person with Brahmin mentality started untouchability which resulted blaming all the Brahmins responsible for injecting untouchability”-.

Mr Pudasaini’s undertaking to write such a book whereby the idea of eliminating discrimination and superstition based on religion is appreciated. Mr. Paswan requested SOCH Nepal to distribute this book in local areas to generate awareness against superstitions based on religion. He also suggested that in the future, the world conference on untouchability should not be aimed at individuals and communities in the countries centre, but also in the all-regional province of Nepal.  

Guest speaker of this program and Member of Parliament, Honorable Shakuntala Rajbhandari stated that it is a shameful act to practice caste-based discrimination in the 21st century. Discussion programs should be organized in local areas to eradicate caste-based discrimination from everyday life. Dalit women appear to be living in worse situations than Dalit men due to having no control over land, higher rates of unemployment, reduced access to decision-making processes and often suffering higher incidents of rape and inhumane behavior in everyday life. Mrs Rajbhandari explained that unless opportunities are provided to women in regards to accessing decision-making processes, the socio-economic transformation of the Dalit community is impossible. She stated that religious scripts always treated women as inferior and highlighted that the progress of society is not possible without the progression of women’s input. In conclusion she stated that religious texts which sub-ordinate a women’s position must be banned.

Member of Parliament, Badri Pandey, appreciated SOCH Nepal’s contribution for organizing the World Conference on Untouchability and stated that he felt it was incredibly productive in aiming to eliminate the caste-based system. He appreciated the passion, hard work and enthusiasm of Dalit activists, campaigners and political leaders to understand the ongoing problems and their commitment to find possible solutions. The caste-based system is a sinister side of a progressive society and therefore it must be completely abolished in all systems as well as within practical life. Legally, caste base-discrimination is already abolished however many individuals and communities still experience many violent incidents based on untouchability on an everyday basis. Although, many people have identified the dark side of the Manusmriti Script and the Manusmiriti Script is often blamed for the practices associated with untouchability, if we take the positive aspects from this script then we can transform the whole society. Conciliation and coordination between Dalit and non-Dalit people is essential in eliminating caste-based discrimination and therefore non-Dalit people should also be involved in the campaign to eliminate untouchability. Untouchability cannot be eliminated only through demonstrations, but also need in changing the attitudes to change the mindset of people and communities.

Bishal Bhattarai, Member of Parliament, highlighted the various forms of untouchability and caste-based discrimination practiced in different parts of the world and emphasised that it does not only occur within the Hindu religion. Sadly, the present constitution of Nepal is often criticized as a discriminatory constitution, however this constitution is the best constitution in providing equal rights for all citizens. He outlined that following articles as relevant for securing Dalit rights;

Article -24 Against Discrimination

Article – 40 Dalit Rights

Article- 45 Formation of National Dalit Commission

Mr Bhattarai stated that Untouchability still exists in books of school children and these discriminatory chapters must be removed. He explained that children must be encouraged to abolish discriminatory practices from an early age.  Furthermore he referred to the many political leaders of Nepal who had an inter-caste marriage and explains that it shares a good message to the rest of society and has encouraged many others to have an inter-caste marriage. Mr Bhattarai explained that he believed inter-caste marriages would definitely help to eliminate untouchability.  Mr Bhattarai believes that influential people in society should take initiation to eliminate untouchability by eating with and working together with Dalit individuals and communities. In addition, intra-Dalit untouchability is also a serious problem in Nepal, whereby untouchability exists with Dalit communities resulting in serious problems.

Member of Parliament, Yagyaraj Sunuwar, highlighted untouchability as the result of improper cultural practices and explained that political leaders should lobby to make effective laws and policies aimed at eliminating these practices. The constitution does address the issues surrounding Dalit communities, however the practices still exist and political leaders do not dare talk against untouchability due to fear of not maintaining votes in the election.

The conference continued with a presentation from Mr. Bidhya Bhusan Rawat, President of the Social Development Foundation (SDF), on ‘A humanist prospective about untouchability in changing society‘. Mr. Rawat explained that the suffering from caste-discrimination is found mostly in South Asia when compared with other parts of the world. The political movements of Nepal have significantly contributed to ensure Dalit rights, however sometimes political leaders will put priority in obtaining votes rather than fighting for Dalit rights. This causes problems in moving forward to guarantee Dalit rights. Every political party has the agenda of social inclusion, however only a few Dalit leaders reach at a policy level. Due to the feudalist social structure, the voices of those Dalit political leaders who do speak up are hardly heard due to the rigid attitude of people. There are reservations surrounding Dalit and marginalized people in the constitution and there is still under-representation at a policy level, seats in political parties and government jobs. Education and awareness is essential to eliminate caste-based discrimination completely.   

Ms Rawat also explained that Dalit communities are dominated by the Brahmanism philosophy and therefore education based on science is only a means to eliminate caste based discrimination and untouchability. In Nepal, the constitution is only used during crisis situations and the rest of time society is guided by Manusmriti script. In considering this, the laws and policies surrounding the constitution must be used effectively in order to end discrimination as per race, caste and colour. The work that is tagged especially to Dalit people such as disposal of dead animal bodies and manual scavenging must be ended.

Mr Hira Bishokarma commented in response to Mr Rawat’s presentation stating that it was very informative, however the major focus around India resulted in minimal information surrounding a humanistic approach to understand untouchability in the changing society. He highlighted that it was not only Dalit people who were working to clean toilets and others also have to do this to survive. Finally, he also said that this presentation gave no clues how we to fight against caste-based discrimination.

Sandra from Australia commented on VB Rawat’s presentation stated that the toilet is a place that must be cleaned and people who work in this occupation for a regular income must not be tagged as a work ofparticular caste. People can work for an income if they want, she said.

In response to the presentation titled ‘Is Untouchability is result of culture or corruption’, Dr Lekh Prasad Niraula explained that he did not agree that untouchability is the product of Manusmriti, a religious script of Hindu religion. He also explained that among discrimination practices, untouchability is the worst practice in the world. Dr Niraula explained that we couldn’t feel the pain of untouchability if we have never experienced it, just as the pain of birthing can only felt by women who have already given birth to a child. Dalit people are forbidden to enter temples, personal entities and restaurants. Additionally, food is served to Dalit people on different dishes than food served to others.  They are tagged to work in industries that are dirty and difficult. They are not allowed to fetch of water from the same well as others and discriminated against in regards to wages for the same job. Additionally, they are unable to rent houses because of their caste identity. Sadly, due to inability to rent because of caste, many Dalit people have to change their name. The practices mentioned above are examples of common practices that occur in today’s society that result in Dalit people being treated inhumanely.

Dr Niraula defind Dalit are those people who are deprived, depressed and downtrodden. Dalit are those who are forbidden to live dignified life with social justice. He gave his short presentation about the history of untouchability in global context.

Untouchability in the world

Culture is way of life that includes customs, beliefs, traditions, arts and a way of thinking that transfer from generation to generation.  Untouchability is a product of culture and religion. People often change their religion to reduce the discrimination they experience, however people then face different types of discrimination as they enter into a new religion. People often blame untouchability on the Verna system of Manusmriti. Manusmriti introduced the Verna system to divide the work that needed to be done however sadly some people misused the system for their personal benefit. Untouchability is not only the result of Manu Script; it is also exists in other script and untouchability not only exists in the Hindu religion; it also exists in other religions. Dr Niraula discussed the different Dalit communities from all around the world such as Rodiya from Sri Lanka, who are one of the untouchable castes in Sri Lanka whose status is similar to the untouchables of India. The Rodiya communities are segregated from other communities and it is not accepted by upper castes to eat with the Rodiya. Similarly, Osu caste in Nigeria also is historically known as deities and they were scarified to the various gods. People from the Osu caste are not allowed to marry or to have any relations outside of their own community. Baraku, a community from the village area of Japan were historically discriminated communities that do not exist now. Baraku was the term used for outcaste. Dr Niraula explained that these are only a few examples of untouchability that do not exist in the name of religion. In some parts of the world untouchability is abolished, however in some parts of the world untouchability has increased due to some people using the system for their personal benefit.

Untouchability in religious text:

Baidik Era

During the Baidik era, untouchability did not exist. Untouchability was introduced when the Verna System was initiated. It is clearly outlined in the Beda that the Aryan who came from Iran were animist’s. When the Aryan people arrived in India they took over the state from the Dravidians and made them slaves, which remained in existence thereafter. In the Beda there were very strict rules and regulations whereby the Brahmans, Kshatry and Baishya were restricted to talk directly with the Sudras.

Brahman Era

In the initial period of the Baidik era there was no discrimination based on caste. However, as the numbers of Brahman diminished there was fear of the Brahman caste becoming non-existent. In response to this, the Brahman caste made them selves an upper caste, creating rules and regulations to make their lives better. For example, they made themselves the messengers of God and the division of work was quickly converted into caste-based discrimination, ultimately making the Sudras slaves.

Sudra Grantha Era

During the time between 800-600 AD, Sudras were not allowed to listen to Beda. If they mistakenly heard Beda, their ears would be cut off and sometimes this would lead to death penalties, even for the most for minor mistakes. Additionally, if a Dalit person had a physical relationship with non-Dalit person, his sexual organ was cut out as punishment. The caste-based discrimination between Aryan and non-Aryan, Aryan and Dravidian and the intra-caste discrimination within Dravidian communities and Dalit was becoming increasingly common. Brahmans were forbidden to eat anything prepared by anyone other than Brahmans, Kshatries also did not eat food prepared by Baishya and Sudras and people developed their own greeting style. During this period several religious scripts were written, however there were not strict rules and regulations written inside these scripts.

Manusmriti Era

During the time between 200-100 AD, Manusmriti was written. Manusmriti is often blamed for introducing untouchability, however the reality is that untouchability existed well before Manusmriti was written. Swambhu Manu wrote Manusmriti to regulate society. For example, Brahmans were born from the mouth of Bramha and therefore their duties were to read, write and to teach people; Kshatry were known as the warriors, Baishya were known as the business and agricultural group and Sudras were born from the feet of Bramha which resulted in their duties involving dirty and hard work. The religion of Sudras is to serve the Brahman, Kshatriyas and Baishya in order to survive in life. Due to the Sudras not having their own religion and culture and having to follow the strict rules and regulations of Manusmriti, this group of people became depressed, deprived and oppressed in society. Religious scripts were written to regulate society, however the idea to become superior came in the society that was introduced by ancient society.  Work division, migration, social relations and feudalist mentality created the caste system.

History of Untouchability in Nepal

Nepal has very short history of untouchability. King Jayastithi Malla formally introduced the caste-system in Nepal in the 14th century. He introduced the caste system for appropriate division of work. During this time King Malla hired Brahmin experts from India to introduce caste system in Nepal that has resulted in this great influence of the Indian caste system. Prithivi Narayan Shah who implemented the use of names for the four different castes and the 36 Varnas further strengthened the caste system. Furthermore, Janga Bahadur Rana, the founder of the Rana regime, promulgated Muliki Ain (The National Code) in 1954. This code outlined legal provisions designed to promote caste-based discrimination. This code did not follow the four-fold Varna system of Manuscript however it has still developed within Nepal to promote caste-based discrimination.

National code of Nepal developed caste based system as following manner:

 1. Tanngadhari (sacred thread wearing or twice born)

Uppadhya Bahun,Kumai,Chhetris

2. Matwali (liquor drinking group)-

3. Pani nachalne choi chito halnu naparne

Water from this community is not acceptable but no purification required if touched

4. Pani nachalne choi chito halnu parne

Water is not acceptable and also need purification

Civil code 2020 BS formally abolished the caste-based discrimination

Efforts to eliminate untouchability:

Several efforts have being made to permanently eliminate untouchability by Dalit rights activists, campaigners, organizations and policy makers. Some of the significant contributors to transforming Nepali society include; Santa Shashidhar, Gyan Dildas, Mahabir Rasaili, Sarbajit Bishwokarma, Jadubir Bishwokarma and Yogamaya Neupane.  

Similarly, social activists including Jyotiba Phule, Dr. Ambedkar, E.V. Ramaswami, Dr Ambedkar, Swami Dayanda, Mahatma Gandhi and Jagjiwan Ram have made significant contributions to eliminating untouchability in India. Political and individual demonstrations also contribute so greatly to creating change within the Dalit communities. Amedkar was an incredibly string contributor to the Dalit movement, committing 35 years of his life. Later in life he changed his religion from Hindu to Buddhism in hope of getting rid of caste based discrimination within the Hindu religion.

Possible solutions for the elimination of untouchability:

o   The education system must be practical and scientific and the books that promote discrimination must be removed or changed. It is a fact that Dalit are being victimized by the educated part of society rather than the uneducated. Additionally, Dalit people are victimized more in the rural area rather than the city area.

o   Economic prosperities will also assist in minimising untouchability, for example a non-Dalit girl can marry a high-class dalit boy due to sound economic status. Employment opportunities and industrialization will uplift the socio-economic status of Dalit people and help to minimize caste-based discrimination.

o   Westernization, acculturations and influence of media will increase awareness and therefore ultimately help to reduce untouchability.

o   Finally, strict implementation of international treaties, conventions and national laws and policies will also help to eliminate untouchability.

In response to the possible solutions listed above, Mr VB Rawat, a humanist leader in India shared his views that caste-based discrimination couldn’t be abolished by a theory of coordination.  He also stated that the theory of working hard in this life to get something in your next life, also known as karma, is totally wrong. Mr Rawat explained that untouchability is like an old building that might collapse soon and the issues surrounding the Dalit community must be a priority on the agenda of every political party. He also highlighted the significant contribution of Ambedkar in the fight against Untouchability. Ambedkar represents a humanist prospective on untouchability and caste-based discrimination. People from all over the world can learn from his collaborative efforts to fight against untouchability and caste based discrimination.

Questions by Participants:

Aparna Singh: Is work division the reason of existence of caste-based discrimination?

Hira Bishkarma: Is untouchability the result of corruption?

Ganesh BK: Are the Sudras belongs to Dalit community? The Verna system does not consider all Sudras as Dalit.

Dr Lekh Prasad Niraula answered the questions above with the following answer; Untouchability existed after the Baidik era. Work division was the product of Verna system and untouchability is the product of religion and corruption.

This session was followed by a presentation from Dr. Govida Raj Pokhrel, Former vice president of National Planning Commission. The topic of his presentation was ‘Involvement of Dalit Communities in the traditional occupations (ie, metal industries, shoes industries, leather industries) to strengthen their socio-economic status.’

Dr Pokhrel explained that history shows caste-based discrimination existing in many societies within the country of Germany in the past and has now been abolished. He further stated that every occupation was recognized by special names, such as master for shoes maker, and technologies were transferred from West Germany to East Germany to ensure the whole country developed.

In the 17th century, division of work also existed to carry out activities in Europe. In the 18th century industrial revolution technologies were introduced and used for the economic transformation in many European countries, ultimately replacing manual work. This replacement of manual work through modern technologies ended the division of work and many countries were transformed. It is important to recognise that technical people invented technologies, such as the steam engine that transformed Europe into an industrial continent. People often claim that the technological people were invented many important inventions before scientists. For example, Galileo was a technical person who invented a telescope, not a scientist. Dr Pokhrel stated that inventions were made by technical people and later improved by scientists. Western countries were dramatically transformed as a result of the technologies invented by technical people who were also tagged as untouchables. The industrial revolution of Europe began with technologies invented by so-called Dalit.  Dr Pokhrel gave an example of Thomas Alba Edison, a great scientist, who was not a student of science but he used his technical knowledge to create a remarkable invention. If we recognize the skills of Dalit people, his will help to transform the entire society.

Creating society with justice and equality, every state must adopt socialism. As a socialist country, state must have three components.

1.      Wealth Generation.

2.      Social Security

3.      Wealth re-distribution.

Dr Pokhrel emphasized that the socio-economic development of a nation depends on the strength of all three components. He explained further by interlinking innovation with wealth generation and wealth redistribution, suggesting that Nepal has no activities for wealth generation and only has activities for wealth redistribution. As a result, Nepal has a very poor social security system. Dr Pokhrel identified that Nepal’s neighbouring countries already have a sound economy and therefore Nepal can only compete in nature based agriculture, renewable energy and nature-based recreational activities. To ensure all of these are successful, a high investment is needed and this is the main challenge in the socio-economic transformation of disadvantaged people.

Dr Pokhrel further stated that Nepalese people would more likely sacrifice their time for family and not for new innovations and creative work. He suggested encouraging Dalit communities to use their skills, which would ultimately generate self-employment. He also indicated that in the initial phases of development in other societies, all countries held the same socio-economic status and that due to rapid economic development through the industrialization process in countries such as America, Japan and China it changes society. Development of the economy is not like entering a lottery; everyone must work together to create social transformation. Finally, Dr Pokhrel stated that the history of technological devolvement demonstrates that Dalit people are the people who invented technologies such as agricultural equipments, food processing equipments, brick making and so on. Traditional and ingenious knowledge was used to create such useful inventions.

Mr Bishnu Khatri responded to Dr Pokhrel’s presentation and asked the question, how does it become possible to involve Dalit people in such lucrative activities?  He explained that the presenter had highlighted how important it was to have wealth generation activities for economic prosperities, but Mr Khatri posed the question, how can Dalit communities have access to wealth generation. Similarly, it is very challenging for Dalit communities to have access to technology. Mr Khatri suggested that the government should create easier avenues for Dalit people to access modern technologies. He believes, to strengthen the socio economic status of Dalit people, modern technologies should be provided to them. He further explains that giving a small loan for buying only five goats cannot make a change in the status of Dalit people, they should have access at the policy making level to ensure that the issues surrounding Dalit communities can be solved.

Open floor for discussion:

It was recognised that the problem is not being a Dalit or non-Dalit, the problem is in the mentality of people treating other human beings so inhumanely. Even if a Dalit person has good skills, he or she does not get shown equal respect. The role of Dalit leaders is to aim at eliminating caste-based discrimination and not for the socio-economic transformation of the country.

This discussion was followed by a presentation by Honorable Jivan Pariyar, Member of Parliament. His presentation was about, ‘How long a person remains dalit? Does it helped not remain dalit by power, property and popularity?  If a person becomes powerful, prosperous and wealthy, is it possible to him not to treat as non-dalit?’

Mr Shambhu Hajara Paswan chaired this session and he stated that Dalit people are a marginalized, depressed and deprived community. Among the Dalit, the Madeshi Dalit are the most ignored and deprived Dalit community and until we reintegrate the Madeshi Dalit communities back into mainstream development, untouchability cannot be ended. The equal rights of all people in Nepal are guaranteed through the constitution, cooperation and coordination, which should result in the elimination of caste-based discrimination and untouchability. Mr Paswan explains that through his experiences of being President of the previous Constituent Assembly Committee, the issues associated with Dalit people were difficult to address. He explained that some people with a feudalist mentality feared that a deprived community might take benefit from this constitution and that is the reason for dismissing the constituent assembly.

Following his presentation, Mr Jivan Pariyar explained that caste-based discrimination is one of the greatest challenges in ensuring the human rights of the Dalit people in Nepal and he thanked SOCH Nepal for raising such an important topic in the dalit movement. He explained that many high profile people, including leaders of political parties and social activists have changed their surname just because they do not want to known as Dalit. Mr Pariyar believes that the topic of how long a person remains a dalit is a great topic for discussion.  He explains that it is an incredibly painful situation for Dalit people when non-Dalit people refuse to drink water touched by them, to not be allowed to enter into a public temple and to be forbidden to enter into private properties. This will cause them to change their surname for survival.

Mr Pariyar explains that after the research and study of constitutions and laws in place to eliminate untouchability, he concluded that he is unsure how long a person remains Dalit however recognises it as a time sensitive issue that needs to be eliminated as soon as possible.

The National Civil Code (Muluki Ain) of 1854, legalized untouchability and described the water touched by Dalit castes is not accepted by other castes. Sadly, a discriminatory legal system, customary practices and tradition still dominate in society and promote untouchability and caste-based discrimination. Even though, untouchability is prohibited constitutionally and legally, in practical life people are still treated inhumanly because feudalist social behaviour have not eliminated yet. Additionally, intra-Dalit discrimination is a serious issue within the Dalit community.

The Ministry of Local Development of Nepal established the ‘Uppecchit, Udpidit, ra Dalit barga Utthan Samiti (Ignored, Oppressed, and Dalit class upliftment Development Committee). This organization identified 22 Dalit castes in Nepal including;

 1. Lohar                                                          2. Sunar

3. Kami                                                           4. Sarki

5. Kasai                                                           5. Damai

7.Badi                                                             8. Gaine

9. Kusule                                                         10. Kuche

11Cyame                                                         12. Pode

13. Chamar                                                      13. Dhobi

15. Kusule                                                       16. Tatna

17. Chamar                                                      18. Khobe

19. Paswan                                                      20. Tatna

21. Mushar                                                      22. Halkhor

Additionally, the National Dalit Commission identified 26 Dalit castes and classified them according to region as outlined below;

A. Hill Region:

1. Gandharva

2. Pariyar (Damai, Darsi, SUchikar, Nagarchi, Dholi, Hoodke)

3. Badi

4. Vushwakarma(Kami, Lohar, Sunar, Chunara, PPaski, Tarnata)

5. Sarki(Mijar, Charmakar, Bhoot)

B. Madheshi Origin

1. Kalar

2. Kori

3. Khatik

4. Khatwe (Mandal, Khang)

5. Chamar (Ram, Moechee, Harijan, Rabidas)

6. Chidmar

7. Dom (Marik)

8. Tatma (Tanti, Das)

9. Dushadh (Paswan, Hajara)

10. Dhobi (Hindu Rajak)

11. Pattarkatta

12. Pasi

13. Batntar

14. Mushar

15 Mestar (Halkhor)

16. Sarvanga (Sarbaraiya)

17. Natuwa

18. Dhandi

19. Dharikar 

The list above is controversial due to the fact that some castes, such as Mushar and Bantar, are already represented on the indigenous list.

Problems associated with Dalit communities

o   Economic development,

o   Lack of political inclusion,

o   Illiteracy,

o   Unemployment

o   Social and cultural backwardness

Solutions for the problems associated with Dalit communities

o  Political participation

o  Good education

o  Economic prosperity

o  Equality

o  Life with dignity

To conclude his presentation, Honourable Jivan Pariyar outlined his answer to the question that he was asked to present on; how long does a Dalit person remains Dalit? He stated that Dalit people will remain Dalit until the discriminatory practices in society are eliminated, there is justice in society and Dalit people have access to the policy making process.

Mr Rajkumar Trikhatri was the first to respond to the presentation and gave thanks for the presentation given by Honourable Jivan Pariyar’s. Mr Trikhatri stated that Dalit people are the victims of the caste-based discrimination and that the term Dalit is what identifies a whole community of untouchables.  Therefore, it is vital to ensure that the identity of the Dalit community is not abolished with the elimination of caste-based discrimination and the untouchability system. Mr Trikhatri suggested that to eliminate untouchability from society, the following dimensions should be used:

1.      Socio-economic dimension,

2.      Political dimension,

3.      Humanist dimension

Mr Trikhatri suggested that humanist perspectives might help to create social solidarity among individuals when working towards eliminating untouchability. Dalit is an identity and therefore has a direct association with self-esteem that does not need to be promoted or eliminated. Mr Trikhatri explained the fact that a son or daughter cannot become the daughter or son of a Koirala if he/she simply puts his/her surname as Koirala. He explains that he proudly identifies as being from the Trikhatri family, a caste from the Dalit community and stated, “I do not want to change my surname by putting the surname of an upper caste”. Furthermore, Mr Trikhatri explained that it does not matter if a person is Dalit or not Dalit; the primary concern is that untouchability is must be completely eradicated from society. Dalit is an identity and therefore the identity will still be remained in future even with the complete eradication of untouchability but the discrimination will not be there. He gave an example of bonded labour that has already been abolished form society, however the identity of the people still remains. Mr Trikhatri stated that providing opportunities, empowerment and access to the police making process of Dalit community’s untouchability could be abolished. The perpetrators or so-called upper caste must also end all discriminatory practices and promote the elimination of untouchability practices in order to transform the structure of the nation.

Furthermore, Mr Trikhatri gave an example of a Nepali community who produce oil, Teli in Nepali language. In the past, this community belonged to the Dalit community however due to the increasing demand for oil their status was lifted from untouchable to touchable (pani nachalne tara choichito halna naparne). As a result of their sound economic status, this community has gradually becoming upper caste.

Another commentator, Mr. Ranesh Poudyal, expressed his appreciation for the hard work by the presenter in preparing the presentation however criticized that the presentation did not provide adequate answers to the question, how long does a person remain Dalit? He felt that the presentation focused predominantly on the legal requirements to eliminate caste-based discrimination. Mr Poudyal said that rather than answering the question, the presenter described the history of Dalit communities, legal provisions, provisions in the constitution for the rights of Dalit people and policies and strategies made by the state for uplifting the socio-economic status of Dalit people.

Mr Poudyal stated that traditionally and culturally we are very rich, however in the name of cultures and traditions many people are living in inhumane situations. He defined Dalit people as economically poor, socially depressed, educationally deprived and politically marginalized. The Hindu Script Veda considered Brahmin to be the high caste of society and untouchables are considered to those people who have to serve the Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Baishya. Mr Poudyal explained that everyone has the right to live a dignified life and for equality within a society. Dalit people should have the opportunity to transform socioeconomically so that they can be non-Dalit in the future.

Mr Poudyal also stated that Dalit people are those people with useful skills to survive. Most Dalit people have sewing skills, agricultural skills and skills in making leather shoes. Sadly, as a result of investment in modern technologies and agricultural equipment industries, Dalit people could no longer compete with the industries that produce clothes and shoes of a high quality at a low rate. Mr Poudyal suggested that the Government of Nepal should create financial opportunities, such as small loans or other support for Dalit people to begin small entrepreneurships whereby they are able to modernize their occupations. He stated that this could empower Dalit people to make quality clothes and shoes that would be competed with Shrestha Tailoring and Bata shoes. In addition to fulfil basic human needs, human beings seek prestige, a dignified life and appreciation from others; therefore unless we uplift the socioeconomic status of the Dalit people, untouchability cannot be abolished. Each person has a unique strength and therefore, if we can provide him or her with an opportunity then they will also have the capacity to create a successful life. If we can provide new technologies and investments for creating new businesses then the identity of the Dalit person will be permanently eliminated from society.  

In conclusion, Mr Poudyal requested all participants to utilize their skills for the transformation of society. He explained that the government had already made a positive change by reserving positions in politics and employment opportunities for Dalit people, to aim at bringing them into the mainstream development process. He requested all participants to firstly identify the problems and issues surrounding Dalit communities and then creating a solution to ensure their identity as a Dalit is erased.

Open for discussion:

Several key points were raised after the presentation, some included;

o   The Mentality of Brahmins and Kshatriyas towards the Dalit must be changed.

o   The political agendas should include issues surrounding Dalit communities in order to eliminate untouchability permanently from society.

o   Promulgation of effective laws to eliminate caste-based discrimination until the mentality of the people has altered

After considering the thoughts put forward by others, the presenter acknowledged each persons viewpoints and stated that he himself became confused during preparation of the presentation, as it was a vague topic. The presenter, Honourable Jivan Pariyar also explained that it would be very difficult to suggest just how long a person can remain Dalit. He made comment that there are many political and civil movements that create a strong Dalit movement, however the many laws and regulations implemented to eliminate untouchability were not done so effectively. Additionally, political parties indicate that they will provide reservation for marginalized people when in reality they do not fulfil this commitment. In conclusion, Honourable Jivan Pariyar stated that the answer of how long a person remains Dalit is until the non-Dalit will no longer treat the Dalit the way they have been treated for so many years.

The final presentation was given by Dr Uddhab Pyakurel based on the topic, ‘The rights of Dalit communities in Nepal and India as per the countries constitutions’. To begin his presentation, Dr Pyakurel gave a brief history of untouchability and its existence and expansion within South Asian countries. He said that caste-based untouchability is a result of the Hindu text, Manu script. The Dalit rights outlined in the Indian and Nepali constitution are very difficult to compare, however Dr Pyakurel did state that in regards to assuring Dalit rights, the current Nepali constitution is the best constitution in the South Asia. In his presentation, Dr Pyakurel also explained the history of the Dalit movement in India and the contributions made by Ambetkar to create a successful Dalit movement. In considering all the above information, Dr Pyakurel also highlighted the fact that the Nepali caste system is a very different system from that of India and therefore cannot be compared.

Following this presentation was a comment made by Ganesh BK, Dalit rights activist, who highlighted the various research that demonstrated the diversity of discrimination in Nepal when compared with other South Asian countries. There were three significant dates when Nepal made revolutionary outcomes following an election;

–          2007 BS- Nepali people received democracy and Dalit people were provided with special facilities for education.

–          2047 BS- The constitution ensured democracy to all Nepali citizens, including Dalit people who were given the right to enter into public places.

–          2061/63- There were three important decisions made by this Interim Constitution.

1.      This constitution legalized the rights for Dalit people to enter into private entities.

2.      Discrimination based on caste in working areas became illegal.

3.      Special reservation for Dalit people in the local government.

Furthermore, Ganesh BK emphasised that the constitution has aspects that ensure sovereignty, flexible government, rules of law and a secular country. In considering this, priorities must be made for marginalized and deprived people to ensure economic progress through the provision of special facilities, reservations and opportunities. In the Rastriya Sabha it is indicated that in each province there must be 1 representative from the Dalit community. Constitutions made to ensure positive discrimination will ensure that marginalized groups are brought back into mainstream development. The Nepali government is already established as constitutional body to the Dalit Aayog whereby they are obligated to secure Dalit rights.

Furthmore, Ganesh BK spoke further, expressing his appreciation of the government decision in granting scholarships for Dalit people until higher secondary level. He emphasized that empowerment of the Dalit can only be possible through providing scholarships in all levels. In addition, providing opportunities to promulgate special laws and policies to ensure dalit rights also needed to ensure dalit rights.

Ensuring the rights of Dalit people in the present constitution is the best in any constitution in South Asia. The Dalit campaign of Nepal is greatly influenced by the Dalit campaign of India and to have addressed the many demands of the Dalit in Nepal in the short history of Dalit movements in this country is a big achievement. The theory of social inclusion was applied within the constitution to ensure that the poorest people are able to get opportunities in economy development and social facilities. The constitution was modified according to the need of the Dalit people and is the best constitution in acquiring Dalit rights.

The final session in the program was for all participants to share their personal views regarding untouchability in their own context and experiences. Sandra from Australia stated that until 1970, the Aboriginal people of Australia were not recognised or treated as human beings and they were put in the class of plants and animals. Similarly, Gerraldine from New Zealand also shared her personal experience about the Maouri people who were also treated disrespectfully. She said that it is shameful that certain human beings do not treat others as human beings. Prithu Santyal from Bangladesh shared his experience of untouchability stating that Bangladesh is gradually developing as a result of the good education system, however many educated people still believe in superstition and blindly follow religious faith, causing suffering and caste- based discrimination within Dalit castes. Finally, VB Rawat from India shared about the untouchability problem in India where many people suffer very badly. This session was inspiring and provided an opportunity for participants to acknowledge the untouchability problem in the global context and to form a plan of action to combat untouchability.

The program ended with the formal establishment of the Global Alliance on Untouchability and the Nepal Declaration of Untouchability 2016.   VB Rawat from SDF read out the Nepal Declaration and Uttam Niraula stated that the conference helped to identify problems associated with untouchability and the possible ways to tackle it. Uttam Niraula stated that the formation of the Global Alliance against untouchability was a great achievement of the Conference and that it provided a global platform for all campaigners and activists to fights against such barbaric practice.  Formal formation of Global Alliance of Untouchability was the biggest achievement of this conference and enthusiastic leaders from Dalit organizations were nominated, said Mr. Niraula. This conference also declared: Nepal Declaration on Untouchability 2016.

At the end of the program, Mr. Niraula expressed thanks to all people who are directly or indirectly involved in making the conference successful. He also said that this conference was able to provide a good platform to learn about the roots of untouchability, reasons for following untouchability practices and possible suggestions to tackle this problem.

Nepal Declaration on Untouchability : 2016

We the delegates of the Third World Conference on Untouchability assembled in Kathmandu on May 12th and 13th 2016, under the aegis of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, Nepal Dalit Commission and the Global Alliance Against Untouchability and SOCH Nepal.

The delegates from different countries announced that untouchability should be outlawed completely in all forms and practices everywhere in the world.

The delegate also felt that caste discrimination is a serious issue in our society and need legislative measures, as untouchability is the outcome from the caste system.

We agree to form a Global Alliance against untouchability that will provide a secular humanist approach to the problem of untouchability and caste discrimination.

We understand that we need to perform these activities to strengthen the democratic secular humanist voices and rule of law also.

The Conference ask Humanist, Secular Human Rights activists and entities, both Governmental and non-governmental, to join the Global Alliance against Untouchability and to strengthen its functioning and reach.

THE CONFERENCE FURTHER CALLS ON THE GLOBAL ALLIANCE AGAINST UNTOUCHABILITY

–          To appoint a Committee of distinguished personalities of stature and international recognition to act as advisors to its humanist, non-religious approach to eradicate untouchability.

_          To develop a Media strategy for outreach to all stake holders and opinion makers.

_          To establish International secretariat in Kathmandu to monitor the atrocities and developments which impact the welfare of the Dalit or Untouchable communities world-wide.

–        To propose model legislation in countries where no legislation exists, and to monitor the implementation of the law where such legislation exists.

–          To initiate studies and reports on the specific situation of untouchable communities.

–          To focus on the internal conditions of untouchable communities and to initiate studies and or make policy recommendations to eradicate the evils that plague them.

–          To propose through the knowledge, expertise and experience of academics, activists and victims, modern scientific solutions that meet the requirements of international legislation and the Universal Standards of Human Rights.

–          Initiate steps to regularly organize World Conferences in countries where Untouchable communities exist and to take all steps to involve official agencies as appropriate.

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