Dalit Women and their Major Issues
The caste system is the dominant and ruling philosophy of Hinduism, directly linking power and social order. The caste system is the oldest surviving social phenomenon in the world. The inherent superiority of some castes and the inferiority of others is one of Hinduism’s central elements, and when a person is born into a particular caste, it is not possible to change one’s caste to another. Nepalese society functions under this rigid caste system, and there are four major castes that have been “fixed” into two basic social characteristics; the so-called “touchable” and the so-called “untouchable”. The social function of the “untouchable” refers to caste, work, and descent-based discrimination. The dominant social orders of the “touchables” are violating the most basic goal of society to guarantee security & happiness for people known as Dalit. The lack of access to education is a problem for the Dalit community. Many Dalit families living in rural areas are unable to send their children to school because of geographical or financial constraints. In addition, young women are often married young and thus unable to continue their education, resulting in high illiteracy rates and the inability to be self-sufficient and financially contribute to the family. 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. Terai Dalits are subject to even harsher discrimination tactics and thus suffer from deeper poverty and lack of social and economic opportunities. Poverty, lack of sanitation, the issue of landlessness, early child marriage, lack of education, and lack of alternative economic opportunities all posed insurmountable barriers for the community to successfully provide for itself and create a viable future for its children. Situation of Dalit Women in Nepal: Nepal, situated in South Asia, is one of the poorest countries of the world. Major reason behind this is the political instability and undemocratic rule for long. Other crucial factors for being the country very poor are due to lack of awareness and access to quality education. As a result, people have superstitious beliefs, there is gender discrimination, and political leaders have decreased political vision. The socio-economic status of women in Nepal is very poor. The women are being discriminated in every aspect of the society. These and so many other factors have contributed to turn Nepal a lower human development state. Nepal has entered a new political milieu with the successful completion of the Constitution Assembly (CA) election. However, dalits are still treated as socially untouchable and their issues are remained unchanged. Such kinds of discrimination can be observed around Kathmandu valley and severely in rural areas of the country. After the political change in 2007, the situation of women has certainly changed but not to the extent it should have been. The fact is that Dalit women also consist of one-forth of the total women population. The whole women are the victim of gender discrimination in the society. The basic difference between high caste women and Dalit women lies on the ground of caste based discrimination and untouchability, which Dalit women have to face. In comparison to other high caste women, the Dalit women have been forced to live in most vulnerable conditions. They constitute the major workforce doing hard manual labour and engage in agricultural operations. Dalit women are thrice alienated on the basis of class, caste and gender. The whole Dalit community has to struggle for survival. Thus they need helping hand from their women. Through this perspective, Dalit women deserve better position than those of higher castes. But high caste people/women perpetrate caste based discrimination and untouchability against Dalit women. The reality of the Dalit community is that the whole family has to depend at least partly on their income. Regarding the Dalit craftsmen artists and labors, women participate in productive activities and thus become the part of economic chain. So in certain caste groups like Chamars, Badi, Pode etc. there is some respect for the women in comparison to higher caste women where they are also considered as tool of sex (Bishwakarma, 2004). It is estimated that the Dalit community constitutes 20 percent of the total population of the country, or four million people, and that the population of Dalit women is half of this figure, i.e., two million people. In general, the status of women in Nepal is very low, like in other South Asian countries. Among them though, Dalit women face the worst conditions and oppression. Dalit women are living a history of pain, agony, sorrow, misconduct, maltreatment and suffering. They are not only the victim of gender discrimination but also the victim of caste-ism. Moreover, the lives of Dalit women are spiraling downward from bad to worse. There is no controversy among development planners and workers that there has been very little impact on raising the status of Dalit women from the development initiatives implemented thus far in Nepal (Sob, 2005). Population of Dalit Women: It is obvious that Dalit community comprises one-forth of the total population of the country. The census of the past (2001) was not based on the scientific criteria in which lot of Dalit sub-castes were included under upper caste group on the ground of similar creed (Thar) like Gautam, Ghimire, Dulal, Derlami, Khapangi, etc. According to the census held in 2001, the total Dalit population is 2,962,591 (13.05%); of which the whole female population is 1,496,622 and the male population is 1,465,969 (Bishwakarma, 2004).
Major issues of Dalit Women:
- Untouchability/Caste discrimination
- Victim of inter-caste marriage
- Economic backwardness
- Absolute poverty
- Severe condition of reproductive health
- High mortality and fertility rate
- Sexual exploitation
- Lack of employment opportunity
- Compulsion for prostitution
- Lowest life expectancy
- No representation at political including policy and decision levels
- Trafficking Dalit Women in Constituent Assembly:
CA election is itself a triumph in Nepali history; its significant achievement lays in electing 197 women members, which is almost 33 percent of the total seats. Out of 197 women, there are 22 dalits women in CA. These women members have come from the diverse ethnic cultures, tradition, group and geographical areas. They represent the grassroots level, district and national level. We all are honored with the victory of women candidates. Their participation in Constituent Assembly will definitely bring meaningful and remarkable contribution for establishing equal, just and caste, class and gender discrimination free society. We are hopeful that the victorious women will take part meaningfully in making our first ever People’s Constitution with due consideration to women and especially Dalit women.
Recommendation for Dalit Women Issues:
- The new constitution should ensure the dignified representation of Dalit women at all state mechanisms.
- Reservation mechanism at all state organs should be provisioned in new constitution for Dalit women to empower them on their economic, social, cultural and civil and political rights.
- Dalits ownership on land should be ensured with due consideration to Dalit women on their access and control over resources.
- Free technical, vocational and academic education should be provided to Dalit women by the state with scholarship facility to them.
- The promulgation of the provision as untouchable free country should be implemented through constructive plan of action effectively.
- The discriminatory laws, traditional practices and dogmatism happening against Dalit women should be abolished by providing them the social security for their rehabilitation.
- The international legal obligations and instruments related to Dalit and Dalit women should be applied in practice with it effective implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
- Constitutional Dalit commission should be established with special support centre for Dalit women.
- Appropriate compensation should be provided to the victims of transitional period on trafficking, rape, sexual exploitation, displaced Dalit with due consideration to Dalit women.
- Dalit women economic enhancement programs should be launched for their income generation and self reliance.
- Dalit women employment opportunity should be ensured.
- Massive awareness against caste discrimination should be escalated.
- Strong legal action should be implemented in the case of caste discrimination and abuses. One-step solution to the issue of Dalit and Dalit women rights does not exist.
In order for any progress to be made, the government must take a stand and enforce the anti-caste discrimination laws currently in place. Dalit must also be afforded equality and proportional representation in society, government and each state organ with due consideration to Dalit women. The lack of political party mobilization to include the Dalit community and their agenda is a serious concern. Nepal must reform its political party mechanisms and policies and become more friendly and inclusive to the Dalit community. Nepal is at a critical point in its political and social history, as it is building a New Constitution. Thus, right now is the time for Nepal to move beyond caste-based discrimination and move towards creating an inclusive society with a government that both serves and protects all people, regardless of caste, class and gender.
Bishwakarma P. 2004. Violence against Dalit Women in Nepal Nepal News May 21, 2004. Sob D. 2005. The Triple Oppression of Dalit Women in Nepal Women Issues Nepal Human Rights News. Com. Jagaran Nepal 2008. Status of Women in Nepal (Focus on Women in Politics).