The Dalit Parliament
Published Date: 01/11/2018
Kalawati Bhand’s journey from a young Dalit rights activist to an elected leader in Dadeldhura district is quite inspiring for many women of her marginalized Badi community, which is still struggling for social justice in Nepal.
One of Nepal’s most marginalized Dalit sub-caste groups, the Badi have a history of exploitation, exclusion and discrimination. During the historic local municipality elections in May 2017, Bhand was elected as the vice chairperson in Ajameru Rural Municipality and became a role model for many Badi.
While the competition to be elected even in the Dalit quota was quite tough, given that there were many other Dalit candidates belonging to different political parties, some of the tougher challenges she faced were social. Many people, especially males, from both Dalit and non-Dalit communities tried to demoralize her.
“I was constantly discouraged by many people who told me that I could never win because of my ‘Badi’ caste, but I never gave up and eventually I won,” said Bhand, recalling how winning this election became so important both for her own dignity and her Badi community. She reached out to many potential voters with her one-woman crusade, even traveling to the most remote areas of Ajameru, and received a lot of support from especially the poorest families, who are rarely visited by any politician, journalist, or even community social workers.
She met with them to encourage them to use their voting rights, and educate them about not missing this rare opportunity to exercise their democratic rights. She spent long hours with them and when it was too late to return home, she slept in the cowsheds as many families didn’t have enough spare room in their own tiny houses.
“Today, I feel so proud walking around my district and many cities and towns as an elected member of my local government in Province 7. I have a very important task of serving not just my community but many other Nepali communities,” said Bhand, who was in Kathmandu participating in the two-day ‘11th Dalit parliament,’ event from 28-29 December 2017.
She was among 200 Dalit politicians, community leaders, social workers, activists and youth from 24 Dalit-populated districts from the Tarai to the Hills and Mountains to join the event. Her fellow participants also included individuals from other marginalized Muslim, Madheshi, and Pahad Janajati groups. She was excited to see that nearly 40 percent of the participants were women.
This was such a good opportunity for us to develop our knowledge, confidence and how to articulate our voices in a real parliament,” said Bhand.
The Dalit parliament in Session
Held annually, and pioneered by the National Dalit Network (RDN), the ‘mock’ Dalit parliament discusses on the history and the current Dalit situation, their status in Nepali society, achievements of the Dalit rights movement, and their representation in every sector like the electoral forum, land, education and various other sectors.
This year’s Dalit parliament was jointly organized by the Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organization (NNDSWO), RDN, Jagaran Media Centre (JMC), SAMATA Foundation, and the Federation of Madheshi Dalit Development (MDDF). The Governance Facility (GF) was one of the key organisation providing financial support to the event, which was also attended by senior political leaders from national and regional political parties.
“This was a very good platform for the participants to directly address their concerns and grievances with senior political leaders,” said NNDSWO’s President, Trilok Chanda Vishwas B.K. The former Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal was among the prominent guests who addressed the Dalit parliament during the inaugural ceremony. Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, Yagya Bahadur Thapa was also present during the closing ceremony and expressed his wholehearted support for Dalit-centric issues.
The event’s slogan was, ‘Commitment for full inclusive and social justice; meaningful Dalit participation for prosperous, equitable, and resilient nation building,’ and one of the key highlights was Dalit representation in the local, provincial and federal elections. Most of the participants echoed their concerns on their dismally low representation.
Touching upon this significant issue, the GF’s Head Caroline Vandenabeele also shared her concerns during the event where she was one of the key note speakers. She shared how Nepal demonstrated its capacity to embrace inclusive federalism with 7,737 elected Dalit representatives at local municipal levels.
“Yet, at the same time, I cannot ignore the fact that only three Dalit politicians were elected to the federal parliament through the first past the post system, two from UML and one from the Maoists. Similarly, of 753 Mayors and Chairs at the local levels, only 10 Dalits were elected. While some may argue that this is an improvement compared to the previous election, the improvement is marginal and there is still some way to go before we will see the ending of historical marginalization and exclusion, including in the legislature. And before we will see a group of leaders emerge that are more representative of the different population groups in Nepal,” said Vandenabeele.
"Good leadership entails looking for third spaces where different interests can be brought together to find new solutions to old problems. This is, I dare suggest, what the Dalit movement in Nepal needs to consider. New ways of thinking about longstanding historic and systemic exclusions and deprivations of Dalit’s basic human rights, equality, and dignity."
THE MAIN AGENDA OF THE 11TH DALIT PARLIAMENT INCLUDED:
* implementing inclusiveness as mentioned in the Constitution of Nepal; * involvement of Dalit representative in every new state structure in lead positions; * developing a code of conduct in terms of caste-based discrimination; effective coordination and monitoring from different forum, local and state, to eradicate caste discrimination; *formation of the National Dalit Commission as prescribed in Article 255 of the Constitution of Nepal.
The mock Dalit parliament was literally like a real parliamentary session where the participants posed as parliamentarians and addressed the House. The Parliament was presided over by the Speaker of the House, Government leaders, and opposition leaders, and the participants took turns to play different roles. Although a mock parliament, the issues that the ‘parliamentarians’ raised were genuine concerns related to the Dalit-centric policies, laws, and provisions, and their rights and dignity.
Hopes and aspirations
“Winning the election is a good start but we need to know how to speak up and engage in constructive dialogue to better serve our communities,” said Shyam Sunar, who got elected during the local elections in May 2017 as a member of the Thalara Rural Municipality of Bajhang district. He explained how such an event can help to empower local Dalit leaders to understand more about Dalit-centric budgets, laws, policies, and how to address their concerns in a real parliament of their provincial governments.
Many participants like Sunar had diverse expectations and objectives to attend the event. Some wanted to gain knowledge on the process of real parliamentary proceedings. Many of them wanted to build their networks and forge a relationship with prominent Dalit leaders, intellectuals, and activists from different provinces. Some wanted to learn about leadership, especially the elected representatives. There were also those who wanted to use the platform as an opportunity to directly speak with the leaders as critically as possible.
“I came here to speak on behalf of my Haliya community who remains liberated only in name because we still remain neglected, and the leaders have yet to fulfill their promises,” said Laxmi Raika from Kanchanpur district, where he works as the District Treasurer for the National Haliya Free Society. She explains how they still survive on tiny plots of land that are barely enough to produce food, and the compensation from the government is barely enough to start new lives.
“I know this event did not change our situation in just two days but it helped us to gain access to the leaders whom we cannot meet usually,” said Raikal.
Haliya, translated as the one who ploughs, used to be agricultural bonded laborers especially in the hills. Although the system was abolished in 2008 by the government, there are still many farmers working as Haliya due to lack of effective rehabilitation and compensation packages, and due to their improverished conditions, said Rajkal.
“All we want, is to see that the laws that protect my community are practiced but we have so little power and our voices are unheard by decision makers,” said Dashan Lal Mandal, chairperson of Haruwa Charuwa Forum in Surunga Municipality of Saptari district. His forum has been advocating for the rights of Haruwa-Charuwa community, one of the most marginalized Dalit groups.
Mandal says that there are 100 families in Surunga and most families have been working as bonded agricultural laborers for generations, and despite its ban, they are forced to work in exploitative conditions for the rich farmers to pay off the debts of their fathers and grandfathers. He said that this event was a good opportunity to share the grievances of his community, and wanted to use this platform to speak directly with senior political leaders.
Take home key messages
Although the mock Dalit parliament had been organized annually for the last 10 years, there were many participants who had a first time experience.
“This is my first time and I was able to gain a lot of knowledge that will help me to speak with more confidence, and to grow as a leader,” said Pasupati Sunar, who was elected as a ward member of Mahabu Rural Municipality in Dailekh district (Read: A heartrending victory for a Dalit woman).
Various Dalit participants belonged to different political ideologies and despite their disagreements with each others’ political allegiances, the issue of advocating for Dalit rights and inclusiveness united them. The parliament was able to get their unified voices and consensus, and the participants eventually produced a declaration: ‘Political commitment for full inclusive and social justice. Meaningful Dalit participation for prosperous, equitable and resilient nation building Kathmandu Declaration.’ (Read the Kathmandu Declaration for more details)
“I hope this mock parliament will provide the opportunity to strengthen greater collaboration, unity and coordination among Dalit civil society and other stakeholders. Nothing can undo a movement as fast as divisions from within. I also hope this mock parliament will come up with a common understanding, a bold vision towards the future, and a clear pathway to cross the valley,” said Vandenabeele.
For More Detail: http://gfnepal.org/dalit-parliament/