March 30, 2010


Dalit women (and also men) should form and alliance with other victims of Brahmanism (Bahunbad) and seek their help and support for their liberation. The most natural allies of the Dalits are indigenous people. In any case, Dalit movement should be intensified.]

By  Dr. Krishna Bhattachan

Religious Conversion (Proselytization)

Brahmanism and Hindu religion are primarily responsible for the past and present of the Dalits. Dalit liberation has been a myth due to the poison of Varna hierarchy and the concept of purity and pollution of castes and foods by sared scriptures of Hindu religion and culture. Both Dalit women and men wonder why they have been discriminated so inhumanely by those who belong to the same religion, that is Hindu. Due to extreme and cruel caste- based discrimination in Hindu religion, many Dalit women and men have changed their religion to Christianity and Buddhism for their liberation. Those who have changed their religion generally do not face such problems. Many of them have received opportunities to get good education and jobs. For example some Dalit women work as nurses in hospitals and clinics run by Christian missionary.

Recently, Hindu caste hierarchy has poisoned Christian community in Nepal as well. The dominant caste groups, namely bahun-Chhetris, occupy most of the high positions such as pastors. Some of these "high caste" christians practice caste-based discrimination against Dalit Christians. Such practices may be seen in denial of entry inside the house to the Dalits and marriage relationship between "high caste" Christians and Dalit Christians. Similarlyk those Dalits who have turned into Buddhism are also becoming victims of such discrimination.

Use Of Mother Tongues

A problem related to mother tongue is a concern of two types of dalits, Newar dalit and Madhesi Dalits. It is not a problem of other Hill Dalits, such as Damai, Kami and Sarki because their mther tongue, like Bahun-Chhetris, is Khas Nepali language, the only official language of Nepal. The Newar dalits such as Kasai, Chyame and Pode speak Nepal Bhasa (Newar Language) and Madhesi Dalits such as Chamar, Musahar, Dusadh and Dom speak Maithili, Bhojpuri and Awadhi languages. Due to discriminatory language policy of the government many Dalit women and girl child are deprived of education, including basic and primary, and non-formal education. They are deprived of using their mother tongues in the government offices and schools. Lack of education has further deprived them from jobs and other opportunities.

Lack of Awarness

There is a lack of awarness among the Dalit women and men. They continue to become victims from brahmanistic thoughts, polices and practives but they are not aware aobut it. According to Hisila Yami, "Dalit women are suffering from three types discrimination. On the one hand, they, being women, are exploited by partiarchy and being Dalit, on the other hand, they are exploited by the "high castes". Again, within the households, they suffer from their male family members. Thus Dalit women are living a life of more dalit within their own community." If dalit women would have been aware about such exploitations, they would have initiated strong movements and insurgencies.

Victimization by Development Industry and NGOs

In Nepal donors open their wallets for women's empowerment (or gender issues) and poverty alleviation or reduction. Both development industry and NGOs claim to work for women and poor but in reality they sustain status quo. They indeed never reach out to the poorest of the poor, that is Dalit women. Whether it is the government or non-government, in both sectors high caste men and women reap the harvest. The development industry run by both the government and non-government is more project-oriented than movement-oriented. Democracy is the system that is of the people, to the people and by the people but in Nepal there are organizations which work to the or for the Dalit but they never give opportunity to the Dalit to work by themselves. Some smart Dalit women and men are co-opted by these " main-stream" governmental and non-governmental organizations killing the movement.

Dalit women in Women's and Dalit Movement

The history of both women's and Dalit movements are five decades old. So far women belonging to the dominant caste-Bahun- Chhetris and the newars dominate women's movement. Most of the leaders of women's right movement do not like an idea of social, cultural and religious pluralism among women. Unfortunately, they wrongly believe that it is divisive and communal. Dalit women and women belonging to other minority groups hardly get any opportunity to hold key positions in such movements. Therefore, we see negligible presence of Dalit women in the activities and programs organized by the organizations leading women's movement.

Dalit movement is also gaining momentum. Although most of the leaders of the Dalit movement are Dalit men, nevertheless Dalit women leaders are also coming up. Dalit women are organized under the feminist Dalit Organization and Dalit NGO Federation with more than fifty affiliated Dalit NGOs is led by many Dalit women.

There is no doubt whatsoever that Dalit women can contribute significantly to both women's and Dalit movement in eliminating gender-based and caste-based discrimination respectively. Similarly, Dalit movement also needs strong support of the women's movement. Unfortunately, both movements are heading in two opposite directions concerning mutual help and cooperation.

Economic Condition

The overall economic condition of most of the Dalits is miserable. It is unfortunate that the Dalits who have traditional skills in sustaining agrarian economy live in poverty.

Feminization of Poverty and Dalitization

It is indeed true that there has been a feminization of poverty in Nepal. it is also true that there has been dalitization of poverty in Nepal. combined together dalit women are at the bottom of poverty and socio-economic discrimination. Clearly they are the double victims of poverty, one as the women and the other as the Dalit. CARE-Nepal (1996:4) has indetified the disadvantaged groups as those groups who are at the lowest social and economic positions, including illiteracy or low literacy. According to this definition, Dalits and indigenous people belong to the disadvantaged groups. If we add another criterion, that is women, in CARE-Nepal's definition of disadvantaged group, Dalit women remain at the bottom.

If we look at the economic and social indicators of Dalits provided by Dr. Shiva Sharma, it becomes clear that there is Dalitization of poverty within the Dalit community the the gender proportion of economically active population is 85:101.

Lack of Access to and Control Over Resources

Due to dominance of patriarchy originating from Hindu religious norms and values, most of the Nepalese women are deprived from access to and control over economic and other resources. Dalit women have access neither in private sphere nor in public sphere due to continuing practices of patriarchy and untouchability. Few Dalit women, as exceptions, may have some access to resources but they may not have any control over them. Displacement from traditional occupation and lack of employment in both agriculture and non-agriculture sectors are common problems of Dalit women and men. Dr. Haribansha Jha (1999), an economist, has estimated that about 68 percent total Nepalese population who live below the absolute poverty line most of them are Dalits. In a country where Dalit men are suffering from the problem of unemployment it is difficult to imagine about employment of Dalit women.

There is no doubt whatsoever those Dalit women and men are rich in skills related to their traditional occupations. The processes of modernization or Westernization, urbanization, globalization and liberalization that have been unfolding in the last five decades have further marginalized knowledge, skills and products based on the Dalits' traditional occupations. Dr. Haribansha Jha (1999:4) has noted that the Hill Dalits, such as Tatma, Khatbe, Mushar and Dom have lsot market of their traditional skills and products. Such processes of marginalization have pushed them to rely on agriculture or non-agriculture sector but there too they have no place for employment. In such a situation women become the hardest hit victims of poverty.

In Nepal, ownership of land means a lot in terms of wealth, power and prestige. For the middle and low class people, ownership of land means self-employment and non-ownership means unemployment. Data of Dalits' land owners23 percent are landless, 48.7 percent own less than 5 ropanies, 15.6 percent own 6 to 10 ropanies, and 9.6 percent own 10 to 20 ropanies and 3.1 own more than 21 ropanies of land. If we mix up data of the Dalits and some selcted indigenous peoples as done by Shiva Sharma (1999:11), about 60 percent and if we analyze the data of the Dalits only then about 88 percent families are unable to make a living from their land. Thus they are forced to find employment in agriculture or non-agriculture sectors but employment in these sectors are simply not available. Lack of land ownership and denial of purchasing milk produced by Dalits by the diary industries have made it impossible for the Dalits to engage in animal husbandry (Sharma 1999:12)

Activities required for the Socio-Economic Upliftment of Dalit Women

To uplift the socio-economic condition of the Dalit women, His Majesty's Government of Nepal (HMG-Nepal), donors, women's rights activists and Dalits should do the following activities:

1. HMG-N should identify the Dalits and list in the Nepal Gazette.

2. While preparing long-term and short-term plans and budgets Dalits should also be allowed to participate in the decision making process. In the case of plan and programs for Dalit women, Dalit women also should be allowed to make decisions while preparing such plans and programs. The continuing practices of for or to the Dalit women and men should be abandoned.

3. All government documents should include issues and problems of and policies, strategies, and programs for the Dalits in general and Dalit women in particular.

4. Both HMG-N and all international donors, including multi-lateral, bio-lateral and INGOs should make sure that Dalits participate in the decision making process concerning planning, designing and implementing programs or projects. If Dalit organizations need capacity building, such programs should also be implemented.

5. Both HMG-N and the donors should accept the fact that the battle against poverty, illiteracy and socio-cultural discrimination can not be fought if the plans and programs are not Dalit-centered. It must be realized that the development of Dalit women and men means the development of Nepal as well. Without their development, particularly of the Dalit women, development of Nepal would be a mirage.

6. HMG-N should formulate and implement positive discrimination of affirmative action for the Dalits in general and Dalit women in particular. Also, Dalit Women's department and Dalit Women's Cell should be established in the Ministry of Women, including ministries of education, health, agriculture and forest.

7. Each Dalit caste should get organized at the national level and all such castes should be federated into a Dalit Federation. All Dalit caste organizations should work together for the common causes and issues to fight against the continuing Brahmanism. Each Dalit caste should form its own women's organization.

8. Dalit women should claim and find their due space in the "main stream" women's movement. Also, Dalit women should be organized in such a way that they themselves should be able to launch a strong movement even at the streets. The "main stream" women's movement also thinks seriously to give due space to Dalit women without whose support women's movement would never achieve its mission and goals.

9. Dalit women (and also men) should form and alliance with other victims of Brahmanism (Bahunbad) and seek their help and support for their liberation. The most natural allies of the Dalits are indigenous people. In any case, Dalit movement should be intensified (Bhattachan 2056).

10. The human rights organizations and human rights activists of Nepal should take up the issue of untouchability and plight of the Dalits very seriously. Effective implementation of the convention on All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention Against All Forms Racism and racial Discrimination are important for the upliftment of Dalit women.

Voice of Humanity for Peace & Justice