Briefing Paper on Dalit Rights and Democracy Crisis in Nepal


Presented to House of Commons, the United Kingdom Parliament, London, 9 March 2005


Honourable Members of Parliament and Friends,

I feel proud to have this opportunity to be here today at the House of Commons with the Honorable Members of the UK’s Parliament and friends of Nepal to brief you all about the current Dalit rights and democracy crisis of Nepal. Nepal is experiencing a serious democracy and human rights crisis following the royal takeover of power. There is no guarantee to the right to life and to dignity of the people of Nepal and the Dalit people in particular. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the crisis of democracy and Dalits rights in Nepal and the challenges they are facing.

1. Current Security threat to Rights Activists:

After the Royal Coup by King Gyanendra, security personnel and Government administration immediately started to make phone calls and write letters to various rights activists and leaders to come down to District Administration office to make positive support/commitment to King’s steps, and those of the rights activists or political activists who went there and showed their disagreement on Royal Coup were taken into custody. There is no security guarantee of rights and political activists, leaders especially Dalit rights activists/leaders. Many Rights activists received a letter from the Government requesting their presence and support.  On Feb 3rd, 2005, sensing the hazard in the offing, Dalit NGO Federation (DNF) immediately wrote letters to the ambassadors to the United States, United Kingdom, European Presidency and UNDP requesting international community and the diplomatic missions located in Nepal to give attention towards the current democracy crisis and fundamental rights as well as security concern of rights activists/leaders especially for the dalits leaders/activists all over the country.

State machinery that was supposed to guarantee safety to Rights/ political activists was after them, as they had strongly denounced the Royal Coup,  which was not in the best interest of the democracy, fundamental rights and Dalits whose voice had been silenced for 30 years during similar takeover in 1960. 

Many Rights activists and politicians are barred from the traveling abroad. However, some of us managed to escape the police security, and were able to safely leave the country for the sensitization to international community on current political developments and fundamental rights of Nepalese people including Dalits. Many of Rights activists and politicians are under area detections in Katmandu valley, and police (in plain clothes) had searched their apartments and taken all the books, important documents from their houses, while the security force is threatening to activists and leaders.

2. Caste-based Discrimination or Dalits Rights:

In Nepal, 4.5 million Dalits (known as so-called “untouchables” and caste-discriminated people in the country) live below the poverty line. For 80% of them, the long-term conflict and current political difficulties have worsened their plight significantly. Very large numbers of dalit families (around 50 thousand families) have been internally displaced from their homes and villages.

Because of this displacement they are unable to claim or receive even the most basic and essential humanitarian needs such as, medicine, clean water, shelter and clothes. Their children can no longer go to school, and the adults are unable to find employment or the opportunity to earn their own livelihood in any other ways. Dalits suffer from 205 different kinds of discrimination on the basis of caste, or work and descent, in Nepal. There are around 2,654 atrocity cases against Dalit community, as listed in the Dalit Rights Year-Book. This discrimination deprives Dalits of legal justice and their social, economic, and human rights.

Fig. 1.  Percentage make up of the different Dalit castes in Nepal.

“Those people, who have own traditional occupation/skill, labor, rich arts, culture and who are social architects are considered as Dalits” -DNF. However, their occupation and skills have always been misused by the state and society. As Nepali society developed and Hinduism took hold of the society, the Dalits' skills, arts, cultures and talents were considered lowly classifying them on the basis of ‘Caste', and eventually the society and the state labeled them as ‘lower-caste', ‘untouchable' or ‘the depressed class' community, and treated them accordingly. This status is determined and defined by the Hindu caste system. The Chart (Fig. 1) shows percentage make up of the different Dalit castes in Nepal as follows:

  those who are considered pollutant and ‘water is not accepted from them' people (Pani nachalne, until 1963 as per the law of Nepal);

  those so-called untouchable communities requiring water-sprinkling purification;

  there are 22 caste groups identified by National Dalit commission and Dalit National (NGO) Federation-DNF who are officially defined as Dalits.

•  the Civil Code of 1853 termed them as inferior human beings, and those people who come into contact with them require ritual purification;

Issues of Dalit Rights are as follows:

  Dalits of Nepal have suffered atrocities and injustices meted out to them for centuries not just by society but also by the state itself.

  Dalits have been denied access to education, wealth and job in government services.

  80% of Dalits are landless.

  Dalits have inadequate representation in the politics and parliament.

  Dalits have no representation in the lower house and limited representation in the upper house but do not have the power to present a bill entitled “Status of Dalit Movement after the Peoples Movement of 1990”.

  The leadership of the Dalit movement is being shifted to a relatively younger generation.

  Dalit issue no longer remains just a national issue but also is becoming an international issue thanks to internationalization of human rights cause.

  Lots of attention to the issue has been created by civil society.

• Significant involvement of international development agencies, human rights institutions and solidarity groups/forums.

Poverty eradication, conflict management and restoration of peace and complete democracy are the current burning issues of Nepal. The root cause of all these is the existing caste system, caste discrimination and the traditional caste structure. Truthful development of the country, strengthening of the process of democratization and poverty eradication are almost impossible in the face of the problems and systems of inequality and discrimination prevailing. The movement against injustice on the one hand and the movement of Dalits towards their dignified life on the other should not only be looked upon from a national perspective but from a global perspective as well. We welcome the UK Government's support for the Dalit movement and their rights through the cooperation of Department for International Development's (DFID)- Nepal office. We would like to request the UK Government and especially DFID to take the lead in the initiative to eradicate caste-based discrimination in Nepal and to mainstream Dalits in the national socio-political process. The development, democracy, human rights and poverty alleviation programme should target those who are discriminated on the basis of caste, or work and descent. I would like to draw to the attention of international donor communities that Dalits and poverty are synonymous in our country. All our strategies, which aim to wipe out injustices, should have the component to fight against caste-based discrimination.

3. Why Democracy is based on Rights-based movements in Nepal:

Rights based or social justice movements are growing significantly after the 1990’s multi-party democracy. Dalits and marginalized community have nothing substantive achieved in the mainstream political process.  The major leading political parties have failed to reform the state machinery and bring the dalits, women, indigenous nationalities and minorities groups into the national mainstream. However, the minority, dalits, women groups have began to organize themselves in a broad base only after 1990’s multi-party democracy. 

Nepal is currently experiencing a crisis of democracy with the suppression of democratic rights and civil liberties. The King is making political parties defunct and preventing the activities of political leaders, civil society activists and human rights defenders who have been active since the 1990 restoration of democracy. The Dalit movement cannot create momentum without absolute democracy. Democracy and human rights are basic pillars of Nepalese Dalit movement. We appeal to the international community on the following issues:

•  to encourage and pressurise Nepal's judiciary to act independently towards guaranteeing the basic rights of the people and register habeas corpus cases as well as cases filed under the non-suspended rights categories.

  to ensure the safety of Dalits and Human rights defenders, journalists, and lawyers so that they may carry out their legitimate activities without any form of interruption.

•  to reinstate all fundamental human rights of the citizens, such as equality, freedom of movement, freedom to political rights, and freedom of opinion and expression.

•  to ensure the equal representation of all communities including Dalits, women and minorities in the mainstream political process to ensure a process of absolute democracy and the attainment of human rights.

  to implement affirmative action policies for Dalits, women and indigenous/nationalities for equal access to the resources of the state.

To conclude, I would like to express my confidence that this briefing program will prove effective in identifying ways and means of fighting against and eliminating caste–based discrimination and strengthening the absolute democratic process in Nepal. The Constituent Assembly is one of the better options for equal power sharing (with guarantee of equal representation on the policy making and implementation process of all sectors) on the basis of caste, ethnic, religious and gender diversity. Absolute democracy (Army should be under the people’s sovereignty), equal access to power respecting dignity of people, eradication of all kinds of discriminations, and promotion as well as protection of fundamental rights and freedom are the basic solutions for Nepal's present crisis. 

Therefore, I would also like to urge for an international diplomatic initiative to resolve the prevailing conflict and restore ‘absolute democracy’, peace and security in Nepal through the involvement of the United Nations, if necessary.

Thank you.


D.B. 'Sagar' Bishwakarma,

National President

Dalit NGO Federation, Nepal



(This briefing position paper was presented to the UK’s House of Commons on 09 March 2005, on behalf of Dalit National (NGO) Federation-DNF, Nepal, by National President Mr. D.B. ‘Sagar’ Bishwakarma.)