Dr. Hari Bansh Jha
Many of the Dalit organizations in Nepal believe that the population of the Dalits in the country’s total population of 23,151,423 is 20 per cent. However, the census report 2001 shows that the population of the Dalits is only 14 per cent (3,241,199) of the country’s total population. A breakdown of the Dalit population reveals that the Dalits of the Terai origin like Dom, Dusadh, Halkhor, Chamar, Tatma, Khatwe, Musahar and Bantar is only 36 per cent (1,166,831) against 64 per cent population of the hill-based Dalits like Damai, Kami, Sarki and Gaine (2,074,367)Studies show that violence against women is rampant all over Nepal. As much as 95 per cent of the women in the country are victims of one or the other form of political, economic and domestic violence. Yet the problem of violence against Dalit women of the Terai is more serious in nature as compared to other communities.
Even after the restoration of multi-party democracy in Nepal in 1990, there has not been any remarkable change in the socio-economic status of the Terai Dalits. Worse among these people is the condition of the Dalit women, who are triply oppressed by the so-called high caste people, patriarchal social system and the Dalit males. Most of these women are tortured mentally, physically and sometimes even killed on one or the other ground.
The Dalit women of the Terai fail to safeguard their interests and make protest for their rights as they are weak. Because of the caste system, the Dalits are divided among themselves. Education among the Dalit women is only 6 per cent or so. In certain Dalit caste such as Musahar the literacy rate is as low as 4 per cent. Drop-out rates among the school-going children is higher among the Dalit girls. Representation of these women in administration and political bodies is almost nil.
As the Dalit women of the Terai are voiceless, their plight is often overlooked. The I/NGOs, government and civil society are least concerned about their problems. With this view in mind, the Centre for Economic and Technical Studies (CETS) in cooperation with Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) conducted seminar on “Combating Violence against Dalit Women of the Terai” on October 28, 2003 at Janakpur to create awareness in the society to combat violence against the Dalit women. The seminar was a continuation of the support extended by FES to CETS for the Dalit cause in Nepal.
With a view to suggesting measures for combating violence against Dalit women, the seminar intended to discuss the general situation of violence against Dalit women, review the nature of economic exploitation with these women, assess the discriminatory practices against them in educational institutions, find out the factors that restrict them from attending the schools, and analyze the social problems, including the dowry system and witchcraft which add to the suffering of the Dalit women.
To achieve the above objectives, the seminar was organized at the seminar hall of Chamber of Commerce and Industries at Janakpur on October 28, 2003. The distinguished participants and resource persons of the seminar represented various segments of the society, including the Dalit women and men, academic institutions, media, political parties, NGOs, etc.
Opening of the seminar was made by the welcome speech of Hari Bansh Jha, Executive Director, CETS. In his speech, Jha welcomed all the guests and participants and highlighted the objectives and programmes of the seminar.
Among the galaxy of participants in the seminar, four papers were presented, which included Basant Kumar Vishwokarma’s paper on Overlooking the Education of TeraiDalit Girls, Ram Chandra Sah’s paper on Violence against Dalit Women of the Terai in Social Sector, Prakash A. Raj’s paper on Violation of Political Rights of Dalit Women of the Terai, and Hari Bansh Jha’s paper on Economic Violence against the Dalit Women ofthe Terai.
During the floor discussion, a number of intelligent questions were raised. Apart from the Dalit women, intellectuals from various walks of life also took active part in discussion. Sumitra Devi Mahara and Ram Baran Paswan from the Dalit community discussed in detail the different forms of violence against the women of their community. Namo Narayan Jha, Bishnu Kunwar, Lalan Jha and Roshana Khadka made useful comments and suggestions on different ways and means to combat violence against Dalit women.
It was concluded in the seminar that the concerned agencies should take effective measures to provide employment opportunities to the Dalit women, apart from improving their traditional caste-based skills. For a fixed period of time, they should be given reservation in jobs, educational institutions and political bodies. Dalit women of the Terai should also be given due representation in various Dalit-based organizations and National Dalit Commission. A separate data-base should be prepared on the Dalit women of the Terai and they should be given due focus in Human Development Report or any report prepared nationally or internationally. Pressure groups should be formed to impress upon the government to execute the Dalit-related programs of the 9th and 10th Plan.
Experts of the Janakpur seminar also added that the education of the Dalit girls and women should be promoted through poverty-eradication schemes. Religious movement should be started to enhance Dalit’s role in the society. Legal machinery should be made effective to punish those who indulge discriminatory treatment with the Dalits in public places. All such people who torture the Dalit women on the ground of dowry, witchcraft or any such fake base, should be penalized. But more than all this, it is needed that certain seats should be reserved for the Dalits and Dalit women in the Parliamentary and local elections. There should be provision for certain reserved constituencies where only Dalits are eligible to become candidates, although all communities could vote for candidates for such constituencies.
(Dr. Jha is Nepal’s senior economist)