Caste-based Discrimination Of Dalit Children
Roshan Kumar Jha
In Rautahat, teachers complain to the dalit parents that their children wear dirty clothes and smell in the classroom. During a school visit in Laxmanwa, Birgunj, children were asked who gets beaten up regularly and why, and they immediately pointed to a student. He was a dalit.
“Teachers don’t give proper attention to us. We have to sit on the ground. It’s very difficult. The quality of food (mid-day meal) is also very poor. We also get very little food for lunch as we are served last, our stomach is never full,” a dalit girl student in Bara said. In Mahottari, dalit girls are seldom allowed to use the toilet in the schools.
These are some of the findings of a study on caste-based discrimination of dalit children in the schools in some Terai districts. The study conducted by myself for the purpose of writing a thesis on Dalit Human Rights, supported by Saty Shanty Laxmi Foundation, shows that discrimination of various kinds plays a big role in the high dropout of dalit children from schools.
The study was conducted in four primary schools, six middle schools and seven secondary schools in Rautahat district, Brahamapuri in Bara, Laxmanwa in Birgunj and in Mahottari. It examined various facets of discrimination, right from going to school, in the classroom and during the mid-day meal.
The study says physical access to schools is the biggest problem for dalit children. In Bara, Parsa and Mahottari, most of the schools are situated in dominant-caste localities, and dalit children have to travel on average for half an hour to reach school. In the case of middle and high schools, dalit children have to travel almost 1-4 km in all the districts. It is only in Rautahat district that dalit children do not have to travel that far. But here too, the schools are located in dominant-caste areas.
Asked why they came late to school, dalit children gave various reasons including household chores, school distance, inability to keep track of school time, and also the fact that they had to wait for other friends to go in a group due to fears of dominant caste children.
In the school, it was found that participation of dalit children was minimal. The morning assembly was invariably always conducted by upper caste children. In the class, dalit children were made to sit at the back, and in some schools of Rautahat on the barren floor, while mats were given to upper caste children. Even the notebooks and homework of the dalit children were not checked by the teachers.
As per my findings, dalit children in Bara were also assigned menial caste-based tasks like cleaning the yard, filling up water buckets and cleaning the toilets. This led to other children treating them badly and considering them inferior. And what was shocking was that dalit girl children were seldom allowed to use the toilets. Dalit children are kept out of even functions like Republic Day.
In central Terai, the dalit children look up to Salhesh as their role model, but schools do not have his photograph though there are photos of other national leaders.
In secondary and higher secondary schools, the survey found that teachers promote private coaching. But many dalit children dropped out as they could not afford private tuition. The findings of my study say that many dalit children were beaten up because they were always late and ‘don’t behave properly’ in the class.
The Constitution of Nepal has ensured the Right against Untouchability and Racial Discrimination as fundamental rights. Nepal is a party to 24 human rights-related instruments, including the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). The Nepal Treaty Act, 1990 states that the provision of a treaty to which Nepal is a party shall prevail for the purpose of the treaty if there is any inconsistency with Nepalese laws and be enforceable as good as Nepalese law.
However, Nepal has not submitted a CERD Report since 2004, which shows negligence of the government in promoting dalit rights. The government has not effectively implemented various recommendations and concluding observations received from treaty bodies on its state reports in terms of advancing dalit rights.
Therefore, the government should uphold its international human rights obligations, submit the reports to the Treaty Bodies including CERD after wider consultation with the stakeholders in a timely manner, and develop a National Plan of Action with adequate resource allocation to eliminate caste-based discrimination and untouchability and empower the dalit community.
he Caste-based Discrimination and Untouchability (Offence and Punishment) Act, 2011 is the main law that has criminalised the act of caste-based discrimination and untouchability in any form anywhere. However, the implementation is very weak. Still there are a number of laws that contain discriminatory provisions against dalits.
Therefore, the government should strengthen its measures to effectively implement the Caste-based Discrimination and Untouchability (Offence and Punishment) Act and eliminate all forms of discrimination against the dalit community, as recommended by the Human Rights Committee (CCPR) in 2014. In particular, by sensitising law enforcement officials, investigating and prosecuting those responsible for discrimination against dalits and conducting awareness-raising campaigns on the rights of dalits, as recommended by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) in 2014.
(The author is a practicing lawyer associated with International Legal Foundation Nepal. email@example.com)