Who cares?

Amnesty International issues scathing report on caste-based discrimination in Nepal

Despite provisions in the Constitution, there is still systemic descent-based discrimination against Dalits, especially women, a new report by Amnesty International has said.

The report states that there is a culture of impunity that puts Dalit women and girls at risk from an entrenched casteism in the police and the courts that perpetuates the discrimination. 

‘Authorities in Nepal are failing to protect Dalits, particularly women and girls, from systemic and widespread caste-based discrimination,’ Amnesty International says in the report, ‘No One Cares: Descent-Based Discrimination against Dalits’ which documents case studies of caste-based discrimination in Nepal.

The report details just how pervasive the caste system still is in Nepal despite laws against exclusion of Dalits. This manifests itself in violence and discrimination in everyday life for many Dalit individuals, families and communities.

Even when they face blatant institutional discrimination and violence, Dalits have little recourse in the justice system or response from the police when complaints are filed. Caste-based prejudice perpetuates a culture of impunity, the report says.

“The authorities in Nepal are not doing enough to counteract the culture of impunity for human rights violations related to descent-based discrimination in Nepal. Efforts made by the authorities are still inadequate and insufficient, and they seem to exist only on paper but do not translate into real changes in the lives and the human rights of Dalits, Dalit women and girls in particular,” says Fernanda Doz Costa, Amnesty International’s Director for Gender and Racial Justice Programme.

State of Dalits in Nepal NT
(From left) Hari Bhakta Dhakal Mijar, Amnesty International's Gender, Racial Justice and Refugees Programme's Director Fernanda Doz Costa and Amnesty International Nepal's Chairperson Bipin Budhathoki.

Despite a reservation system for Dalits and the prohibition of caste-based discrimination, the report has documented many instances of impunity and lack of representation of Dalits in the justice system. There are also examples of institutional discrimination in the police and justice system, lack of effective oversight mechanisms and accountability.

‘Dalits do not trust the police and the justice system in general, and the limited government level data and statistics available, and confirm their distrust is well-founded, including for Dalit women confronting caste-based violence,’ the report says.

Caste and gender-based violence therefore often go unreported making the exclusion of Dalits even less visible, and allowing the discrimination to be accepted and perpetuating it. When caste-based incidents are reported, Amnesty says, police frequently refuse to register cases of untouchability and gender-based violence or rape. 

Among the case-studies of caste-based crimes in the report is that of 18-year-old Ajit Dhakal Mijar, whose corpse has been in a hospital morgue in Kathmandu for the past eight years. Ajit was involved in a relationship with a non-Dalit girl, and was found dead. Police automatically recorded it as suicide and he was buried without informing the family.

Ajit’s father had the body exhumed and said police were trying to cover up the murder of his son by burying him after a fake post-mortem report. The case is pending in the Supreme Court and Ajit’s body is still in the morgue. 

Another case in the report is of 12-year-old Angira Pasi who  was found four years ago hanging from a tree. A ‘higher’ case man was accused of raping her earlier, and the village authorities instead of punishing the man got him to marry her. But the girl was tormented by his family for being an ‘untouchable’ and she was found hanging. 

Pressure from human rights groups forced a reluctant police to register a complaint and the accused, his mother, and his aunt were detained. The Rupandehi District Court then convicted the accused of murder and sentenced him to 18 years in prison. 

Police often register such cases under other laws which downplays the discriminatory motive of the offence and dilutes the severity of caste-based discrimination, Amnesty says.

Anita Mahara says in the report: “No one cares.” Despite laws, the caste system continues to segregate and oppress Dalits who make up about 14% of Nepal’s population. The entrenched discrimination excludes Dalits from opportunities and discriminates against them in everything from using community water sources to education, livelihood, marriage, place of worship, security and health, and citizenship. 

Descent-based discrimination covers caste and analogous systems of inherited status, and authorities have a legal obligation to address all forms of caste-based discrimination, including when committed by private individuals, in accordance with the international human rights law and standards, Amnesty says.

Parliament’s Committee on Law, Justice and Human Rights ruled that every police station should have a Dalit unit, and 86 were created to report, investigate and coordinate with victims of discrimination.  

In preparing this report, Amnesty International’s researchers visited three district police stations in Madhes Province and found that the Dalit desk was just a sign on the door. 

Amnesty says the Nepal government must be more proactive in uprooting entrenched caste and gender-based violence and discrimination. It says special measures are needed to improve the situation of Dalit women and girls due to the inter-generational history of oppression and entrenched culture of caste-bias, patriarchy and discrimination.

Says Fernanda Doz Costa, “Nepal must fulfil its obligation to provide effective, timely and meaningful access to justice and reparations for survivors. It must move away from merely paying lip service to the ideals of achieving equality for all but take a concrete human-rights centric approach to relegating descent-based discrimination to the dustbins of history.”

State of Dalits in Nepal
'No One Cares: Descent-Based Discrimination against Dalits' by Amnesty International