Nepal is a small mountainous country in South Asia. Though geographically it is a small country, there are 125 different caste and ethnic groups residing harmoniously in the country (CBS, 2011). People having their own distinct culture, different language, and script are considered as indigenous nationalities. Fifty-nine ethnic groups of Nepal are categorized as indigenous nationalities by a Nepal Government through the enactment of a National Foundation for Development of Indigenous Nationalities Act, 2002. The hereditary classes or belongingness distinguished by relative degrees of ritual purity or pollution and social status that are implemented and accepted by the political, cultural, and religious spectrum and accepted by a larger population is named caste. When a group of people categorized under some distinct caste is treated differently by another group due to differences in caste is known as caste-based discrimination. Caste-based discrimination is predominant in developing nations, particularly in places where Hindu is the dominant religion. People follow different cultures and faiths in Nepal and Hinduism is the predominant religion which is supported by 81.34% of the population (CBS, 2011). The Hindu religion along with its caste code, a Manusmriti, has profoundly influenced a caste system and religiously, it has become a strong basis for caste-based discrimination until now. Caste discrimination is against human rights, and its eradication is a must for the peaceful and equitable functioning of society. Considering this fact, there has been a national and international effort to eradicate caste-based discrimination, but it has not been able to create the desired results yet. Internationally, the universal declaration of human rights and nationally, the amendment of National Code (Muluki Ain) by King Mahendra in 1963 is considered a milestone achievement in the reduction of caste-based discrimination, but still, it lacks the physical impact. Despite all these efforts, caste discrimination is an active practice and the people categorized as low caste are victims in a day to day social life. This paper analyses why caste discrimination is still prevalent in Nepal. To achieve this argument, the paper will examine the following four sections. Firstly, religion and culture followed by a political system, and then the Education status and system and lastly, the social aspects. These four sections will identify and show the reasons for caste discrimination that are still actively practiced in Nepal.
Religion and Culture
Religion and culture are the most influential factor of any social system. Culture, the way of life, is highly determined by religion and transfers from generation to generation. It is tough to change the culture radically; instead, it takes a long time to introduce new cultures or replace the existing culture. Nepal was considered as the only Hindu state in the world, and it was only after 2006 that Nepal was declared a secular state. More than 80% of the people follow the Hindu religion, and the cultural practice is majorly based on the Hindu religion. A Manusmriti, the caste code of a Hindu religion has visibly created a hierarchy among the people where the higher category discriminates, the lower, and its acceptance was forcedly justified through faith. There is a concept of purity and pollution within the upper caste and low caste people. The high caste people are regarded as the pure whereas the low caste people as the impure or polluted. Some aspects of religion are socially acceptable but most of them are based on unseen factors, and people are influenced based on psychological fear for a future that may be within this lifespan or after death. The irrational fear has deeply rooted in the minds of people and has transferred from generation to generation, and its effect is demonstrated in society via their culture. The psychological fear has changed to a belief system, and now people do not know why but they are strictly following it because of a belief system. When low caste people see the high caste people come on away from opposite direction, then low caste people should go down of the way to avoid physical touch/contact with him/her and show a low profile by moving down. If so-called high caste people touch low caste people by mistake the, upper caste people should take a bath without entering into the house to get purified by gold washed water. Low caste people are not allowed to take the water from nearby waterspouts, and if low caste and high caste people touch by mistake full water, then high caste people should throw all the water and get water again.
The dominant religion also discriminates foreign religions that are not prevalent in the country. Foreigners are considered the most untouchable by the Hindu religion. The economic and political equation has somehow reduced the discrimination, but still, people do not allow foreign people openly into many secret spaces of the religion. For example, the foreigners are not allowed to enter into the temple of Pashupatinath. These are some cultural aspects regarding caste discrimination that is based on religion which is still prevalent in Nepalese society. It is well aware of many people that caste discrimination is against human rights and possesses an inhuman culture, but acceptance has become a difficult job. Currently, a younger generation of so-called high caste is showing flexibility, but older generations are still stuck in their culture, a culture of discriminating people in the name of caste.
Political power has shifted from one family to another in Nepal through various political turmoils. It was Prithvi Narayan Shah whose ancestor comes from India and has dominated political power and created today’s Nepal. He unified Nepal and dictated with the help of different privileged and high caste people. The people in political power were the extreme followers of Hindu religion, and it influenced not only the general people but also the ruler, the king. After the completion of the official unification of the country in 1769, Prithvi Narayan Shah declared Nepal a “garden” of “char jat and chattis varna” based on a Hindu caste system. The political power has also given privilege to high caste people, and Brahmin was received as a priest even by the king since the power had to be legitimized and the Brahmin pundits were required. The most prominent political reason for caste discrimination is the promulgation of the Muluki Ain (National or Civil Code) of 1854 by the Prime Minister, Jung Bahadur Rana. It is the main political root for caste-based discrimination. It had four-fold caste hierarchy: (1) Tagaddhari (Sacred thread wearing or Twice-born), including the Bahun-Chhetris; (2) Matawali (Liquor drinking, i.e. indigenous peoples); (3) Pani nachalne choi chhito halnu naparne (Castes from whom water is not acceptable and contact with whom does not require purification by sprinkling of water); and (4) Pani nachlne choi chito halnu parne (Castes from whom water is not acceptable and contact with whom requires purification by sprinkling of water), including Sarki, Damai, Kami, Gaine, Sunar, Badibhad, Cunara, Pode, Hurke and Cyamakhalak. The second last and last folds are the most severe victims of discrimination.
King Mahendra is often credited for eliminating caste-based discrimination by amending the National Code in 1963. However, according to some social activists, he did not abolish it, as he used neutral terms that helped to continue caste-based discrimination. More recently, the Maoist Movement from 1996 to 2006 has helped reduce caste-based discrimination in certain areas. Some activists claim that even the interim constitution did not explicitly state that caste-based discrimination is against the law and it has further created space for so-called high caste people to continue their inhuman behavior of discriminating to other human beings in the name of caste. These loopholes also created confusion in implementation. Today, because of the existing gaps, and most importantly that the people in the high rank of political power being only the upper caste people, the country, and people are still suffering from caste-based discrimination.
Education status and system
Education is the key to awareness and empowerment, and it is the basis and foundation for proper decision-making capability and to put individual views among the national and international community. Caste-based discrimination has penetrated society in such a way that even access to education is based on caste. Education is the foundation for tomorrow’s leaders, and low caste people are deprived of such opportunities since their birth itself. Brahmins were the priest and the tutors, and they never educated low caste people in an early period. It was in the Rana regime that formal education began in Nepal and it was only accessible to ruling class people. The ruling people were so-called high caste people and those upper caste people with a lack of access to education in the country were allowed to go to Banaras, India, for education. The so-called low caste people were always blocked from achieving formal/informal education since pre-history, and the pattern exists until today. Access to education for low-caste people is still considered as the irrecoverable sin. A few years back, low caste people were not even admitted to school with the fear that other caste people will not join his/her school because of participation of low caste people. In some schools, low caste people were admitted, but they were put in different places, especially in low profile, in the same classes. There is a psychological humiliation because of a discriminating behavior among peers and especially by the teachers and school administration in the early childhood. It is the primary reasons that there are high dropouts among low caste people in schools. Currently, it does not seem caste-based discrimination on a surface level, but it is still prevalent when we go a little deep in society. It is said that education is for all, but it is difficult still for low caste people, especially Dalits, to get, education with the same status and care of so-called high caste people.
Human beings are social animals and society is the foundation of their existence. Social rules and regulation directly make an impact on the day to day life of every member of the community. The existing social system is the continuation of a previous where there was a prevalence of caste discrimination at a high level, and it has also transferred to a current generation, and most importantly, the current generation is garnering their thoughts of caste discrimination to an upcoming age. Children are born with no idea about the social rules, but it is the current generation that transfers their operating rules/regulations and social structures to a young generation from early childhood and makes it deeply internalized, psychologically. Once these children become young enough, they adopt what they have internalized since their early childhood. Some unique individuals wish to break the social structure like caste discrimination but s/he is bound in a society in such a way that once, s/he disobeys the social ritual like caste discrimination, s/he will be isolated. Thus, a current generation is not able to stand against caste discrimination, although knowing that it is terrible with the fear of social isolation. Social aspects are one of the significant elements that transfer the system of caste-based discrimination from generation to generation. Caste-based discrimination is highly predominant in the mindset of an older generation, but due to cultural transfer, it is found at some level with the young generation. The change in cultures is a process which moves slowly rather overnight shifts, but still, the change in the perception of a current young generation is admirable to eradicate caste discrimination.
Caste discrimination is still prevalent in Nepal although it is well aware of a more significant segment of society that it is against human rights and human behavior. It is so because of the culture based on religion that is deeply rooted in the mindset of individuals with a psychological fear of a future, which has created a continuation of caste discrimination. An existing political system and the domination of so-called high caste people in the high-level political affair is the backbone of caste discrimination. Eradication of caste discrimination is not possible at an individual level or in a social and economic sphere. For sustainable elimination, political willpower and commitment are required. There are incomplete laws to abolish caste discrimination, and it has become a significant reason for so called high caste people to continue caste discrimination due to ample legal loopholes. Education is a must for insight awareness and also to raise voices against discrimination, but the worst thing is that low caste people are always deprived of education since pre-history until now. The lack of educational attainment for low caste people has created an incapability to raise the voices against caste discrimination. The existing social system has always favored high caste people, and as a result, low caste people are still discriminated until now. Such a pattern of caste discrimination has transferred from one generation to another, and as a result, even the upcoming generations are victims of caste discrimination. Although current young generation is trying to acculturate with low caste people, the social aspects like fear of isolation from their group have played a significant role in the continuation of caste discrimination.
The above-stated explanation shows the significant reasons for a continuation of caste discrimination in Nepal. Currently, it is not about a lack of awareness but a lack of commitment and willingness to a social, cultural, religious, and political level to abolish caste discrimination. Doing for doing, like making incomplete rules to eliminate caste discrimination for the sake of making some initiatives, will not bring the desired result of no discrimination based on caste, race, and religion. The political, social, and religious leaders should stand together with commitment and dedication against caste discrimination so that it shows the light of change. The massive pressure from both low caste and so-called high caste people should be united to raise a voice against caste discrimination and raise the enormous pressure to political, social, and religious leaders for their united voice against caste discrimination in Nepal. Another way is we the people also should initiate our activities against caste discrimination from our households so that impact creates a ripple effect in the society and the nation as a whole.