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Violence against Dalit Women In Nepal

By Padmalal Bishwakarma

21 May, 2004

Dalit women comprise of more than half of the Dalit community in
Nepal. Dalit community in general and women in particular have been
treated as sub humans for ages. The women fold, as a whole became the
victim of Manu order. Manubad is so deeply rooted in our society, no
any sort of reference seen to bring change promptly.

After the political change in 2007, the situation of women has
certainly changed but not to the extent it should have been. The fact
is that Dalit women also consist of one-forth of the total women
population. The whole women are the victim of gender discrimination
in the society. The basic difference between high caste women and
Dalit women lies on the ground of caste based discrimination and
untouchability, which Dalit women have to face. In comparison to
other high caste women, the Dalit women have been forced to live in
most vulnerable conditions. They constitute the major workforce doing
hard manual labour and engage in agricultural operations. Dalit women
are thrice alienated on the basis of class, caste and gender. The
whole Dalit community has to struggle for survival. Thus they need
helping hand from their women. Through this perspective, Dalit women
deserve better position than those of higher castes. But high caste
people/women perpetrate caste based discrimination and untouchability
against Dalit women. The reality of the Dalit community is that the
whole family has to depend at least partly on their income. Regarding
the Dalit craftsmen artists and labors, women participate in
productive activities and thus become the part of economic chain. So
in certain caste groups like Chamars, Badi, Pode etc. there is some
respect for the women in comparison to higher caste women where they
are also considered as tool of sex.

Population of Dalit Women

It is obvious that Dalit community comprises one-forth of the total
population of the country. The census of the past (2001) was not
based on the scientific criteria in which lot of Dalit sub-castes
were included under upper caste group on the ground of similar creed
(Thar) like Gautam, Ghimire, Dulal, Derlami, Khapangi, etc. According
to the census held in 2001, the total Dalit population is 2,962,591
(13.05%); of which the whole female population is 1,496,622 and the
male population is 1,465,969. To have a look at the total Dalit
population scenario, there is a table given in the appendix.

Violence against Dalit Women

Dalit women have been facing lot of violence from various areas.
Dalit women including male are considered untouchables by caste
Hindus. They have no access to public places including drinking water
sources. In some rural areas, Dalit women have to wait long in the
water taps and wells until so-called high caste women are ready to
serve water for her. If at all they interfere, they become the victim
of violence and punishment.

Dalit settlement in general is outside the village of the caste
Hindus and mostly in the town areas. They face the difficulty of two
basic necessities of any human being-drinking water and sanitation.
It is observed that Dalits are not provided with even on tap/well for
hundred of houses.

Dalit women become victim of their male partners when they use
alcohol. They are also facing hardship due to the child marriage,
double marriage, bride price and even dowry systems that prevail in
the society.

According to the research study done by S.C.F.U.S., 23% Dalits are
landless whereas 48.7% have less than 5 ropanis of land. Furthermore,
15.6% Dalits have 6-10 ropanis of land, 9.6% Dalits have 11-20
ropanis of land and 3.1% have more than 21 ropanis of land. They
hardly have 1% of cultivable land. 95% Madhesi Dalits are landless.
Their per capita income is US $39.6, which is almost the lowest in
the world. Higher class and caste people monopolized the national
resources and all other income sources. They have enjoyed the fruit
of all development. Dalits have no easy access to national resources,
public services and even development projects. In such a situation,
we can imagine the reality of Dalit women. They participate with
their male partner's work in the agricultural field of the upper
caste people. More than 90% of our Dalit women living in the village
earn their livelihood by working as agricultural labors under the
upper caste/class landlords. Their employers sometimes rape them. In
Hindu society, some women from Badi community have become involved in
prostitution in the name of religious tradition, which is alike
Devdasi system in India. Their condition and enjoyment by upper caste
Hindus is sanctioned by the Hindu religion. Badi women are looked
down as inferior to dogs in the society. Badi Dalit women per se are
treated as untouchables in the society, however, there is no
untouchability as far as sexual exploitation is concerned.

Besides domestic works, Dalit women are entirely involved in
agricultural work as well. Their work is greater than the Dalit
males. Every body is familiar with the sight of a sweeper woman in
Kathmandu cleaning the city area carrying their small babies on their
back. Similarly, we can see Dalit woman working in the paddy field
leaving their small kids in the side of the field in hill and Tarai
areas. In respect to Halia, Dom, Chamar women they have significant
roles in terms of earning income. In terms of earning livelihood,
Dalit woman can be considered as one of the wheels of the cart. We
may never think the present day situation of socio-economic
development in the absence of Dalit women.

Dalit women get less wages in comparison to their male counterpart.
Generally, Dalit women work as daily labour for transplanting
seedlings, threshing paddy/wheat or even as labour in road or
building construction. In the village of Tarai, Chamar women
accomplish maternity job. The irony is that these women are permitted
to enter the houses at the time of childbirth but as soon as the job
is over they are again reverted back to the untouchables status.
Though they provide most valuable service, they get nominal fees in
the form of 5-10 k.g. of food grains.

Chamars and Doms are supposed to clear the village or town even by
throwing away dead animals. They have to do such work free of charge
but earn a little bit by selling hides and skins, bones etc. of the
dead animals. Dalit women from these caste groups help their men folk
in doing such works in the name of religion and tradition. Dalit
women from Dom, Badi, Damai, Gaine, Hudke sub-caste groups are
supposed to entertain the high caste people with various folk songs
and dances. In return, they get nominal tips as the mercy from high
caste people.

Dom, Chamar, Mehtar, Pode/Chyame women like their men folks perform
the humiliated job of clearing the houses, surroundings of the public
places even to the extent of carrying the night soil. The greatest
irony is that these people are considered as untouchables even by
other untouchables.

Patriarchal feudal system considers women folk in general as
commodity, means of entertainment and second-class citizen. That is
why, even Dalit women face discrimination in justice, education, job,
property rights, wages and decision-making process. Dalit women like
other women get to loose their identity after marriage since their
children follow their father's family name that is reflected in
getting citizenship certificates. The great tragedy is that some
people from Badi community face hardship in getting citizenship just
because of their unknown father. Having guided by Hindu societal
norms, Dalit community is also indifferent to educate girls as they
think them other's property. Dalit women have to face violence in
home, in public places and even at work in different occasions.
However, there is no any proper legal provision as to protecting
their basic human rights.

The next tragedy lies in the area of women trafficking in which the
high percentage of Dalit women falls. As a result of which they have
to suffer a lot from dangerous diseases like AIDS. Similarly, a great
number of Dalit women are being victimized in the accusation of Boxi
(witchcraft). Recently, there occurred lot of such Boxi incidents in
the Tarai.

Nextl, Dalit women have been the victims of dowry and bride price
systems which are still continuing in our country. Mostly Dalit women
have been the victims of intra-caste and inter-caste marriage. So-
called upper caste people engage in fake love with Dalit girls and
then right after pregnancy or marriage they give up them just on the
ground the caste factor. Hence, a great number of Dalit girls have
been facing hardships.

Any violence on the Dalit community is ultimately born by Dalit
women. Specifically during the eight-year of Maoist war, many of
Dalit youths have lost their lives by being the victim of both
Maoists and state. It is the Dalit women who have to bear all such
unbearable sufferings socially, economically, culturally and
politically at great risk of her own and her children's life.

Efforts to improving situation of Dalit women

Despite the civil Code (1964) along with its eighth amendment and the
constitution of the kingdom of Nepal (1990:11/44) ensuring equitable
justice for Dalit rights, the caste-based discrimination and the
practice of untouchability still continue. There are contradictory
laws and by-laws which violate Dalit rights. Still there is an urgent
need to formulate laws as to abolish disparity both in principles and
practice. Nationa Planning Commission came out with special
provisions for the whole Dalit community in Eighth Plan (1992-97),
Ninth Plan (1997-2002) and the Tenth Plan (2003-007). Particularly
the Ninth Five Year Plan had put some major objectives for Dalit
upliftment with a view to abolishing all forms of discrimination.
However, the state commitment could not be translated into reality.
The Tenth Plan is focusing on Dalit empowerment and development
programs. INGOs, NGOs and even government agencies have spent a big
amount of money in the name of Dalit empowerment for decades. But the
so-called Dalit empowerment programs seem to be mostly Kathmandu-
based, activists-centered and are out of the reach of grassroots
levels. Actually some forward Dalit activists including women have
been benefited from several projects rather than the unaware-targeted
community. It is notable that right after 1990 various Dalit
organizations, along with Dalit women activists are working for the
Dalit cause. The significant change so far is seen in the field of
awareness raising.

The creation of Dalit Bikas Samitee in 1978 has become an asset to
Dalit community, although the budget allocation to its program is
nominal. In May 2002, the government constituted National Dalit
Commission with a view to protecting Dalit rights. Since this
Commission was created through executive decision of the government,
there arises a question of its legitimacy. Thus, in reality it could
not meet the minimum aspiration of Dalit community. The current
government, for the first time in the history, has declared
reservation policy to Dalits, indigenous and women. Definitely, from
the perspective of inclusiveness this step of the government is
positive one and it is hoped that it will help bring change in the
life of the Dalit community. Moreover, the approach adopted by
Maoists might be debatable to many but it brought certain level of
awareness and practice of equity in the Nepalese society.

It is praiseworthy indeed that some INGOs and NGOs have given due
attention to Dalit empowerment programs in Nepal. The next important
juncture was the WCAR conference where for the first time Dalit NGOs
became successful in raising their voice at international level.
Paper presented at a seminar organized by FES/CETS)