We preach a lot in public that we donít really practice. We cheered when the government announced caste discrimination and untouchability had been abolished six years ago. The subsequent years saw the making of institutions like the National Dalit Commission and several laws in support of the announcement. Today, at a function marking the anniversary of the landmark event, speakers, including the prime minister and the commission chief, however, were lamenting that the evil social practice continued to exist.
Over the years, the news media have reported cases of discrimination the Dalits and the Hindu lower caste members suffered, for example, during their use of community resources like water wells and religious shrines in different places of the country. The count of clashes and court cases registered on grounds of discrimination and untouchability has gone up since the official rejection of the social malpractice as a punishable act. This also shows that the struggle towards a non-discriminating, egalitarian society is an ongoing process of change happening at the level of the government and the law as well as at the level of those who discriminate and those who suffer discrimination.
Still, the social maladies have remained deep seated and widespread in Nepal despite the efforts to root them out. The core problem is in our disposition towards handling individual and group differences. For a long time, our society allowed us, or even encouraged us, to believe our caste groups mattered in how we relate with one another in the society, with people from the same group or the other group. Blind to the biological facts that make us all humans, we went by the traits like colour and attributes like lineage in contesting for our place in the society. We created a caste hierarchy and took it for a fact of life for generations. We told our kids to socialise differently and shared the stories of human differences as our destiny, creating a spiral of discrimination and silence down the generations. The lucky ones were born superior, the unlucky ones were born to suffer the stigma as untouchables.
The inherited attitudes perpetuated social practices which had no compelling reasons to be going on. They might have served a particular feudal or hegemonic purpose for some people at some time in the past. Now they are obsolete at best. As long as some sections of the society maintain this past attitude, the laws we make to govern our relations with one another as equal citizens will prove futile. We should not be contesting for our place in the society or be silently accepting the practice of discrimination and untouchability as our fate if we are to craft a new Nepal. Discrimination, even a positive one, stalls progress if it continues for long.