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Draft constitution leaves Dalits disgruntled

Aug 16 2015 | 11:12 am

By Deepraj Sanyal

KATHMANDU: Even as the constitution drafting committee of the Constituent Assembly is sitting down to frame what would be the Federal Democratic Republic Nepal’s first-ever people-drafted constitution the draft constitution that the Assembly has produced has failed to lift the spirit of the people.

The country’s most populous disadvantaged community, the dalit, is no exception. Always living under oppression and at the margins of society for centuries, this section that makes up nearly 13 per cent of the country’s population was very hopeful that the new constitution would come to their rescue – breaking the shackle of extreme caste-based discrimination, poverty and neglect they have been suffering for so long. But their hopes were dampened when they read the draft constitution.

To their dismay, the dalit community found that the draft had even removed the provision of 3 per cent, 5 per cent and 10 per cent representation of the community in the federal, province and local level, respectively, which had already been agreed upon by the parties and the different committees of the first CA. Actually, this topic was unanimously adopted by the erstwhile CA as compensation to the community for the centuries of state neglect it was subjected to.

Although, the draft constitution has many provisions that are in favour of the dalits, like it has enshrined the right against untouchability and caste discrimination, the leaders of the dalit movement point out that it is largely ‘regressive’ in that it fails to ensure the adequate representation of this disadvantaged community in all the state organs. The dalit community had wanted that the state should apologize to the community for subjecting it to discrimination and oppression since historical times and denying them human dignity. It wanted this to be mentioned in the Preamble of the constitution itself. But the draft constitution does not include this.

Likewise, the dalit community also has qualms over the sincere implementation of even the few provisions in support of the dalits that are mentioned in the draft. Dalit leaders say that whatever dalit-friendly provisions have been embedded in the draft is tokenism at best. This community’s main complaint is that it has been excluded from the right to secure political power because the draft constitution has overturned the 50 percent proportional and 40 per cent first-past-the-post election system provided for by the Interim Constitution, 2007.

The election system that the draft proposes, dalit leaders allege, is such that there is slim chance of a dalit getting elected to the 275-member House of Representatives, the lower House of parliament where 165 members would be elected through the First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) election. This is because there is no statutory provision in the draft that the political parties should compulsorily field a dalit candidate in the FPTP system. Even if the parties field dalit candidate under this election system, they would be fielded from the constituency where there is slim chance of the candidate winning the election. Moreover, the system is such that candidates who have money and muscle power and mobilize the same stand fat chance of winning. The dalit candidates don’t have this.

Out of the 275 members to be elected to the Federal Parliament (the House of Representatives), 165 would be elected through the FPTP system and the remaining 110 will come from the proportional election. There is some room under this system for the dalit to be elected – maximum of five dalits from each big political party, after allotting 33 per cent seats to women and the remaining among the indigenous nationalities, dalits, marginalized communities, the disabled and the underprivileged.

Going by this count, the dalits’ representation in the Lower House of the Federal Parliament would be only nearly 1.8 per cent. This entails that the representation of the dalits at the province and local levels too would be minimal. This pathetic scenario of dalits’ representation shows that the draft constitution is ‘regressive’ compared to the Interim Constitution in terms of the political participation of the dalits.

In this backdrop, the dalit community has put forth nine-point demand and announced a series of protests to press for its fulfillment. Among the demands are guaranteeing the proportional representation of the dalits in the federal, province and local level parliaments as well as an additional three percent representation in the federal parliament, five per cent representation in the province parliament and 10 per cent in local bodies as compensation. It has also demanded securing a separate electoral constituency for the dalits where only the dalits can contest.

There are 40 members from the dalit community in the present Constituent Assembly.

Dalits’ participation in political process and representation in government at the village, district and the national level is insignificant compared to the size of their population. Following the People’s Movement 2006, the country experienced a big change in the political sphere. But this change has not been able to benefit the dalit community significantly. This is because of the predominant control of political parties by the so-called ‘upper caste’ people, lack of substantial initiatives by the political parties to eliminate untouchability and caste-based discrimination and to increase participation and representation of the dalits.

In this light, the entire dalit fraternity is desperately waiting for a constitution that will ensure the rights of all and lay the foundation for a just and egalitarian nation where nobody will be a ‘dalit’.

Panipokhari

Kathmandu, Nepal

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