Caste killings and their justifications: What is wrong with Nepali society?
Two recent incidents in the country in which people from the marginalized Dalit community were brutally murdered should have been enough to shake the conscience of people. But unfortunately a section of the society has been trying to justify the killings.
The first incident unfolded on 23 May in Soti Village in Rukum district which lies in the mid-western region. Nawaraj BK, a young man from the Dalit community in neighbouring district Jajarkot, was head over heels with a girl from the so-called upper caste Thakuri community. The girl reciprocated his love with equal intensity, so much so that she kept going to his home at the drop of a hat. Nawaraj’s mother Urmila, knowing that the girl’s community would never accept her being the bride of a Dailt, tried her best to convince the star-struck couple to terminate the relationship.
The girl’s family was furious with Nawaraj for “trapping her in love” and warned him to “bugger off”. But the couple were determined to solemnize their relationship. Taking reference to the ineligibility of the girl for marriage as she was underage (marriage is not permissible below the age of 20 as per Nepali law), the girl’s family filed a complaint with the police against Nawaraj. The police warned him and the girl not to go ahead with the wedding.
But Nawaraj and the girl could not remain separate with each other and the girl kept phone calling him every day. Nawaraj then assembled a group of friends (19 people) and went to the girl’s village to bring her home. But the girl’s mother Prakashi Malla started shouting demeaning words for the Dalit community as soon as she saw the assemblage. Her shouts attracted the attention of villagers who mobbed Nawaraj and his friends. They bashed Nawaraj’s head and chased the group to Bheri River that functions as a boundary between Rukum and Jajarkot districts.
There have been conflicting accounts of the youths’ fate. Some say that they jumped into the river to save their skin while some say that they were tied with ropes and dumped into the river. The bodies of Nawaraj BK, Tikaram Sunar, Ganesh Budha Magar and Lokendra Sunar have been recovered while Govinda Shahi and Sandeep BK are missing.
The girls’ parents along with Ward no 8 Chief Dambar Bahadur Malla have been arrested and interrogated. Rukum West District Police Office has formed a committee under the leadership of Inspector Kabi Raj Rokaya to investigate into the event. Given the history of impunity for perpetrators against the Dalit community, justice for the slain cannot be expected.
Worryingly, the ruling party NCP’s leader Janardan Sharma, who is the elected representative of that area, tried to spin the event as a consequence of the violation of lockdown rules. While commenting about the incident at the federal parliament on Tuesday, he seemed to have tried to defend his party cadres who were involved in the incident. The Ward Chief is said to be his loyalist.
As the incident was being discussed in social media, some people (mostly from the so-called upper caste) started to put forward objectionable interpretations to the event, shifting the blame to the victims. Some of the offensive questions were like: Why should a group of people go to the girl’s village in the evening with intentions of carrying her off? Should the girl’s parents welcome the hoodlums with garlands and presents? One writer even posted on Facebook that this is a case of statutory rape as the girl was below marriageable age, as if it constituted a justification for the killing. Some people said that this incident should not be viewed with the caste lenses.
No spin to the incident can justify the murder, though. This is a clear cut case of racial discrimination. These unacceptable interpretations are nothing but reflections of discriminatory mindset of the people. The Constitution has provided for criminal punishment for the offense of caste-based discrimination and has enshrined Dalit people’s rights as fundamental rights. The Caste Based Discrimination and Untouchability (Offence and Punishment) Act, 2068 (2011) is in place. But the state has not seriously enacted the law and has let murderers escape lightly in similar cases, thereby entrenching the age-old discrimination practices. The state’s initiatives of encouraging inter-caste marriages through rewards to the married couple do not seem to have made any positive effects.
Another incident in Rupandehi district in Province no 5 is equally horrible. A minor from the Madheshi Dalit community has been found raped and murdered. On 22 May Angira Pasi, 13, was raped by one Birenda Bhar, 25, and villagers caught him in the act. The villagers blamed the victim of losing honour and decided to marry her off to Birendra. Even the local representatives are said to be complicit in this decision. It was said that Angira herself agreed to go with Birendra. But since Angira was a minor, her coerced or convinced agreement to go with the perpetrator cannot be legally justified.
Birendra took Angira home but his family didn’t accept her as she was from the so-called lower caste. Her body was found hanging from a tree near Rohini village on 23 May. Angira’s mother Shanti Pasi has lodged a complaint pinpointing the perpetrators: Birendra, his father Akali and mother Shitali Bhar. The police had refused to register the complaint but ultimately relented under the pressure of rights activists.
In this case too, the state representatives have discriminated against the Dailt by asking the minor to go with the perpetrator and being reluctant to register a complaint. This entrenched structural discrimination has been proving difficult to dislodge. Thornier is the mindset of people who try to justify this violence by interpreting the circumstances. The onus for complying with egalitarian norms lies with the so-called upper caste people. The brunt of the law to end impunity in caste-based discrimination is also required.
Published on 28 May 2020