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Nepal's Dalit Women: Fighting For Dignity

Caste system in Nepal has long discriminated against a certain section of society. These people are the so called “untouchables” or the dalits who are treated as second class citizens by the community members. The constitution of Nepal guarantees equality for the dalits but in the real world, outside long winding provisions of the constitution and legalese, the dalits are still openly treated as less than human.

Limited access to education, scarce employment opportunities and discrimination embedded in social structure have severely restricted growth and development of dalits in Nepal. For dalit women, the situation is even worse.

Blogger Kiran at Everest Uncensored discusses about Dalit Women and their issues:

“When we talk about Dalit women they suffer from triple discrimination as oppressed by the so-called high caste people (which equally affects both male and female Dalits), oppressed by the design of the Hindu patriarchal system and oppressed by Dalit males. 90% of Dalit women in Nepal live below the poverty line and 80% of Dalit women are illiterate. These women are also vulnerable to serious health issues, sex trafficking, domestic violence, and suffer from social, political, and economic powerlessness.”

With 80% of dalit women struggling with illiteracy, odds could not be stacked higher against them. Dalit women are also often target of racially motivated attacks by the so called “higher” caste members of society. Renu Kshetry at NewsBlaze writes about a dalit woman who was attacked in a village near capital Kathmandu:

Recently B.K., a Dalit woman, was the victim of a heinous crime – she was tortured, beaten and forced to eat human excreta. The person who orchestrated this barbaric act was a supposedly educated woman: Bimala Lama. The principal of the local Gadi Bhanjyang Primary School, Lama accused B.K. of practising ‘witchcraft’.

The incident took place earlier this year, unfortunately, is not isolated. Every year dalit women are victimized, and very few manage to get justice.

Some dalit women, however, are working to achieve what was previously thought to be impossible. A temple is Kathmandu's Baneshwor area now has a dalit woman as priest.

“The 43-year-old is the priest at the Chhakkubakku Bhagwati temple in the busy Baneshwor area of the capital, hemmed by shops and pavement stalls. Besides being a woman, she is also a Dalit, a community that stands at the bottom of still-conservative Nepal’s rigid social ladder and is ostracized as untouchables even now.

The mother of four comes from the Sarki clan who were originally cobblers and once forced to live on the carcasses of dead cows when Nepal was a Hindu kingdom with a ban on cow slaughter.”

In constituent assembly elections held on April 10, 2008, a number of dalit candidates-including women, were elected and dalit leaders hope that increased political participation will help end discrimination.

Here is a video in Nepali by NepalNews.com which features dalit leaders to discuss how the country's new constitution should be shaped so that caste discrimination ends definitively.

For more information on Nepal's dalits, you can visit Nepal Dalit Info, which has informative articles, studies and latest news on Nepal's dalit movement in both English and Nepali.

Law against discrimination has been on the books for long in Nepal, but the caste system continues to ostracize one community. It is clear that unless dalits-especially women, are given the opportunity educate themselves the practice will continue to find new victims.

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