Money Speaks: The Effects of Remittances on Caste-Based Discrimination
Nepal, traditionally an agrarian society, used to offer limited employment opportunities. However, since this last decade it has witnessed drastic changes in its labour market. With an approximate 1600 youths leaving for foreign employment every day and remittances accounting for a large 25 percent of its GDP, Nepal is slowly and duly coming to be regarded as a remittance-based economy. The significance of these large scale remittances on the concurrent poverty reduction seen in Nepal is indisputable and there have been many studies that explore the economic implications of this new trend. However, the role of remittances in bringing about social changes, for the most parts, remains unexplored. This study aims to foray into addressing the issue above by examining the effect of remittances on caste-based discrimination.
In Nepal, due to the prevalence of the caste system there is a long history of the Dalits, as a social group, being marginalized. Although the practice of untouchability was officially abolished in 1965, the Dalits continue to be not only economically marginalized but they remain socially marginalized as well. The development and persistence of this unjust social hierarchy has been attributed primarily to the needs of an agricultural society, wherein, there were those with land (‘upper caste’) and those who provided the labour (dalits). The persistence of the lower social status of Dalits has been linked by many to their economic dependence on the ‘upper castes’ resulting from their landlessness. However, the emergence of foreign employment as a viable livelihood alternative has given the Dalits a new pathway to economic independence.
This research explores the implications of this economic independence on societal perception of this age old social hierarchy. This study used both qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection. A total of 200 individuals, 100 from the Dalit community and 100 non-Dalits, were surveyed. All respondents were then asked an additional number of open ended follow-up questions based on the information they shared during the survey. In addition, 10 local organisations working in the sector of Dalit rights and migrant rights were also consulted. The research, among other things, reveals that while economic standing is a key factor in determining social attitude and social norms have been changing, in that discriminatory practices have been eradicated from the public sphere; a more subtle nuance of it continues to persist in the private sphere.