RAKSHA RAM HARIJAN
In chess, among the many tactics employed by players to win games, there is a fundamental tactic known as the ‘double attack’. In a double attack, a player uses a single chess piece to attack two of their opponent’s pieces at the same time. Another way to think about a double attack is to regard it as a move involving a coordinated two-part threat. When a player uses a double attack, that two-part aspect relegates the opponent to a position of weakness.
In Nepal, the perpetrators of caste-based discrimination and violence often resort to a similar tactic. Instead of just defending themselves against the original crime they have been accused of, they file their own charges to dilute the victim’s accusations. And in most instances, the state machinery allows the particulars of the original case to get muddied by the counter case–so as to protect the perpetrators.
Not surprisingly, most victims of caste-based violence never get justice. When the state fails to protect marginalised populations, such as Dalits, from the atrocities that are routinely inflicted on them, they will continue to be persecuted by others, across Nepal, including in Kathmandu.
In recent years, Dalits have attempted to find recourse through the court. That is why the number of legal cases related to caste-based discrimination and untouchability has started to increase. More than 17 Dalits have been killed or died in unusual circumstances just during this pandemic period. Among the more infamous cases of recent atrocities against Dalits are the following: the killing of Nabaraj BK, who was killed for wanting an intercaste marriage; the killings of Shambhu Sada, Bijaya Ram, and Roshan BK who died in police custody; the case of Angira Pasi (Rupandehi), who was raped and killed; the cases of Tribhuvan Ram (Saptari), Roshan Ram (Siraha), Niranjan Chamar, and Mintridevi Baitha (Rautahat), and Rajesh Ram (Morang). Malar Sada died for lack of lack of food, and Raju Sada, Rukmini Sada, and Bimala Rishidev died for lack of medicine and proper treatment. Shyamlal Ram and Urmiladevi Rishikesh died by suicide because of the societal pressures they faced on account of their being Dalits. Only Nabaraj BK’s killing was widely covered in the national media. But many other cases do not make the headlines. Similarly, in their Nepal Human Rights Year Book 2019, the Informal Service Center (INSEC) reported 62 cases of racial discrimination that occured in 2018.
Illustration: Supriya Manandhar
Additionally, the Alternative Report 2018 for CERD by Nepal’s Civil Society stated that “the criminal justice system fails to fully recognize the damage done to victims of caste based discrimination (CBD) and untouchability and thus does not ensure their right to full remedy.” According to that report, 81 cases filed in the district courts from 2069/70 to 2072/73, including the Ajit Mijar murder case, are still awaiting justice.
Besides being subjected to overt violence, Dalits also have to put up with caste-based restrictions that are still imposed on them in their daily lives. In the name of cultural practices, Dalits are not allowed to enter temples nor to touch anything inside the premises of temples and other religious places. If Dalits enter a temple, non-Dalits often threaten to abduct them and beat them. Another very common problem that Dalits have to deal with is that they cannot rent rooms or houses owned by non-Dalits.
On paper, things are supposed to be better for Dalits today. The Constitution and the law prohibit practices of caste-based discrimination and untouchability in Nepal. The Government of Nepal declared Nepal as being free from all forms of discrimination following the second people’s movement in 2063. The civil code, 2020, has been amended too. And the Constitution states that no person shall be subjected to any form of untouchability or discrimination in both private and public places on the grounds of his or her origin, caste, tribe, community, profession, occupation, or physical condition. It also says that any act of untouchability and discrimination in any form committed shall be punishable by law as a severe social offence. And the Caste-based Discrimination and Untouchability (Crime and Punishment) Act, 2068, enacted by the Parliament, says the Government of Nepal shall be the plaintiff in all cases filed under this act. But in practice, in real-life situations, these laws don’t seem to have any real effect.
Indeed, the people, and the state organs, far from abiding by the spirit and the letter of the laws related to caste-based violence and discrimination, continue to make life for Dalits a living hell. On many occasions, whenever Dalit victims of caste-based discrimination and violence file a case, the perpetrators respond with a counter attack and in response to Dalits’ raising such issues, speaking against casteist practices, and reporting the cases to law-enforcement agencies. This means Dalit victims get victimized once again by the counter attack launched by the perpetrators. The prevalence of such practices raises questions about the effective implementation of the laws that are supposed to prevent caste-based discrimination and violence.
The following two cases can shed light how Dalits face double discrimination for raising their voices.
Case a: In August 2017, Ram Kishor Harijan (34) and his son Parikshan Harijan (14), residents of Gaidahawa-3 of Rupandehi District, were foul-mouthed and beaten by Chairperson Mohan Prasad Yadav (45) and his son Niraj Yadav (18) for objecting to a cooperative shop’s selling fertilizers at an inflated price. The Yadav father-son duo used derogatory casteist terms and thrashed the Dalits. The Yadavs scolded them, and denigrated them for being Chamars, members of a so-called lower caste.
The Yadavs even confiscated the Harijans’ bicycle and the fertilizer they’d bought. But when the police arrived on the scene, they arrested the Dalit father and son, instead of the Yadavs. Further, the Dalits were released only after local social activists and politicians put pressure on the police. And the activists themselves had to struggle to get the First Information Report (FIR), for caste-based discrimination, registered by the police.
The public prosecutor filed the case in the district court, under the Caste-based Discrimination and Untouchability (Crime and Punishment) Act. But a couple of days later, the perpetrators filed, at the same court, their own case–a false one–of robbery, to counteract the original case.
Case b: Ramparkhan Kori, alias Pujari, a resident of Belauha-6, Kapilvastu Municipality, was verbally and physically abused by local non-Dalit villagers. He was celebrating his successful return from Qatar by visiting temples around the village. When he was worshipping at the Shree Kadar Mai Temple, located on land owned by non-Dalits, the landowner, Shreepati Kurmi, and his family members scolded him, calling him a wretched Chamar. They said that because he was a Dalit, he was desecrating the purity of their land, which would cause the land’s productivity to decrease and turn it barren.
A fight then broke out, and Ramparkhan’s relatives, including his brother Jaganarayan, arrived at the scene of the conflict. The Kurmis blamed the Dalits for ‘bringing ghosts to the land’, and used khukuris, sticks, and spears to attack them. Shreepati grabbed Ramparkhan by the neck and told Jitendra Kurmi to chop off his head as a sacrifice to appease the temple’s goddess. When Jitendra raised the machete to chop Ramparkhan’s head, his brother, Jaganarayan Kori, grabbed the weapon. That prevented it from landing on Ramparkhan’s neck, but three fingers of Jaganarayan’s left hand were severed in the process.
The victims registered an ‘attempt to murder’ FIR, which also included a caste-based discrimination component. The police did arrest three of the perpetrators, who had been working at Shreepati’s house. However, the main culprits are still roaming freely. The police have since been forcing the Chamars to opt for a settlement out of court, and have threatened to put the Chamars in jail if they do not comply. The Kurmis also threatened to kill the Chamars if they did not withdraw their case. A week later, in a bid to dilute the original case, the perpetrators registered their own ‘attempt to murder’ FIR in relation to the same incident, as a false counter case agains the victims. The victims also registered an FIR under the Caste-based Discrimination and Untouchability (Crime and Punishment) Act. In response to that, the perpetrators filed a false case of theft.
In both these cases, the perpetrators followed the same game plan: they committed the first attack by verbally and physically abusing and beating Dalits; they next attacked the victims again by filing false counterclaims against the victims–to water down the actual case.
Illustration: Supriya Manandhar
The district courts delivered similar verdicts in the cases: they dismissed both ‘attempt to murder’ claims. And if the courts were to uphold the case of untouchability, the perpetrators would have to merely pay a fine of Rs 2,000 each. But then there is also the theft case filed by the Kurmi party, which if upheld, would serve to keep the Dalits in check.
According to Yuri Averbakh, the author of Chess Tactics for Advanced Players, “if we regard the term ‘double attack’ in a broader sense than has been done up to now by theoreticians, namely not merely as a two-pronged attack, but as a combination of attacks and threats, we notice that the double attack in one form or another is the basis of most intricate tactical operations.”
In the cases mentioned above, the perpetrators used a tactic similar to a double attack, to ensure a favourable outcome. When Dalits get attacked, it’s almost as if the perpetrators feel they are entitled to carry out such attacks–this entitlement derives from age-old notions birthed by the caste system. And when Dalits seek recourse through the law, the perpetrators often hit back by filing false countercharges–probably because the perpetrators feel that owing to their status as supposedly ‘higher caste persons’, a Dalit should not have the temerity to question the violence meted out to them. In many cases, the state, instead of prosecuting the non-Dalit perpetrators, will allow the cases to remain unresolved, essentially letting the countercharges weaken the force of the original charges filed by the Dalits. In many cases, when the perpetrators are state personnel, the state–when it comes under public pressure–will provide some compensation, but still allow the perpetrators to go scot free.
In most cases pertaining to caste-based discrimination and untouchability, the perpetrators always have more power than the Dalit victims because our society and state seem to still operate from the premise that Dalits should not have the same rights as the rest of the population–that because society and scripture have deemed that they are to occupy the lowest rung in Nepal’s socioeconomic structure, they can be mistreated. It’s owing to such pressure exerted by society on Dalits that many victims refrain from further pushing their case and seeking justice.
For instance, in the recent Bijaya Ram incident, a case of custodial death, local Dalits had to continue to protest to ensure an FIR registration to arrest the accused, until the FIR was finally registered at the District Prosecutor’s Office in Rautahat. But this week, the victim’s family thought about pulling back due to pressure from the perpetrators. In the discrimination case brought by Dilliraj Kami (Kalikot), he lost the case–which was registered at the Kalikot District Court–because of the changes made to the case statement, in court, because of pressure.
Thus, if one were to imagine our society or nation-state as having rules similar to how a chess game has rules, in Nepal, players with certain identities (non-Dalits) are allowed to use certain tactics (such as the double attack), while others (Dalits) are forced to allow non-Dalits to use those tactics on them. The game of life is thus already rigged in favour of non-Dalits. It is thus up to the rulemakers or the arbiters of order to change the rules to ensure that everyone is treated fairly.
That means the law enforcement agencies, for example, first need to have this basic understanding. And they then need to create safe spaces for Dalit victims to be able to present and defend their cases. Moreover, the police or the investigating authorities and prosecutors should account for the larger societal and caste dynamics when investigating cases related to caste-based discrimination and violence. When the perpetrators file a counter case, the court should examine the claims closely and see if they spring from nothing other than notions of caste entitlement.
Even today, in 21st Century Nepal, the nature of caste-violence cases and, say, one involving two people of the same caste are informed by very different societal variables. Even today, notions about which caste members are allowed to play by which rules inform how the law is to be applied, especially when the victim in a case is a Dalit. Our Constitution says that Nepal is a society where everyone is equal before the eyes of the law, but for that claim to hold in real life, the lawmakers, the police, and the judiciary must first ensure that everyone is allowed to play by the same rules.
Published on September 18, 2020