by Krishna B, Bhattachan, PhD
There are several historical markers of domination and discrimination against indigenous peoples and other minorities in Nepal. These are as follows:
The main historical marker of Hindu domination begins with caste restructuring by King Jayasthiti Malla in the Kathmandu Valley in the fourteenth century. The King invited five Brahmin priests from India to Kathmandu. Based on their advice, the King restructured the Newars, the indigenous peoples of the Kathmandu Valley, into 64 castes based on occupational division of labor. These caste divisions were neither based on hierarchic Hindu varna model, that is, Brahmin at the top followed by Kshyatriya, Vaisya and Sudra at the bottom, nor on inscription. It indeed paved a way for intensification of the processes of Hinduization or Sanskritization of indigenous peoples of Nepal (Jijima 1963).
The second historical marker of Hindu Bahun-Chhetri domination is the conspiratorial attack against the Magar King of Lig-Lig Kott by King Drabya Shah, who later won a war against the Khadka King of Gorkha in 1559A.D.. This was the beginning of the downfall of independence of indigenous peoples in Nepal.
The third historical marker of continuing Hindu Bahun-Chhetri domination is the territorial “unification” of Nepal in 1769 by King Prithvinaryan Shah. Prior to 1769, indigenous peoples had their own rule in their respective traditional homelands. King Prithvinarayn Shah annexed small but independent kingdoms, “22 and 24 principalities,” of different indigenous peoples either through defeat in war or through mutual agreement of autonomy within the centralized State. After the defeat of Kirtipur in the Kathmandu Valley, King Prithvinaryan Shah ordered to chop off nose tips and ear of the peoples of Kirtipur that weighed 18 dharnis, i.e. about 40 kilos. Thus, one can imagine the extent of brutal physical violence and humiliation to minorities and indigenous peoples under the sword of Prithvinarayan Shah. The King accepted that Nepal is a country a garden of four Castes and thirty-six varna but his mission was to make Nepal a real India (“Asali Hindustan”). The main consequence of the territorial unification was that all indigenous peoples lost their independence and gradually lost their rights to land, water, forests, mines, rivers and pastures. Thus, indigenous peoples began to loose their language, religion, culture and indigenous knowledge system.
The fourth historical marker is the Muluki Ain (National Code of Nepal) of 1854 implemented by Junga Bahadur Rana, the founder Prime Minister of 104-years of autocratic Rana rule. The National Code, the first ever codified law applicable in all parts of Nepal, restructured Caste and ethnic groups and divided them into fourfold social hierarchy. The Tagadhari (sacred thread wearing or twice- born) caste was at the top, followed by the Matawali (“alcohol drinking castes”). They were sub-divided into namasine (“unslavable”) and masine (“slavable’) groups. Although, indigenous peoples never belonged to Hindu social hierarchy but the Rana ruler legally included them in the second in the hierarchy as “alcohol drinking caste. Pani nachalne chhoee chhito halnu naparne (impure but touchable castes”) were third and pani nachalne chhoee chhito halnu paine (‘impure and untouchable castes”) belonged to the bottom of the social hierarchy.
The whole National Code, including the punishments was based on caste discrimination. Thus during the 104-years of Rana rule, indigenous peoples of Nepal were Hinduized and Sanskritized. As its consequences, many indigenous peoples began to loose their language, religion and culture. The most devastating events in this period was confiscation of traditional Kipat land tenure and re-distribution of land to state elites, i.e. Bahun, Chhetri, Rana and Thakuri, through Birta and Jagir land tenures and exploitation of indigenous peoples and Dalits through forced free labour such as jahra, rakam, beth and begar(Regmi 1999). The Rana rulers prevented Tamangs, one of the indigenous peoples of Nepal, from joining British-India-Army and any government jobs in Nepal, except as Pipa (‘porter’) in Pipa Goswara office in Singha Durbar in Kathmandu.
During the Partyless Panchayat rule from 1960-90 under the direct and active rule of King Mahendra and King Birendra, the rulers launched a campaign of One King, One Country; One Language, One Dress. The project of melting pot was intensified in a country characterized by salad bowl of caste, ethnicity, language, religion, culture and region. Any organized effort to preserve and promote indigenous peoples language, religion and culture was charged as “anti-King,”, “anti-constitution”, “anti-national,” and “communal.” Also, caste- based untouchability was abolished in the revised National Code of 1963 but due to lack of necessary laws, its practice continues unabated.
The Peoples Movement of 1990, following the pro-democracy wave in the Soviet Union, eastern-European countries, and other parts of the world, jointly organized by the Nepali Congress Party and United Left Front, including Nepal Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist), demolished the autocratic party less Panchayat political system and restored democracy in Nepal. It raised a lot of hope and expectation to reduce socio-cultural and political inequalities. The hope remained unfulfilled.
The Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal, 1990
The Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal promulgated in 1990 was modeled after the West-Minister style of parliamentary form of government, which is highly centralized and exclusionary. Indeed, winner takes all in such a system. Given socio-cultural diversity of the Nepalese society and culture, the Constitution discriminates and excludes minorities in many ways (see definition and identification of minorities in a separate section). The Consultative workshop organized by Nepal Federation of Nationalities (NEFEN) with support from Minority Rights Group International (MRG), has identified 26 provisions in the Constitution and 49 legal Acts that discriminates against indigenous peoples (NEFEN 1999). There are many such provisions that discriminate against other minorities. Also, caste-based untouchability has been made illegal but lack of laws has made it meaningless in practices (Bhattachan 2001; Dahal et al.
There was a strong demand for secularism not only by the non-Hindus but also by the Hindu Dalits’ who have been forced to face caste-based untouchability by their “upper caste” Hindu counterparts. In spite of the fact that Nepal is a multi-religious country and a historical fact that about 150,000 people demonstrated in the streets of Kathmandu, which was the largest gathering ever in the history of Nepal, demanding for secularism, the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal, 1990 declared Nepal as a Hindu State, prohibited to form any political parties on the basis of religion. ‘The Article (4) of the Constitution stated, Nepal is a multiethnic, multilingual, democratic, independent, indivisible, sovereign, Hindu and Constitutional Monarchical Kingdom. Another most discriminatory provision was the distinction between nations language and “national languages”. The Constitution declared Nepali language as the only official language. Many indigenous peoples of Nepal have a culture of eating beef (“cow meat”). The National Code of Nepal (Muluki Am) prohibits killing of cow and the offender gets life sentence. Instead of declaring national animal with full cultural sensitivity, Article 7 (2) of the Constitution declared cow, which is sacred for the Hindus only, as the national animal. Therefore, indigenous peoples were prohibited to slaughter cow and eat its meat.
A study conducted by the Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD) in 2000 stated, ‘there are 118 Clauses/Section/Rules, two Rules in their entirety, and 67 Schedules/Annexes/Forms in 54 different laws including the Constitution which have discriminatory provisions’ (Pradhan-Malla et al. 2000:VI). The Constitution and laws discriminate women in every field including citizenship, property, education, employment, health, marriage & family, legal & court proceedings (Pradhan-Malla 2000:13).
(Text Courtesy: Minorities and Indigenous Peoples of Nepal)2009-02-18 07:53:35