January 25, 2017
January 25, 2017
It’s illegal to discriminate based on caste in Nepal, according to a 2011 law. But the law hasn’t brought real social change, advocates say. Ancient social guidelines that outline discrimination against lower-caste people are still very much part of daily life today, residents confirm.
PANCHKHAL, NEPAL — Ajit Mijar was 18 years old when he married his sweetheart, 17-year-old Kalpana Parajuli. Mijar was from the Sarki caste, which is in the lower tier of Nepal’s caste system. But Parajuli is from the Brahman caste, in the highest caste tier, and the relationship was kept a secret from both families.
The day after the couple eloped in July, Mijar brought the girl to his family’s home, even as her family arranged her marriage to someone else.
INSIDE THE STORY: Nepal’s caste system, which dates back to the 14th century, was originally developed as part of a governance system for the former kingdom, and four main caste tiers were created, based on types of work: The Brahmans were the priests and scholars, the Kshatriya were kings and warriors, the Vaishya were traders and businessmen, and the Sudra tier, which includes the Sarki caste, served the other castes as laborers in their fields, cobblers, blacksmiths, tailors, cleaners and in other such occupations. Some castes of the Sudra were identified as untouchable, and were restricted from contact with other castes. There are 36 subcastes within these four main caste tiers in Nepal. The Dalits are ranked at the bottom of the caste system.
In 1854, Nepal’s first General Code, the Muluki Ain, legalized the caste system and spelled out the intercaste relationships that were allowed and which, including relationships between high and low-caste people, were banned under law.
Such discrimination was banned in Nepal in 2011. Amendments to the General Code made caste-based discrimination an offense punishable by a fine or prison sentence, but many human rights advocates and others in Nepal say discrimination is still widespread. Read the blog.
That’s when the harassment started, Mijar’s family says. Parajuli’s family called to demand that the relationship end and even threatened Ajit Mijar’s life, they say.
Ajit Mijar and Parajuli were summoned to a local police station, where Parajuli’s family forced her to return home.
Ajit Mijar disappeared two days after that, and his body was found hanging from the rafters in a shack in Gajuri, a town about 120 kilometers (74 miles) away, in the district of Dhading. The family discovered his death through a photograph that was shared on a local student’s Facebook page, Haribhakta Dhakal, Mijar’s father, says.
Parajuli’s family declined Global Press Journal’s requests for an interview.
Dhakal says police didn’t take action when he told them that the person in the photo was his son. When the family visited a police station in Gajuri they were told that Ajit Mijar’s body had already been buried. The police refused to tell them the location of the grave, Dhakal says.
Local police declined Global Press Journal’s requests for an interview.
It wasn’t until the National Dalit Commission, a government agency that advocates for the rights of Dalits and other low-caste groups, including the Sarki caste, pressured the police that they told the family where to find the grave, says Sitaram Ghale Pariyar, the member secretary of the National Dalit Commission.
The grave was less than 2 feet deep, Dhakal says.
“The face was unrecognizable, as acid had been thrown on his face,” Dhakal says of his son’s body. “We opened the buttons of his shirt. Though police had told us they had carried out a postmortem, there were no cuts on his body.”
The National Dalit Commission confirmed for Global Press Journal that no autopsy had been performed.
Kalpana Khanal, GPJ Nepal
After the body was found, a special national-level committee, with members from the Nepal Police, the National Dalit Commission and other government agencies, was formed to investigate the death, says Pariyar.
During the investigation, three members of Parajuli’s family, including her father, were taken into custody. Two have been released on bail, but Parajuli’s father remains in custody, says Pariyar.
As the committee continues its investigation, Dhakal says he is still waiting for someone to be charged with abducting and killing his son.
It’s illegal to discriminate based on caste in Nepal. According to a 2011 law, such violence or discrimination is punishable by a fine of up to 25,000 rupees ($230) and a prison term of up to three years.
But the law hasn’t brought real social change, advocates say. Ancient social guidelines that outline discrimination against lower-caste people are still very much part of daily life today, residents confirm.
The National Dalit Commission received 50 complaints of caste-based discrimination in the period from July 2015 to July 2016, says Ram Bahadur Mijar, a legal officer at the commission. In the preceding 12-month period, it received 38 complaints. Those complaints include stories of beatings, disputes due to intercaste marriage and even murder. One or two people are killed every year in violence stemming from intercaste marriage, he says.
There are no statistics regarding the number of intercaste marriages in Nepal, but Ram Bahadur Mijar says the number of complaints regarding caste-based discrimination is growing.
“There is awareness among the new generation that caste discrimination is a social ill,” says Pariyar, of the National Dalit Commission. “People are speaking out against caste discrimination.”
Sarita Mijar is from the Sarki caste, and is therefore considered “untouchable” by some higher-caste people. The 25-year old, who is not related to Ajit Mijar’s family, says caste discrimination is a daily occurrence. The 2011 law has brought some changes — for example, she is now allowed into temples — but she must still sit separately from higher-caste people when in public places. She can’t enter the homes of upper-caste families, and there are separate water sources in her village for people from upper and lower castes.
“It’s really painful when people tell me not to touch their things,” she says.
Kalpana Khanal, GPJ Nepal
Mohan Shasankar, a lawyer specializing in caste-based discrimination cases, says the roots of the caste system are deep in the psyche of Nepalese people.
“This is not going to be fixed easily,” he says. “A child is taught in school that a Brahman works as a scholar or government official while a Sarki should mend shoes.”
The new punishments are not enough to deter people who are determined to cause violence, he says.
“Until the government thinks seriously about this and realizes that caste discrimination is a major problem, cases like that of Ajit Mijar will be repeated,” Shasankar says.
But not everyone in Nepal is ready to question the caste system.
Nira Adhikari, a 45-year-old Brahman, runs a small grocery store in Panchkhal Municipality.
“How can the practices that have continued as age-old traditions be ignored?” she asks.
Some of the social rules regarding “untouchables” have relaxed in recent generations, she says.
“My grandfather and older people used to talk with the low-caste people only while maintaining a wide distance,” Adhikari says. “But we sit together with them and talk with them.”
Acknowledging the caste system is part of practing Hinduism, she says.
Haribhakta Dhakal says his family is waiting to see justice done for his son’s death.
“My son’s life is never coming back,” he says. “May the criminals also rot in prison in a similar way. Only then will my son get justice.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Ram Bahadur Mijar, Sarita Mijar and Ajit Mijar are not related.
Sagar Ghimire, GPJ, translated this article from Nepali.