Friday, May 30, 2008

Dalit Representation in Nepal's Constituent Assembly (CA)

For those who are interested in how well Nepal is actually doing on its commitment to social inclusion, diversity and participation, I have some data on Dalits (formerly 'untouchables') in the CA, according to Durga Sob of FEDO -- the Feminist Dalit Organization.

Durgaji offered the following information:

49 Dalits are represented in the new 2008 Constituent Assembly

27 Men
22 Women

21 CPN/M (7 elected; 14 nominated)
10 Congress (all nominated)
10 UML (all nominated)
2 MJF (both nominated)
6 Other parties (this needs to be double-checked)

To put some of this in perspective, it's worth noting that the Congress nominated only one Dalit to run in the nation's 240 constituencies while the UML nominated four Dalits; none of these won. Surprisingly, seven Dalits won direct elections under the CPN/M. (I need to find out how many ran under the CPN/M.)

In all of the past elections in Nepal, I believe that no more than one Dalit ever won a constituency. Therefore, the seven Maoist Dalit MPs elected in 2008 is a remarkable achievement -- although, as other Dalits point out, the numbers are good but the quality (i.e. commitment to caste issues as opposed to ideological ones) remains uncertain.

Unfortunately, there are no Gaine, Badi, Dom or Chamar yet elected or appointed to the CA. Bandhs have been called this past week in Siraha and Saptari protesting the lack of representation by the Dalit Dom and Chamar communities. As some of you may know, the Dom and Chamar are among the poorest and most disadvantaged of the tarai Dalits in the country.

Of the 26 CA seats still to be nominated, it is unlikely that any more Dalits will be appointed. However, there may have been an agreement to nominate eight more indigenous communities (4 CPN/M; 2 Congress; 2 UML). Although until these lists are made public, anything can happen in the background to change earlier agreements.

As many of you know, the Government of Nepal (GON) demographic survey shows approx. 13% of Nepal are Dalits, while the Dalits claim closer to 20% of the population. The Dalits say that the GON systematically excludes them from the census due to the fact that the individuals interviewing for the census ignore Dalit homes and communities while other Dalits have taken on Brahmin names ('tars') and therefore misrepresent themselves to avoid the painful reality of traditional caste discrimination in their lives.

In addition, Article 21 of the 2007 Interim Constitution (IC) specifically commits the 'New Nepal' to Social Justice and more inclusive representation. The IC clearly directs the GON to ensure the full proportional representation of the disadvantaged communities of Nepal, especially the Dalits and indigenous communities.

However, in the current CA that is tasked to write the new constitution for Nepal, Dalits will only have 8% of the elected and nominated seats. Although there numbers are significantly higher than in the past, it is also signficantly below even the GON census of their proportion of Nepal's population.

Yet, sans doubt, the change that we are witnessing is historic and beyond the aspirations that many of us could have imagined even a couple of years ago.

Let's hope that the loss and blood of the past ten years war will find some moral restitution in the social, political and cultural liberation of those communities, especially the Dalits and indigenous, who have been the most repressed and discriminated under the Bahun-Thakuri rule of the past centuries.

As the Count of Monte Cristo said, we will have to 'Wait and hope...'

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