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Racial Discrimination toward the Indigenous Peoples in Nepal

Date Friday, January 12th 2007, 11:30 PM Icon 30 Date 0

Racial Discrimination toward the Indigenous Peoples in Nepal:

Non-Government Report for the Third World Conference Against Racism (WCAR)-2001
Report presented at the National Conference of the NPC in Kathmandu on April 26, 2001

Presented by Mahendra Lawoti.
[email protected], [email protected]
Coordinator, The Indigenous Country Paper Preparatory Subcommittee1
The National Preparatory Committee (NPC) for the Non-Government Report for the Third WCAR

1This is a non-governmental alternative report prepared for the Third World Conference Against Racism (WCAR)-2001. I would like to thank the participants of National Conference of the NPC held in Kathmandu on April 26, 2001 for comments and suggestions.

Introduction

The Nepali state has not recognized the Indigenous Peoples of Nepal. It has only partly recognized the Indigenous Peoples by identifying them as nationalities, and according recognition of their difference. It recognized 61 nationalities communities only in 1999. However, the state has defined the nationalities conservatively by calling them groups that face socioeconomic and cultural backwardness. Most of these nationalities' communities are Indigenous Peoples as well, and Indigenous Peoples define themselves as nationalities as well. Social scientists believe that there are more Indigenous Peoples / nationalities' communities than recognized by the state. An in depth anthropological-sociological survey is necessary for ascertaining the truer number of such communities and Peoples.

Nationalities define themselves as Indigenous Peoples and those with distinct cultural identities, languages, traditional religions, customs and cultures, traditional territories, and those who do not fall under the traditional four-fold Hindu varna classification. According to the 1991 census the nationalities'/ Indigenous Peoples comprised 35.6 percent of the total population. However, the Indigenous Peoples and nationalities allege deliberate undercounting of their communities and tempering of the census to project a larger Hindu and Khas-Nepali speaking population.2 In fact, many indigenous activists claim that they form a majority. The fact that the 1991 census recorded only 26 of the 61 Indigenous Peoples/ nationalities' separately and remaining small communities were lumped in the 'other' category is an example of systematic undercounting of Indigenous Peoples.

2The largest group is Magar is 7.2%. Most of the nationalities groups comprise of small population, and many of them, such as the Kusundas, Hayus, Bankariyas, Surels, and Chhairotans, are on the verge of extinction.

The smaller Indigenous Peoples face dire consequences in terms of discrimination, because of their small population as well as due to historic and current discriminatory treatment by the state and society. The recognition accorded by the state to 61 nationalities' communities does not recognize many linguistic communities within some of those groups and other not well-known communities. For instance there are more than 30 linguistic groups within the Rai community. Many of these smaller communities were treated as mashine or eliminable or enslavable by the old civil code. Such treatment resulted into ethnic cleansing.

The Indigenous Peoples/ nationalities' communities follow Buddhist, Kiranti, Bon, and Primer (nature worshiping) religions. Due to centuries long assimilation policy of the state, many members of nationalities communities follow some of the Hindu rituals and practices. However, with increasing assertion of identities in the last decade, the Indigenous Peoples are rediscovering their own traditions and practices, and reformulating their community identities accordingly.

Reasons for Racial Discrimination in Nepal

The group responsible for racial discrimination in Nepal is a minority in terms of population: a minority population is dominating a majority of the people. The dominant group consisting of male parbatiya (hill) Bahun and Chhetri consists of around 15 percent of the population only.3 Despite its minority population status, it is dominating rest of the society by controlling the state and societal apparatus with constitutional and legal manipulations and historic and current imposition of parbatiya Hindu Ideology, which severely disadvantages other communities, on the society. For instance, by declaring the state as Hindu in the Constitution, and following Hindu jurisprudence in laws of the country, it has imposed parbatiya Hindu value system in the society that facilitates domination of Indigenous Peoples, non-Hindu religious, dalit, madhesi and women groups.

3The Bahun-Chhetri population is around 31 percent. Since women are dominated, more so in the Bahun-Chhetri group, the dominant population, in reality, is half of it or approximately 15 percent.

Bahunbad: The main factor of discrimination toward the marginalized groups, including the Indigenous Peoples, is Bahunbad. Bahunbad is defined as domination of hill 'upper-caste' Hindu males in the state apparatus and society, including the supposedly progressive realms such as media, academia and human rights groups, and formulation, implementation and legitimization of public policies and social attitudes that favor the dominant group through such domination in most of the influential realms of the society. Extensive domination has been made possible by adopting the hill Hindu religious ideology by the state, and communalization of the society by Hindu norms and values.


Historical Factors: With the 'unification' of Nepal, Hinduization was promoted actively by the state under lands brought under its control. It continues even today but in a lesser degree and more subtly than before. The Indigenous Peoples term this phenomenon as internal colonization. Dominant group members were encouraged to migrate to the territories of the Indigenous Peoples, lands of the Indigenous Peoples were confiscated, and their cultures and practices were eliminated. For instance, beef eating was prohibited even though many Indigenous Peoples ate beef. In 1854, PM Janga Bahadur introduced the first civil code in the country that attempted to bring the Indigenous Peoples into the Hindu hierarchical fold. It categorized the Indigenous Peoples into enslavable and non-slavable matwalis, or alcohol drinking communities. The former could be slaved, and hence suffered more than the latter groups. The Hinduization process was imposed through the Civil Code in Nepal whereas even in India, the modern states never did so (Sharma 1977). Promotion of one language, one religion, one dress and mono-cultural nationalism by the state not only hurt the culture of the Indigenous Peoples but it effectively marginalized them in economic, political and social realms. Some scholars have termed this phenomenon of imposition of dominant values, norms, and traditions on other communities of the society as cultural imperialism, which continues even today in lesser degree and in less explicit manner.

Current Legal Discrimination: The current democratic Constitution and laws discriminate against Indigenous Peoples in various ways. Declaration of Nepal as a Hindu state, treatment of Khas-Nepali language as the language of the nation (and according it primacy) while calling other native languages as national languages, restriction of instructions in native languages up to primary level only, and prohibition of political parties based on religion, caste and community are some of the examples of constitutional discriminatory measures (Gurung et. al., 2000; Subba et. al.). According to the Nepal Federation of Nationalities (NEFEN) there are more than 25 constitutional and more than 40 legal provisions that are harmful to the Indigenous Peoples (NEFEN 2000, Subba et. al., 2000). In some cases, discrimination through omission has occurred: for example, in the equality provision, among the various spheres mentioned, language is not mentioned, facilitating discrimination between native languages.

Laws based on individualistic norms and parbatiya Hindu jurisprudence have superseded many of the customary laws of the Indigenous Peoples (Shrestha 2000, FWLD 2000). Inheritance, criminal, marriage, divorce and citizenship laws, based on Hindu value systems discriminate the Indigenous Peoples, especially the women.

Current Political Structural Discrimination: In a culturally plural country like Nepal, adoption of the Westminster model that work in homogenous societies has contributed in facilitating continuance of dominance of the social-cultural elite group. In the Westminster model, government structures are selected in such a way that they enable the party that gets a plurality of votes to have overwhelming control over the executive. This allows for the policies and programs of that party to be implemented all over the country. This becomes harmful to minority groups if one social-cultural group dominates the political parties, as is the case in Nepal. The dominance of the caste Hindu elite groups in political, civic, cultural and economic spheres in Nepal has created a situation whereby the Westminster model of democracy has enabled the dominant group to impose their values and norms to rest of the society through public policies. Lack of accommodative and power sharing governance structures has excluded the Indigenous Peoples from governance. Rights of autonomy and self-determination are denied in Nepal

Current Social Structural and Attitudinal Discrimination: Social hierarchy, following the Hindu norms, that assigns the Indigenous Peoples lower than the 'upper caste' Hindus, and pervasiveness of such norms in the society has discriminated Indigenous Peoples in their daily encounter with the caste Hindu elite (CHE) group members. Imposition of dominant cultural values on Indigenous Peoples has threatened their culture and traditions and Hindu religious hegemony has rendered other religious groups and customs vulnerable. The attempt of Hindu fundamentalists to encompass folk religions within its fold is deplorable because it refuses to recognize the separate religious identity of Indigenous Peoples.

Forms of Racism towards Indigenous Peoples/ Nationalities' Communities in Nepal

Socio-cultural Discrimination

Linguistic Discrimination: Article 6(1) of the Constitution declares Khas-Nepali as the official and ‘language of the nation’ whereas more than 100 other native languages are termed ‘national languages’. By categorizing Nepali differently, it bestows special importance to it. The Supreme Court nullified the declaration of local languages as additional official languages by three local jurisdictions. Article 18(2) of the Constitution does not sanction native language instructions in schools beyond primary level. The state does not support native language instructions even at the primary level. It does not even recognize education conducted at madrassas and Buddhist monasteries. On the other hand, the government spends millions of rupees for the Sanskrit pathsalas and the Sanskrit University whose beneficiaries are male Brahmins. In addition, by imposing compulsory Sanskrit all over the country, the state is systematically imposing Hindu values and ways on non-Hindu communities.

The Khas language has been treated as the 'Nepali' language while other native languages are not called Nepali. Likewise, only the Devangiri script has been treated as the Nepali script while other scripts of the country are not.

Religious Domination: By declaring Nepal a Hindu state, the Constitution discriminates against other native religions. The Constitution itself is, hence, communal. Hindu norms and values have become the norms and values of the state. Many of the festivals and traditions have been interpreted as Hindu cultures. It has been used as the basis for formulating policies that favor the dominant group. Nature worshipers are facing double discrimination because they are not only threatened by communal attitudes of the state that promotes Hindu religion but have been marginalized by the established formal religions like Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity.

The government allocates budgets every year for promotion Hindu religion but does not allocate any resources for other religions. Books on Hindu religion is published and distributed by the Royal Nepal Academy whereas books on other religions are not. Hindu religion gets 90 percent of the time allocated for religions in the state owned Radio Nepal while some religions do not get any time at all.

Abolishment of Land Rights: Indigenous Peoples welfare, protection of their culture and their identity depend considerably on their traditional land and resources on those lands such as forests. Their ways of life and identities could be preserved and promoted through traditional communal ownership of lands. However, communal lands have been systematically abolished by the state, during the 'unification' and later on during its consolidation. In Nepal, the Kipat system of the Limbus was abolished as late as in the sixties. Anthropologist and historians have recorded whole villages of Indigenous Peoples uprooted when the state granted birta (land grants) to Brahmins and Chhetris.

Likewise, the state is even now threatening the livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples in the name of protecting wild life. Extensive reservation of parks and conservation areas for wild lives have been established in territories of Indigenous Peoples disregarding Indigenous Peoples lives and cultures. Not only their traditional homelands have been taken over, but also their livelihood is at great stake since grave hindrances have been created for them in using forests, water and other resources. In Nepal, the government is concerned about the security of animals but not Indigenous Peoples.4

4Please see the Kamaiya or the bonded labor section for a peculiar manifestation displacement of Indigenous Peoples from their land.

Cultural Imperialism: The Indigenous Peoples face cultural imperialism because the state and society promotes the parbatiya culture. The Constitution and laws of the country do not recognize equal status of non-Hindu groups and ways of lifestyle and practices. In matters where formal laws contradict with customary practices of the Indigenous Peoples, the laws override customary laws. The irony of this phenomenon is that the egalitarian practices of the Indigenous Peoples have been replaced with hierarchical ones.

Public holidays are overwhelmingly given on parbatiya Hindu festivals. Overwhelming national heroes and symbols hail from the caste Hindu elite males. Indigenous names of rivers, mountains, places and so on have been annexed by the dominant culture. With such annexation historic and social meanings attached to such names have been lost, contributing systematic elimination of indigenous culture. Another form of cultural imperialism is demeaning stereotyping of the Indigenous Peoples. They are considered dumb and illiterate and their backwardness is attributed to alcoholism, laziness and so on. These racist attitudes are so wide spread that even many members of the nationalities' have internalized them. This view completely ignores the backwardness of the groups due to communal state policies that favors the dominant community.

Discrimination in Citizenship Distribution: According to article 9.4.a of the Constitution, only those foreigners can acquire Nepali citizenship if they know Khas-Nepali language written in Devangiri script. The same opportunity is not provided to any one knowing any of the other 100 native languages of the country. Likewise, article 8 of the Constitution limits birthright citizenship to the year BS 2019 (1962). Because of this article, those who were born before that period but had not taken citizenship at that time are denied citizenship. The high-level citizenship committee constituted under parliamentarian Dhanpati Upadhaya in 2052 estimated 3400,000.00 (thirty four hundred thousand) Nepalis older than 16 years without citizenship. Land less and nomad Indigenous Peoples are affected by this provision because they or their ancestors did not obtain citizenship certificates owing to their nomadic lifestyles.

When citizenship certificates were distributed, different surnames were given to many communities. For instance, Chepangs were called 'Praja' whereas many Jimi, Khambu and others were called 'Rai'. However, there is difficulty in reverting back to one's desired name, as they have been permanently instilled in the citizenship certificates.

Discriminatory Laws: Part IV, section 7 of the New National Code of Nepal (Muluki Ain) of 1963 prohibits killings of cows because it is a Hindu deity, and those who violate it may become imprisoned for 12 years, equivalent to life imprisonment. Many Indigenous Peoples have been imprisoned on charges of killing cows. According to the NEFEN, there are more than 40 laws5 that discriminate against Indigenous Peoples. Another example of discriminatory attitude of the state is lack of legislation of laws, as directed by the Constitution, with regards to marginalized groups even after more than a decade. A study conducted by the Development Law Link (2056) revealed that majority of the laws not made till now are those that concern the marginalized groups, such as the Indigenous Peoples.

More....

source: www.mtnforum.org



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