Muted and Fragmented: Dalit Social Movement in Nepal
As a revolt against the exclusionary practices of the society, Dalits have been raising their voices and demanding equality from long ago. Despite the history of the movement, it is believed that the Dalit movement in Nepal has been unable to make substantial changes at the political arena and in the lives of common Dalit citizens. While some hopes were there in the first Constituent Assembly because of the ‘considerable’ presence of the Dalit lawmakers, the movement has faced a further setback with the decrease in their number in the second version of the lawmaking body. There are arguments being made that there is a danger of the achievements of the first Constituent Assembly, which included the drafting of eight main Dalit issues, being watered down. Not just has this become a number’s game, this is also questioning the interest of the mainstream political parties. Furthermore, although preached a lot against, caste based discrimination still largely exists at the public level, let alone at the private sphere. Taking these issues into consideration, this paper, based on 20 in-depth individual interviews with Dalit leaders, lawmakers, Dalit rights activists, scholars, and NGO representatives, delves basically in one particular question: ‘What actually entails Nepali Dalit movement and what aspects of it are hindering its success?’ While this research also looks at the existing literature on Dalits and Nepali Dalit movement, it continually refers back to one of the prominent social movement theorists Sidney Tarrow for his understandings of social movements. Building on Tarrow’s arguments, the paper constantly questions the strength of the Dalit movement as a collective action against the state, the authorities, and the general citizenry.
The paper argues that due to their scattered and relatively lesser population, lack of vision in the leaders, weak sense of collective identity and solidarity, and immense intra-Dalit heterogeneity, the Dalits are not able to assemble enough attention about their concerns. Moreover, in Nepal, on one hand the Dalit issues have been highly politicised and used by political parties as a mere tool to get into power. After getting power, as done time and again, most of the parties turn their focuses off from the questions raised by the Dalit movement. On the other hand, more than just political marginalisation, the exclusion of Dalits is based on traditional discrimination of treating people as ‘impure’ based on the work they perform. When people at the micro level are not able to respect each other’s profession, this paper examines how mere bargaining at the state level will ensure that people to people relationships are governed on egalitarian grounds?